In today's Times, a writer asks, do we need to talk to boys and girls differently about sex? A reader answers: why are men always propositioning me on the street?
Pediatrician Dr. Perri Klass, in this week's "18 and Under" column, talks rather generally about the challenges of talking to boys about sex - which, in her book, means ensuring not just a respect for women but a general air of courtesy, a necessary defense against those who regard adolescent males as predators and girls as victims. Well, sure, among other things. As is often the case in these pieces, though, there seems to be a sense that these kids have just sprung up, Athena-style, fully formed and sexually active, at the whims of an overly sexualized pop culture. True to a degree, sure - healthy images of adolescent sexuality are certainly few and far between - but by the time a kid's a teen, hasn't he absorbed values of respect and decency at home? To the concerned Times-reading parent delivering this lecture, surely there's been at least a decade of raising, living, and influence far more potent than any 20-minute conversation?
I asked a male friend about "the talk." He described it as, "a weird combination of things I'd known for years - like safe sex stuff, and that it was okay to masturbate, which I'd gathered - and things I really did not need to hear. Like, 'if you ever get a girl pregnant, come to me, not your mother.' Pregnant? I was 12!" Another dude I asked said, "Yeah, my parents sat me down when I was maybe 15 to talk to me about how 'no means no' and basically to be a reasonable person and it was kind of offensive. I mean, I get it. But it was so obvious to me and the way I'd been raised. The guys who need to hear that? Probably not the ones having these conscientious talks with their parents in the first place."
To answer the author's question, do the sexes need to be addressed differently? Obviously, yes and no. Respect, self-respect, safety are fundamentals. The particulars and the pressures differ. Courtesy, which seems to be the author's bete noir, is important, and I guess in an ideal world underlies all this, but when push comes to shove is another issue entirely when we're talking about real issues of safety, trust and decency. The readers who write in earnestly all agree to a degree - "teach your children well" ad nauseam - and then there's this:
As a single, 30-something woman, I can tell you it isn't just the teenagers that need manners. I feel like such an old lady, but I'm simply shocked at the behaviour of men. Every week or so, a man comes up out of the blue to demand sex in explicit terms. Today a man came up on the subway and told me how good I'd look giving him a, well something that I don't think that can be repeated on the NY Times. On-line is the worst: last week a man wrote me the comparatively clean: "Strategically, what's the quickest way to intercourse with you?"...I have to wonder–does this work for some women? Why are so many men behaving like something out of a porn video? What on earth is going on?
Talking to Boys About Sex [New York Times]