9 Reasons ‘Hookup Culture’ Hurts Boys Too

Boys get hurt as much as, if not more than, girls

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Laura Pannack for TIME

Raffaele Saposhnik, 18, at the beach in San Clemente, Calif., on Sept. 6, 2013

An entire generation of parents has spent years panicking about the effects of hookup culture on girls. But what about boys? That’s the question Rosalind Wiseman takes on in this week’s issue of TIME. Wiseman may be familiar to you as the author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, her look at the social rivalries of girls (on which Tina Fey based the movie Mean Girls). For her new book, Masterminds and Wingmen, she delves into the world of boys. As the mother of two boys, she was eager to make sure that their side of the story was not left out. During two years of research, she interviewed hundreds of boys across the country — individually, in groups, over the course of extended e-mail correspondences — and their stories are really quite striking.

As Wiseman writes, we assume that boys are the perpetrators and beneficiaries of hookup culture — and thus we tend to ignore its effects on them. But those effects, it turns out, can be rather rough.

Boys and young men are much more complicated than our popular culture acknowledges. Here, then, are nine surprising things Wiseman discovered about boys, drawn both from her book and from her piece in this week’s magazine. Join TIME to read the full piece here.

1. There’s little difference between boys and girls when it comes to sexual behavior
Hookup culture isn’t as bad as parents believe. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that promotes reproductive health and rights, only 16% of teens have had sex by age 15. And there is little difference between the genders in the age of first intercourse. There’s also little difference in the rates of oral sex.

2. There’s a big difference, though, in the suicide rate
Girls are more likely to report depression and attempting or contemplating suicide — but boys are much more likely to die from suicide. For every 100 girls in the 15-to-19 age group who commit suicide, 394 boys in the same range kill themselves, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High school is when the suicide rate for boys spikes to four times the rate for girls, whereas in early adolescence it is three times the rate for girls. That gender gap has been consistent since 1991.

3. There’s also a big difference in how boys and girls are performing academically
As Wiseman notes, a working paper this summer from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that from the 1980s to the 2000s, the mode (that is, statistically, the value that appeared most often) of girls’ high school GPA distribution shifted from B to A, essentially leaving boys behind, as the mode of boys’ GPA distribution stayed at B. College enrollment has followed the same pattern. Whereas 58% of college students in 1970 were men, by 2010, 57% of college students were women, according to a recent study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

4. Boys get terrible advice about sex
As Wiseman discusses in her piece and at more length in her book, parents are terrible at talking to boys about sex. While they might have extensive sex talks with their daughters — about respecting themselves, about birth control, about not being taken advantage of — advice to boys, aside from warnings about STDs, can be a little … simplified. Seventy percent of boys report having never discussed how to use a condom or other birth-control methods with their parents.

5. Boys obsess over texts and flirting too
Think boys don’t obsess over texts and flirting the way girls do? You’d be wrong. Characters from Girls could hardly do a better job of picking apart linguistic minutiae.

6. Boys are as emotionally invested in relationships as girls
Recent research shows that boys get every bit as emotionally invested in adolescent relationships as girls do — the main difference being that boys feel far less in control of how those relationships progress.

7. Their dumb behavior isn’t always as dumb as it looks
Take “dibs.” Even something as juvenile-seeming as dibs (that is, one boy calling dibs on hooking up with a girl, as if she were a choice seat on the bus) has a very specific function in male friendships — namely, avoiding conflict — and is subject to an elaborate set of rules that is remarkably consistent among boys of all backgrounds. (You have to make it recognized that you liked a girl first to call dibs, you can’t call dibs if you have no chance with the girl, you can’t call dibs just to annoy your friend, etc.)

8. Though, sometimes it is
The “bro code,” however, can have its dark side, such as when out-of-control behavior by peers ends up left unchecked. An 18-year-old high school student tells the story of a time at a party when he watched some boys get drunk and aggressive with girls, touching and grabbing.

9. Boys do feel conflicted about hookup culture
To go back to the beginning, while we think boys should be thrilled with easy (or at least easier) access to sex, their feelings are more complicated. Boys tell Wiseman intimate stories throughout her book and article. Theirs is the story usually left untold in any look at hookup culture. Wiseman has provided a much-needed corrective.

Click here to join TIME for as little as $2.99 to read Rosalind Wiseman’s full story on what boys want.

Sager is the editorial director of TIME Ideas.

14 comments
PeterNolan
PeterNolan

Wow...I rarely see an article so full of fail....and this woman is raising two boys?

EnriqueTheTerrible
EnriqueTheTerrible

the problem with this article is it doesnt touch on certain things like, hookup culture didnt make anything easier. casual sex may be more glamourised but it certainly isnt any easier for a guy who was down on the poverty scale to even attract a date. There's this thing called hypergamy where women will go for the guy who has the most status or money. 80% of women will fight over the top 20% of guys and the result is, even less men reproducing.

minnow31125
minnow31125

My poor little boys are going to be so screwed up. About women, love, race, sex, everything.

KoenVanVugt
KoenVanVugt

What's so bad about hooking up when you're young? It's fun, healthy and relaxing. Teach your kids to respect themselves and others (the internet or TV won't do that for you), teach them about safe sex and they'll have a great time.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

One size doesn't fit all.  In my experience, there are males and females both in aggressive sex mode as well and subdued sex mode.  These generalizations strike me a a bit old fashion; the girls have come a long way baby. 

eagle11772
eagle11772

Why does the author apparently assume that all kids are necessarily heterosexual ?

Selvar14
Selvar14

@EnriqueTheTerrible That's just a manosphere myth. It is true in the sense that hypergamy happens to an extent and  there is a certain segment of the male population that most women will never be attracted to. However, there is no hard evidence to suggest that 20% of the men are hooking up with 80% of the women.  Traits that are a boon to reproduction tend to spread rapidly throughout the population, so it makes no sense that 20% of men would posses such a huge advantage.

http://evolvify.com/alpha-male-narrative-myth/

AntmanBallard
AntmanBallard

@KoenVanVugt Oh boy.... Casual sex is not healthy. Saying "it is" isn't backed by anything. I work with youth in this area and it's doing/will do damage to them both physically and emotionally.

CaraClaudel
CaraClaudel

Some people enjoy sexual connections with people they hardly know, but many people find recreational sex with near-strangers empty, degrading and dangerous. There is also social fall-out, especially for girls who sleep with multiple partners. There can be great emotional damage done one partner loves and the other partner simply uses. Sex can result in pregnancy and STDs even when one is knowledgeable about safe sex. Sorry, but it's not all fun and games. For most people, sex is more complicated than that.

moneyplays
moneyplays

@eagle11772 i think you assume she does.  i just think her study was based on boys and girls without delving outside that theory.  her thesis was specific to boys and girls and girls and boys.  don't read outside the lines.

PeterNolan
PeterNolan

@Selvar14 @EnriqueTheTerrible "there is no hard evidence to suggest that 20% of the men are hooking up with 80% of the women." 

I guess you have never actually look for the evidence since it is blatantly obvious this is happening.