Boys and Sex with Peggy Orenstein

Talking about boys and sex can be uncomfortable. But if want our boys (and girls and non-binary children) to have healthy, safe, fulfilling sexual relationships, it’s essential.

And there’s the hitch, right? A lot of us don’t even want to think about our children having sexual relationships — and when we do talk to our kids about sex, it’s typically because we don’t want them to become pregnant, we don’t want them to get a disease, and we don’t them to be hurt or arrested. Rarely is our focus on helping our children develop the skills and knowledge they’ll need to engage in healthy, safe and fulfilling sexual relationships.

That’s a mistake, says Peggy Orenstein, author Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity. When we avoid these conversations, our children get their sexual education elsewhere — often, from porn.

Contrary to her expectations when she began reporting the book, Peggy found that boys were “insightful narrators” of their lives and experiences. Boys are acutely aware of the issues that affect them, of the “rules” that govern their behavior and social success and of society’s evolving definition of masculinity.

The #MeToo movement has inspired a lot of conversation about gender and sexual violence, and given us all the opportunity to rethink the spoken and unspoken messages our society sends boys. “It’s not just a time to reduce sexual violence,” Peggy says. “It’s a crack in the edifice where we can engage boys in a more positive way about sex, intimacy, masculinity and gender dynamics.”

In this episode, Jen, Janet & Peggy discuss:
  • Common preconceptions about boys
  • How the #MeToo movement has created openings for conversation with our boys
  • Hookup culture
  • The current status of sex ed in school (only 10 states require that their sex education programs must be medically-accurate!)
  • Boys’ skewed perceptions of bodies and sex
  • Why boys say “hilarious” all the time
  • Preparing boys to speak out when they see bad behavior — & why they might not, in spite of their best intentions
  • How rigid gender norms harm boys
  • Broadening boys’ emotional vocabulary
  • Dads as the “gender police”
  • Supporting fathers as they connect and communicate with their sons
  • The role of vulnerability in human relationships
  • How drinking — and socialization — warp boys’ assumptions about girls’ activity and intentions
  • The difference between a “bad hookup” and sexual assault

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Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:

Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity — Peggy’s book — Peggy’s website; includes a list of resources to help you talk to your kids about sex

Will We Ever Figure Out How to Talk to Boys About Sex?New York Times article by Peggy

“Boys & Sex” Reveals that Young Men Feel “Cut Off From Their Hearts” — Peggy discussing her book on Fresh Air

The Fine Line Between a Bad Date and Sexual Assault: 2 Views on Aziz Ansari — NPR story about the incident Peggy mentions at 25:23

Teaching Boys Social Skills — ON BOYS episode featuring Ryan Wexelblatt, the ADHD expert mentioned at 37:02

Sex, Teens, and Everything in Between: The New and Necessary Conversations Today’s Teenagers Need to Have About Consent, Sexual Harassment, Healthy Relationships, Love and More, by Shafia Zaloom — book Peggy calls “absolutely a foundational text for parents & teenagers”

Talk to Boys About Sex with Amy Lang — ON BOYS episode 110

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