“He only wants one thing.” Said in jest, seriousness, or a little of both, I heard it so many times from well-meaning adults growing up. Boys just want sex. Having no brothers or male friends, I took these grownups at their word about boys. And when my best friend was dumped by her boyfriend of several months (an absolute eternity when you’re in 7th grade) a few days after she deflowered him in the woods adjacent to her subdivision, the notion seemed to be confirmed. He was a scoundrel. All boys were.
Now looking back, I think what they meant, whether they knew it or not, was that many young men aren’t actually emotionally mature enough yet to deal with a sexual and emotional relationship. And I empathize with the instinct to protect young girls from the fallout of having a boy run away in the face of feelings he doesn’t understand.
But what effect does that message have on young men? I fear that this leads them to think it’s masculine to want sex and feminine to want relationships. They may feel emasculated if they, perhaps anticipating their unreadiness, desire a relationship without sex. Grown men may fear that sexual desire means that they desire to use people. Men may also feel guilty for wanting only sex from a woman, even if she wants the same thing.
At least for grown men, research has shown this assumption to be untrue. Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher looked at a 2011 study of 5,200 singles in America which showed that men are just as eager to marry as women. A 2000 study showed more men than women reporting that marriage was their “ideal lifestyle.”
So it seems that even if boys just want one thing, men don’t. Setting aside the problem of men fearing being seen as feminine, I think it’s high-time we blast apart the idea that one sex wants one thing when it comes to sex and love, and the other sex wants something else.
However, that still leaves the problem the maxim “boys just want sex” is meant to solve. I am unabashedly, in-yo-face, sex-positive. However, I still think that young people are well-served by a happy medium between two extreme views when it comes to sex. There’s the one side, which says that sex outside of certain confines (whether it be a committed, adult relationship or marriage or something else) will always necessarily have terrible consequences which will be unpleasant now and scar the participants for life (or, in other words, “you will get chlamydia and die”). And there’s the other side, which says that it’s okay to have sex whenever you’re physically ready for it.
I believe that right now, most kids would be best served by waiting until they’re older for sex. They’re not bad people if they don’t, and different people mature at different rates. But I suspect that for most young people, sex elicits all kinds of complicated, new feelings which are more easily and better dealt with after they get a little more life experience under their belts.
So I’d like to see kids encouraged to wait not because men are one way and women are another, but because for both genders, life is easier and more pleasant when you do new things when you’re ready for them, and not before.