From Abercrombie and Fitch selling a thong for little girls with the words “Wink-Wink” on it (yep, that happened), to the infamous Wal-Mart undies imprinted with the phrase “Who needs credit cards?”, things have certainly gotten out of control when it comes to the sexualization of young girls in our society.
But what about boys? Do they feel the same kinds of pressure as girls when it comes to their own sexuality? Psychologist Gary R. Brooks, author of The Centerfold Syndrome, believes boys are taught that men must keep proving their masculinity with sex and that there is a “scoring” mentality in our culture.
Here are 7 examples of how our society influences boys from the time they are young to become stud muffins, heartbreakers and ladies men.
1. Sexy Baby
Occasionally you see a little baby boy wearing a onesie with a catchphrase like Future Heartbreaker or even Sexy Baby written across the chest. Okay. Fine. Most of us understand it’s just a laugh. And at the infant stage it seems pretty harmless, because the child obviously can’t read or understand that he’s essentially just a crawling billboard for a grown-up joke. But here’s the thing: it’s not what a Stud Muffin onesie says about your child; it’s what clothing like that says about us as parents and as a society. We collectively agree that being a stud is a totally cute, funny and acceptable thing to say about a boy. Flip it around. Would you put your daughter in a onesie that said, “Sexy”?
What’s the first thing people joke about when you show them an ultrasound of a little boy? The penis. We can’t help ourselves. “Ho-ho! Looks like he’s gonna take after his old man!” We are literally talking about his size before the kid even leaves the womb. Sure, the jokes can be funny, but it’s proof of how far the whole thing has gone at this point. Males in this country spend a lifetime being bombarded by an endless parade of size jokes and enlargement pill ads. The byproduct is that over 55% of men aren’t happy with what God has given them. We’ve created a culture where men feel insecure if they feel they aren’t “measuring up” and being hung like a porn star is the ultimate sign of manliness.
3. Yahoo! He Likes Girls!
Some parents get absolutely giddy when their little boy demonstrates even the slightest interest in girls. As one woman on reddit.com notes:
“A friend of mine just had a son, and whenever he posts pictures of the kid with a woman there are jokes about how that kid is already charming the ladies, or loves the boobs just like his dad. One of the first pictures/comments was of the child breastfeeding and something along the lines of ‘went straight for the titties, good man!’ Ewwwww.” – kitcat_kittycat, reddit.com
4. Looks Like Someone Has A Crush
It’s easy to make the mistake of teasing or joking around with your son when he first shows interest in the opposite sex. But by making a big deal about it, you run the risk of putting undue attention on girls and sexuality. One Pediatrician notes, “It can get pretty uncomfortable for a young boy if he has to answer the girlfriend question – especially if it was never a passing thought in his mind in the first place. A lot of times, he wasn’t thinking about it until you put the thought in his head.” If you are insensitive to your son’s feelings of embarrassment about topics like “crushes” or “girlfriends”, you run the risk that he may retreat into himself when it comes to discussing his love life with you in the future.
5. Avengers Abs
What about body image? Do boys worry about it the same way girls do? The sculpted, muscular Adonis image of the perfect male form is everywhere, from superheroes like Thor and Spiderman to actors like Brad Pitt and Channing Tatum. Movies, comic-books, professional athletes and wrestlers… Most boys spend their lives completely surrounded by these muscular versions of the masculine ideal. It’s as prevalent in the media as the perfect female body, and yet the male side of the equation gets very little attention.
According to a new study, 18 percent of young boys seriously worry about their body image and those that do engage in high-risk behaviors like binge-drinking and drug use. Pediatricians frequently have to address the issues of depression and body image with teenage boys because of the inadequacies they feel. The pressure is there for boys, just as it is for girls.
6. Everybody’s Doing It
According to research, 33% of boys ages 15-17 say they feel pressure to have sex, often by male friends. And the numbers show that even though 63% of teens believe that waiting to have sex is a good idea, few people actually do. Here are the statistic on first intercourse, by age:
While teenage boys and girls engage in sex at nearly identically rates, it’s interesting to note that more boys feel pressure to ‘do the deed’ than girls, by an average of 10%. Guys generally aren’t encouraged to ‘wait for marriage’ or until they’re in love, at least not by pop culture standards. Quite the opposite, a normal male character in movies and TV is ready to have sex at any given moment.
7. “Men & Women Can’t Be Friends” – Billy Crystal, When Harry Met Sally
We’ve all heard this at at some point. If it’s true – that men and women can’t be friends– then what’s the root cause? Could it have something to do with the fact that we discourage play between boys and girls after a certain age? It’s rare to see an 8 year old boy having a solo play-date with an 8 year old girl. For the most part, we place a social stigma on boys who play with girls and by the time they even hit kindergarten kids are splitting up along gender lines. That division can continue into adulthood, when some men grow up and still don’t know how to ‘just be friends’ with women.
It’s easy for boys to believe everything they see and hear from society and conclude that being a “real man” is about being buff, sexual and aggressive – i.e, a stud. But as loving parents, we should know better and we should fight back against that stereotype. Think twice before raising a “future heartbreaker”. Instead, be sensitive to your son’s sexuality and treat it with the same gentleness and respect as you would your daughter’s. Our boys (and our girls) will be better off for it.