Kinder, Gentler, and Less Likely to Become Teen Dads: Today’s Adolescent Guys and the Birth Rate

My Genderal Interest column at Jezebel this week: Is the Teen Birth Rate Dropping Because Boys are More Romantic? Excerpt:

…in terms of their emotional dexterity, boys today are “more like girls” than ever before. Perhaps that’s because girls today are more like boys. In the past 25 years, girls have made undeniable progress educationally, athletically, financially –- and sexually. That success has often come with a heavy dose of anxiety-ridden perfectionism. Teen girls’ agency is easily oversold; many adults (not to mention adolescents) have a hard time distinguishing a performed sexiness from authentic sexual desire. But this progress isn’t illusory either; young women seem better equipped to name what they want than were their counterparts 25 years ago. As more and more girls have at least begun to escape the straitjacket of classic feminine expectations, they’ve given permission to their brothers to start to do the same. The end result is that in terms of what they want from sex, boys and girls may be more alike than ever before.

As Michael Kimmel, C.J. Pascoe, and other sociologists of masculinity have shown, traditional adolescent male heterosexual behavior has been driven as much by the desire to win approval from other men as by biological lust itself. Having sex with girls (preferably lots of girls) is a way of establishing masculine bona fides. Some of that is tied up neatly with homophobia; the more sex a young man has with women, the less likely he’ll be slapped with the “faggot” label. Yet recent research has shown that just within the past decade, boys have become much less homophobic. As fear of being labeled “gay” decreases, guys may well feel less pressure to have sex to prove their heterosexuality. The fact that guys are waiting longer to have heterosexual intercourse -– and are more likely to use contraception when they do finally have it — may owe as much to their own changing definitions of manhood as it does to fear or the economy. That’s a good thing.

2 thoughts on “Kinder, Gentler, and Less Likely to Become Teen Dads: Today’s Adolescent Guys and the Birth Rate

  1. Kimmel is sniffing too much of his own powder. The ONLY reason young men are avoiding women is that women have reproductive rights, and men do not:

    Men fear having no voice in birth control issues
    Men fear having no voice in abortion issues
    Men fear having no voice in adoption issues
    Men fear having no voice in custody issues.

    Most of all men fear the fate of 1 in 3 men:

    To live each day in unpseakable agony, deprived of our children, and legally indentured to reward the person who, having 100% of all power, denies us 100% of all dignity and humanity.

  2. Anthony’s comment might be a better explanation of the “marriage strike” among 20-something men – teenage boys tend not to think that far ahead. Although an excellent sex-ed lesson would be a field trip to family court, where armed with calculators and notepads, they could quantify at least the financial devastation that many men suffer at the hands of bitter exes and their legal henchpeople.

    I think that most teenage boys have always been and are capable of being romantic. In today’s society though they will be sorely disappointed. The “agency” of girls oftentimes crosses the boundary from equality (which many males want in a relationship) to overarching female control.

    Girls may be cute to look at and fantasize about, but perhaps the easy access to porn relieves some of that desire. In contrast, look at the media representations of teenage girl behavior, which many tweens emulate, and see how the boys in their lives get pushed around (often literally). Who wants to deal with that?

    Finally, it is vital that teen boys learn how important it is to take care of birth control from their end, instead of leaving it up to the girl. Both have much to lose from an unwanted pregnancy, but the boy will have zero say in choosing his particular outcome (other than debtor’s prison or the grave).

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