As mentioned in the introduction to this series of blog posts, I will be posting excerpts of chapters from Boys, Sex & Media with PDF links to the complete chapters. Use the blog tag “Boys-Sex-Media” to find all of the posts in this series. The excerpt of Chapter Three, on boys’ sexual health, is below. Click this PDF link to read the entire chapter.
“What did you miss most, the alcohol or the meaningless sex?”
–TV Program Arrow
The inquiry above was made of Oliver Queen (The Green Arrow) in the pilot episode of the popular series Arrow upon his return home from a five-year sojourn on a mostly deserted island. The question is loaded with implicit meaning about how males of a certain age are expected to approach sex: get drunk, get laid, no strings, no problems. The words of Oliver’s friend are a sign of the swagger that dominates media depictions of the male sexual role and helps perpetuate the myth that boys possess an innate sexual prowess and value physical gratification over messy emotions like love.
The reality is quite different. Michele Chai, a health promoter with Planned Parenthood in Toronto, talked about swagger in a widely read 2014 article in Canada’s The Walrus:
“People tend to think that the swagger young men display is because they have confidence about sex…You want to know the three things about sex that young guys lie about most often to their peers?…One, how often they have sex. Two, how much they enjoy the sex they actually have. And three, whether or not they use condoms.” (Condoms presumably contradicting the freewheeling approach to sex that signifies masculinity.)
Chai concluded her remarks by noting that swagger and the lies it spawns add up to too many unhappy and unsafe sexual encounters for boys.
Popular representations of adolescent boys and young men trade in swagger. Males are routinely shown as preoccupied with sex and women’s bodies. The more timid among them ogle women from afar while others with more confidence confront women directly with a come-on or catcall. Representations like these are based in traditional and highly stereotyped views of male sexuality and masculinity. Pediatrician Mary Ott has talked about the impact of these stereotypes on boys: poor sexual health outcomes during adolescence and less engagement with healthcare services, especially as adolescent males enter adulthood. She notes as well that adolescent males who adhere to conventional beliefs about masculinity report more sexual partners, less intimate relationships during their last reported intercourse, less consistent condom use, and less belief in male responsibility to prevent pregnancy.
The World Health Organization defines sexual health as “…a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.” As we will see, our society has a long way to go to ensure true sexual health for boys.
Download this PDF to read the entire chapter.