Interesting article from the Wake Forest University newspaper on a recent talk from Andrew Smiler on masculinity and young men's sex lives. Smiler encourages us to reconsider some of our stereotypes about young men and sex.
In his research of young men, he found four “types” of men:
- Casanovas with multiple partners, hook-ups and relationships
- Romantics who had few partners and little to no hook-up experience
- Religious with minimal dating and no sexual partners
- Emos with multiple non sexual and sexual hook-ups and partners as well as relationships
Before getting to the lecture summary, here is a summary from him on his research as to why young men dats and have sex:
Now here is the article from Wake Forest University (where Smiler now teaches).
To some people, they seem like obvious questions: Why do boys date? Why do boys have sex? And like any human behavior, there’s no single answer.
Who? A group of 106 boys in 10th grade were asked those questions, and they were given a list of about a dozen options to check off for each question. The boys were recruited by Deborah Tolman (author, “Dilemmas of Desire”) and her team, and the project was funded by the Ford Foundation.
What were the main findings? More than 90% of the boys reported that they had dating experience. The most popular category of answers that boys checked off were “relational” reasons – things like “I wanted to get to know the person better”. Some boys, about 20%, acknowledged that their dating was motivated – at least partially – by efforts to fit in with their peers; for a few boys, these were the only reasons they checked off.
About 40% of the boys reported that they’d voluntarily had sex (intercourse); this number is consistent with other studies of American 10th graders. The most common types of reasons here were relational (“Because I liked/loved the person”) and sexual (“I felt desire”). A few boys endorsed peer type reasons (“to fit in with my friends”), but no boy checked off only peer type reasons.
So what? The findings tell us that boys aren’t simple, hormone driven creatures who just want to get laid. The majority also want to have relationships and care about their partners.
Reaction: When the article was published, NY Times blogger Tara Parker-Pope read it and contacted me. She described the article in her blog. It became one of the most emailed articles of the day and the Times followed up with coverage the following Sunday in their Week in Review section (here). The original article generated over 200 comments which more or less took two forms: 1) boys just want sex and lied on the survey to look good, and 2) boys have feelings and the findings are accurate.
So, did they lie? It’s not likely, but possible. If you look at other surveys of 10th grade boys, you find about the same percentage who report that they’ve had sex. There was also a connection between how masculine (or macho) boys described themselves and their level of sexual activity. Boys who described themselves as more stereotypically masculine, were somewhat more likely to say they’d had intercourse, had intercourse at a younger age, and had more partners. Other researchers have also reported this pattern of findings. Other parts of the survey that weren’t reported in this article, things like rates of depression and anxiety, were also similar to other studies. This makes me think that if the boys – as a group – lied, they they only lied on the “reasons” questions, but why lie on just 1 or 2 survey questions and not the whole thing?
The idea that boys have feelings and that feelings are important to them isn’t exactly new. In the last 10 years or so, authors like Michael Thompson, William Pollack and Niobe Way have published books about this.
Posted on December 2, 2010 by Shelby Taylor, Contributing writer
Teenage boys are generally believed to be obsessed with sex and uninterested in romantic relationships. But does this image bear any resemblance to reality? Across a series of studies, Andrew Smiler has examined various aspects of this stereotype; his findings may surprise you.
On Nov. 18, visiting assistant professor of psychology Andrew Smiler delivered his recent research on masculinity at Young Men’s Sex Lives.
The event, sponsored by the Research, Development, and Advancement Committee Wake Forest University’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program was the last of its Fall 2009-10 Colloquium Series.
Smiler received his bachelors of science in psychology from Virginia Tech, masters in clinical psychology from Towson University, and Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the University of New Hampshire.
“I study masculinity. It’s something that anyone can do, male or female, but people do it differently based on whether they call themselves boy or girl. It also changes as we get older, and it looks different if you identify yourself as a “jock” or a “nerd,” Smiler said.
“We learn about masculinity from a lot of different sources, especially the media and our family, but these sources don’t always give us the same messages.”
With his research, Smiler hopes to shed light on the common stereotype of men as Casanovas, or “players”.
Media is perhaps the biggest contributor to this stereotype with celebrities like Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen giving the male sex a bad reputation of being overly casual with relationships, especially of sexual nature.
This character has been a fixture in American culture since the 1970s.
The convention, Smiler notes, also derives from a much less polluted source.
The fact that men can essentially produce hundreds of babies a year in comparison with a woman’s ability to have approximately one creates a natural mindset that men are skirt chasers.
Questions of paternity equally contribute, as with women paternity is assured while popular televisions shows such as Maury play off of mens’ inability to be absolutely certain until DNA testing is available.
However, his study of 10th grade boys, Smiler acquired quantitative results that indicated that boys were most likely to endorse relationship-focused reasons as their primary motive for both dating and sex.
Less frequently endorsed reasons included peer conformity and situational motives (e.g., “I was pursued,” “It just happened”).
This evidence clearly contradicted the common stereotype and can even give hope to many women who question a pursuing man’s intentions.
Smiler also interviewed over 100 male undergrads on their personal sexual encounters from first kiss/intercourse to their most recent relationships.
He found four “types” of men, Casanovas with multiple partners, hook-ups and relationships, romantics who had few partners and little to no hook-up experience, religious with minimal dating and no sexual partners, and emos with multiple non sexual and sexual hook-ups and partners as well as relationships. These are the basic groups that Smiler outlined.
All of the four types reported motives based in emotional connections, by majorities in three of the four types.
This provided more evidence against the overwhelming stereotype often given to men, which as Smiler discovers is not entirely factual.
Through both male and female performers dating was the most mentioned topic over sex, although the trend has decreased slightly over the past decade.
“Our perception, this Casanova stereotype, does not describe reality” Smiler concludes.
“It comes from relative differences.”
Smiler’s presented research will soon be published in a book titled Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Myth of Young Men’s Promiscuity in 2012.
Overall, Smiler’s research really encourages listeners to rethink their views of masculinity and of the sex-obsessed stereotypes of young adolescent boys by better understanding the complex psychological underpinnings of their minds.