Sexual Psychology … #BoysToo
Today’s focus on sexual equality, consent, everyday sexism, the MeToo movement and girls’ rights can leave boys’ feelings about sex and relationships side-lined and in some cases casts boys’ sexual psychology in a negative light.
Are boys paying the price for the behaviour of their forefathers? How can boys navigate a world where their natural sexual feelings may be treated as inappropriate and in need of correction?
Instead of this vacuum being filled by influences and influencers and the values of social media, internet porn, drill, rap and grime videos, computer games, and cage fighting, we must actively help boys (of all sexual orientations) to understand and feel more comfortable with their sexual feelings. In addition, they need an insight into the sexual psychology of girls.
I have 2 daughters and 2 sons, I want all of them to feel safe and to be treated well. However, I question whether our recent approach to boys’ sexual behaviour is the right way to address concerns about their attitudes and behaviour towards girls.
Boys today are buffeted between opposite ubiquitous influences. While the school curriculum and classroom may address ‘sexism’ and promote ‘appropriate’ sexual attitudes and behaviours, there’s a reversal when boys step out of the school gates.
Adolescent boys consume very high levels of non-homework screen time (Sigman 2019), much of it consisting of violent computer games, drill, rap and grime videos, cage fighting and more on Youtube, or PornHub complete with ‘hyper-masculine’ hyper-muscular images of men and associated behaviours. A recent study by the British Board of Film Classification (2020) concluded that ‘Viewing pornography has been normalised among children from their mid-teens … more encountering it on networks such as Snapchat and WhatsApp than on dedicated pornography sites.’ Needless to say few male porn stars appear on screen wearing a ‘This is What a Feminist Looks Like’ T-shirt, or any shirt for that matter. Their romantic approach to women is somewhat different to that of Cary Grant.
And add to the mix of conflicting messages the fact that boys today are growing up in a post-Harvey Weinstein environment in which an understandable get-even with bad men ambience permeates our society. Glancing in the window display of a local book shop last weekend I was treated to the recipe books Men Who Hate Women along with Misogynation: The True Scale of Sexism and other heart-warming titles to curl up with in bed.
But there’s also a trickle-down effect that has crept into some of the PSHE/RSE curriculum from academia where the study of males, females and their relationships is often hijacked, overly politicised and sensationalised.
With this in mind a team of male and female researchers recently highlighted what they describe as the growing ‘problems of ideologically-motivated scholarship’. They expressed concern over current research on male/female relationships: ‘some of the work being produced is positively horrifying and surreal while exerting considerable influence on the field and beyond.’ And ‘beyond’ includes British classrooms.
In Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship, the academics intentionally made up nonsensical academic studies, and published them in respected peer-reviewed journals. They concluded that peer-reviewed academic journals will ‘accept very shoddy qualitative methodology and ideologically-motivated interpretations’ to support it, as long as the paper ‘problematizes men’s attraction to women’. (Pluckrose et al 2018)
The findings of their research are stranger than fiction, the authors describing their academic papers as ‘all outlandish or intentionally broken in significant ways’… We attempted to get some little bit of lunacy or depravity to be acceptable at the highest levels of intellectual respectability within the field. Therefore, each paper began with something absurd or deeply unethical (or both) that we wanted to forward or conclude.’
Their academic publishing successes don’t exactly sound like airport novels and include ‘The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct,’ which blamed the phallus for causing climate change and raping empty spaces through “manspreading.” Other papers included a woke version of a chapter from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf ‘with fashionable buzzwords switched in’, as well as a paper discovering “rape culture” in dog parks ‘in which human rape culture plays out by the moral permissiveness we extend to animals.’
More extraordinary was that as each nonsensical paper was accepted for publication the authors would use it and cite it as academic evidence to gain the acceptance of their further nonsensical papers in even more academic journals concluding: ‘the canon of literature builds upon itself, so that once a ridiculous paper gets published, it can become the basis for other ridiculous papers.’
I’ve been hearing more boys and female teachers, along with the mothers of boys beginning to say they feel boys are sometimes seemingly presumed guilty of potential sexism and inappropriate behaviour and in need of re-educating, or better yet pre-educating. And I also hear that girls too are lacking insight into the sexual psychology of boys.
Given that more than half of pupils in England are boys (ONS 2020), we have a duty to ensure their starting position in RSE is not one of original sin, where their natural sexual feelings may be treated as misguided, inappropriate and in need of correction.
Sexual Equality vs Sexual Equivalence
This state of affairs stems from a misguided interpretation of sexual equality. While the presumption of equality is very much the zeitgeist and highly useful in many spheres, in some areas of PSHE that I teach it can be highly counterproductive, for example in preventing future alcohol problems or body image problems where biological sex differences are key factors underpinning differences in vulnerability of boys versus girls.
I’ve recently been involved in the publication of a global study of 12 – 15 year old adolescents and the link between violence, early intercourse or risky sexual behaviour. Across 42 countries we found that compared to girls, boys were significantly more likely to engage in violence, have had early sexual intercourse, and to have multiple sex partners. (Smith et al, 2020)
Male sex drives are generally found to be both stronger and far more direct than that of females. Experiencing a teenage boy’s libido has been described as being handcuffed to a maniac. In additional to social and cultural influences much of the difference in male/female sexual behaviour may be underpinned by evolutionary and neurobiological influences (Klimas et al 2019) as well as the more obvious differences:
- Girls can get pregnant, boys can’t.
- Boys can father babies well into old age, girls have a shorter timescale.
- If a female becomes pregnant it can entail 2 years of profound bodily changes plus exhausting infant nurturing time – a huge investment. Few boys suffer from morning sickness, cracked nipples or mastitis.
- Girls are more physically vulnerable to unwanted sexual attention and forced sex. And even when having consensual sex girls are physically the ‘receptors’.
Therefore, the sexual psychology and behaviour of females has evolved differently and when it comes to sex, girls may be understandably more considered and selective than boys. This may seem blatantly obvious to us but not necessarily to boys, or even some grown men.
Less Woke, More Bloke
If we want to counter media influences and influencers and help boys navigate a world of competing messages, we have to actively step in. Instead of leaving them with an impression that their natural sexual feelings are simply inappropriate and in need of correction, we need to help them to better understand male sexual psychology … and to feel comfortable with it. They also need an insight into the sexual psychology of girls and why it may differ from their own. They need to better understand the difference between sexual feelings and impulses and behaviours.
Regarding PSHE/RSE, we have to be more honest and authentic – i.e. a bit less woke and a little more bloke in the tone in which we address boys.
Males, females and their sexual relations – there may be no easy solution to a timeless very human dynamic. Realistically, we need to cultivate better understanding and most importantly consideration and empathy for each other while often agreeing to disagree. Vive la différence
Dr Aric Sigman
A slightly expanded version of this article is available on: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sexual-psychology-boysto-dr-aric-sigman