The New York Times' coverage of a new survey of the inner workings of teenage boys is a must read -- just skip past the sensationalist guard-your-girls headline, "Peeking Inside the Mind of the Boy Dating Your Daughter." The piece starts by sketching out the stereotype of the singularly focused teenage boy and asks: "Are boys that age really defined primarily by their sexual urges? Or does the stereotype fall short, telling us less about teenage males and more about a culture that seems to have consistently low expectations of its boys?" Turns out it's the latter.
A study published this month in the Journal of Adolescence surveyed 105 10th-grade boys and found that the vast majority don't pursue romantic relationships for sex but because they "really like the person." The person -- not because she's the lusted-after lead cheerleader or has her name scrawled all over the boys' bathroom. Sexually active boys responded that they pursued sex for love equally as for physical satisfaction. Also, forget the male mission to have sex before graduation; that Hollywood meme doesn't hold up with these real-life boys. Only 14 percent said they pursued sex to lose their virginity. The study's sample size is admittedly small, but this news might help us strip ourselves of those previously mentioned low expectations, no?
Well, no, apparently. When the Times first blogged about the study, readers rushed in with snickering skepticism. Take this comment: "Based on my past experience as a teenage boy, this study just reinforces my view that teenage boys are horny liars." Or this: "Yeah right! 16-year-old boys are concerned about relationships?" Even this: "I can just about pinpoint the exact moment in my prepubescent life when the 'lies I told the ladies' turned into the 'truths' I told myself ... These punks have got one thing on their minds, and it ain't relationships." Holy protective posturing, Batman!
Thankfully, the Times took these responses to the study's authors and an expert in adolescent psychology and asked them what was up with all the snark. They suggest it reveals more about adult men than teenage boys. Psychologist Michael G. Thompson, author of "Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys," said: "Grown men often deny how dependent they are on women. The idea that you could pine for a girl, and be devastated by a girl, makes an adult man uncomfortable. It reminds them of how profoundly attached they get to women." Andrew Smiler, an assistant professor of psychology at SUNY-Oswego and a study author, worries about the effect this adult attitude has on boys. "The stereotype reduces boys to one-dimensional beings who just want sex and nothing else," he says.
Can we be surprised, then, if they ultimately fulfill that stereotype?