During adolescence, most youth experience their first kiss, first relationship, and first sex (intercourse). Instead of talking about adolescent sexuality as inherently risky, I tend to think about it as typical or “normative.” After all, if most adolescents are doing these things, but only a minority become pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI), then it’s clearly not all bad.
Some people say that men are biologically programmed to sleep around and attempt to “spread their seed widely.” While the differences between groups of men and groups of women give some credence to that idea, that notion doesn’t really hold up when you take a closer look at the data.
Part of my research focuses on documenting what’s happening, and many people find the results surprising. One study examined personal reactions to first intercourse. For both young men and young women, the experience was more positive than negative, although as you might expect, the men described their experiences more positively and less negatively than the women. I’ve also explored differences in ages of first kiss, relationship, and sex among guys with male partners, guys with female partners, and guys with both male and female partners.
I’ve also examined some of the factors that influence boys’ and young men’s sexual decision making. In a study of 10th grade boys, the majority reported that relationship-focused motives drew them to their most recent relationship and their most recent sexual experience. For a minority of boys, peer pressure was also a factor. In another study, young heterosexual men indicated that “expressive” traits, like caring and emotional expression, were preferable in a dating partner and that “instrumental” traits, like decisiveness and independence, were preferable in a work colleague. And the more egalitarian (or less sexist) the guy was, the less difference there was in describing a potential date and a potential coworker. An interview-based project revealed that guys experiences with “hookups” often didn’t match the standard expectation of a hookup as one-time sex with a complete stranger.