The Intersection

Sex & Science At Sixteen

i-fbbfba8a8ef9ef509cf75a3ae676549c-a1250i2_britneyjustinAw.jpgIf you watch prime time tv, music videos, or walk past a magazine stand, it would appear that the average adolescent male has sex on the brain. I never gave it much thought, although regular readers know by now I’m not particularly comfortable with any kind of generalization. We humans are a diverse bunch. If we’re to assume the guys are most motivated in pursuing a relationship because of sex, there sure are plenty of anomalies. And isn’t our reality hugely the result of cultural norms? Family experience? Social expectations? So uh, no, I don’t quite buy research that attempts to understand a thought process so complex in young fellas. Life at that age is complicated enough already, no?

Let’s back peddle a bit… According to the NYTimes, ‘a fascinating new report suggests that boys are motivated more by love and a desire to form real relationships with the girls they date.’ Sounds lovely. Okay, so what?

Look, boys (and girls) are running around pumped with testosterone, estrogen, and a cocktail of hormonal novelties. Those are pretty tremendous motivating factors, but there’s a heck of a lot more in the equation. As teens, bodies are changing in all sorts of ways and the adjustment can be interesting, scary, exciting, depressing, shocking, embarrassing, and most likely, all of the above. Mix in lots of peer pressure to fit in, slap on media imagery of teens in 2008, and multiply that with the trials and tribulations of high school… I’ll admit I’m understandably pretty darn skeptical of a study on what boys want.

After the jump, the story of an interesting topic and underwhelming research. At best…

The details: Over at SUNY Oswego, psychology researchers surveyed 105 10th-grade boys whose average age was about 16. The findings revealed that the fellas are asking girls out, to date, or ‘get phsyical‘ for a variety of reasons. (Seems to me the grown ups have all sorts of reasons too). The survey reveals that most of the boys had dating experience and about 40 percent were sexually active (hmmmmm…. I’ll let that one slide for now…. moving on).

Reading further down the page, we learn that physical attraction was not the primary motivation for dating. And get this, over 80 percent of the boys noted ‘really liking the person‘ was most significant. Wait a sec, doesn’t physical attraction sometimes go hand it hand with ‘really liking someone?’ It can you know–there are plenty of evolutionary possibilities for why we seek particular mates and relationships after all.

Let’s see, what else… It’s also reported in this groundbreaking news (it made the NYTimes afterall), boys who had been sexually active cited physical desire and wanting to know what it feels like among the top three reasons for relations. And lots pursued sex because they loved their partner. [Pause for shock to set in].

Now as for the survey model, let me point out the most obvious: Even the researchers admit there’s no way to assess the truthfulness of the answers. And as far as 16-yr-olds answering survey questions about their sexual behavior… Oh boy!

So the big revelation is that teenage boys may be interested in relationships as well as sex. *yawn* Sure, it’s sexed up science at it’s best, but I’m wondering whether we really need to hear about it? While I can wax poetic on the problems with most everything about the study from the Journal of Adolescence, I defer to readers to help evaluate what’s going on here…


  1. #1 Carey
    February 21, 2008

    this was in the new york times? jeez. considering what they don’t cover, its disappointing. sex sells i guess, but substance would be nice too.

  2. #2 agnostic
    February 21, 2008

    You’re not being fair by dismissing the research so impertinently.

    Isn’t it true that portrayals of teen males tend to focus just on how sex-crazed they are? This is true enough, but here’s a study showing that they’re also very concerned about the relationship part, usually more than the physical.

    I don’t think that’s widely appreciated — it’s almost as if guys’ ability to fall head-over-heels in love gradually switches off during their 20s. Most people have forgotten everything that happened during adolescence (except the masochists!), so it’s good to have studies like this one remind us what it was like back then.

    That’s true of studies of adolescents in general: they may seem obvious to me, but that’s only because I recall almost everything that went on. Everyone else buries those memories, perhaps for the better!

  3. #4 jope
    February 21, 2008

    Heh, for a minute I thought that Triarchic Theory link was a reference to Elf Sternberg. *shudder*

  4. #5 DiscoveredJoys
    February 21, 2008

    Adolescence is full of body changes, hormones, peer and media pressure – absolutely true. There is also the pressure of sorting out the pecking order within your own same sex cohort to establish your ‘position’ in life.

    Plus, of course, it is all so new and different – its bound to make a deep impression. First kiss, first love, first… well you get the idea.

    I’m glad I’m past all that.

  5. #6 Mark P
    February 21, 2008

    Begin at the beginning: why are there two sexes? All male-female interactions relating to reproduction are – surprise! – motivated by reproductive drives. Those drives express themselves in different ways (or different-appearing ways) under different circumstances. But basically the desire to have sex or the desire to have a meaningful relationship are just different aspects of the same thing.

    And even if the teenaged boys tell the truth as they know it, how many of them actually understand exactly what it is that they want or exactly what motivates them to do certain things?

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