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The new book by the author Peggy Orenstein, Boys and sex, It is based on extensive interviews with more than 100 university and university children and young people across the United States between the ages of 16 and 22 on intimacy, consent and navigation through masculinity. They covered a wide range of races, religions, classes and sexual orientations.

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The new book by the author Peggy Orenstein, Boys and sex, It is based on extensive interviews with more than 100 university and university children and young people across the United States between the ages of 16 and 22 on intimacy, consent and navigation through masculinity. They covered a wide range of races, religions, classes and sexual orientations.

Siza Padovan / Getty Images

Editor's Note: This interview contains a homophobic insult.

Author Peggy Orenstein knows that talking with her son about sex is not easy: "I know that for many parents, you would rather get in the eye with a fork than talk directly with your child about sex, and would probably prefer to prick your eye with a fork too, "she says.

But we don't have the "luxury" of continuing to avoid this conversation, she says. "If we don't talk to our children, the media will educate them for us and we will not love the result."

Orenstein spent 25 years recounting the lives of teenagers and teenagers and never really expected to focus on children. But then came the #MeToo movement, and Orenstein, whose previous books include Girls & Sex and Cinderella Ate My Daughter, decided it was time to involve young people in conversations about gender and intimacy.

His new book, Boys and sex, It is based on extensive interviews with more than 100 university and university children and youth from diverse backgrounds between the ages of 16 and 22.

"When I was making the girls book, the kind of central problem with girls was that they were separated from their bodies and did not understand the response of their bodies and their needs and their limits and their desires," she says. "With the children, it seemed they were cutting their hearts."

Orenstein points out that society does not usually give children "permission or space" to talk about their inner life. Maybe that's why the young people he spoke with were so eager to open up: "When they had the chance [to talk], when someone really gave them to them and was not going to judge what they had to say, they did it. "

Orenstein says that the boys he talked to felt limited by traditional notions of masculinity. One interviewee confided that he preferred to partner with girls for school projects because "it was okay to say that he did not know what he was doing with a girl and that he could not do it with a boy."

"That idea of ​​emotional vulnerability was so deep for children," says Orenstein. "Vulnerability is basically essential for human relationships, so when you exclude children from the ability to be vulnerable, you are doing them great harm."

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On how the children described him as an "ideal" man

They saw girls as equals and deserving of their place on the playground, in class and in leadership, and they had friends. So that really had changed. But I would ask them all the time to just give me a kind of lightning of the ideal boy. And when we would do that, it was as if they were channeling 1955. It was still stoicism, sexual conquest, dominance, aggression, or this strange combination of being aggressive and relaxed: athletics, wealth. It was really narrow. And they talked a lot, particularly about … suppressing feelings. And many boys told me they had discovered … how to build a wall inside to block any feeling, except, perhaps, happiness and anger. They would talk about training not to feel or training not to cry.

On the use of homophobic epithets by children, such as f **

The boys used that word, that epithet of a gay person, a lot among them. But what they would tell me, that is, straight guys, is that they would never tell that to a gay person. That they had homosexual friends, that they were not homophobic, but that they use that word all the time. And it had basically become an insult to masculinity, not so much a declaration of sexual orientation. But I think that word, that insult to gay, is what draws the lines of the "man" box for children.

And it's basically the fear of being called [that] That closes any objection to intensify and highlight. So basically, watch the children. And I was also really interested in "#nohomo". C.J. Pascoe, who is a sociologist in Oregon, conducted a survey on how children use that hashtag on Twitter. And it wasn't just a homophobic insult. It was also a protective shield that allowed them to express really basic human ideas about affection and joy. Then they said, "I miss you, man. #Nohomo," or even something as innocuous as: "I like chocolate ice cream. #Nohomo." It was just a way that allowed them to be completely human.

On how Internet pornography has affected children

What they are getting in porn is a really distorted view of what human sexuality is. They see image after image of sex as something that men do to women, of female pleasure as a performance for male satisfaction, of distorted bodies, of many things that frankly would not feel very good for most people. And without discussion with parents and without discussion by schools, he is becoming the de facto sex educator for many children. …

One thing that research shows is that [porn] It actually reduces your satisfaction in your relationships. Then they feel less satisfied with the bodies of their partners, with their own bodies, with their own performance. So, something to talk about with the boys is: "You won't do any favor once you enter the room." But it affects your ideas about how women should be. It affects your ideas about how women should behave. It affects your ideas about what acts should be performed and how those acts should be performed. One of the boys [told] He told me that his girlfriend was an African-American girl with curves, and said that after spending hours and hours watching and reacting to what he called "all those white and skinny women," it was hard to get aroused with his body. And that was really bothering him.

On the ambiguity of the term "connection"

"Connection" is an intentionally ambiguous term. It can mean anything. It can mean kissing. It can mean oral sex. It can mean sex. And, in truth, when you analyze research, approximately one third of university connections fall into each of those categories. But that ambiguity allows young people to greatly overestimate what their peers are doing. And so that it can actually trigger a type of anxiety and fear of getting lost, or the expectation of what you are supposed to be doing, that can make you have sex that you might not want to have, or press harder than you might otherwise press.

Upon learning that gay boys are better at communicating consent than straight guys

That was something that was a big surprise and a great lesson for me: that gay boys were much more willing, capable and capable [of negotiating] the terms of their sexual experiences with their partners. And that is partly because they have to do it, because what is going to happen is not necessarily obvious. But they were always so confused by the resistance among heterosexual men to do that; If we talk about it, it means we are going to have sex. And that's great. Why would you think it was a bad thing? …

What Dan Savage, a columnist who writes about sexual conversation, says is that there are four magic words that gays use in a sexual encounter: "What are you up to?" And the beauty of that phrase is that it is a truly open question. It is not a yes or no to a predetermined set of possibilities or decided by the other person, but it is a conversation. And that is, ultimately, what is sought in this whole discussion about consent: making sex a conversation that people can have not only because of its legality, but to make it a more mutually rewarding experience for everyone. the involved

Sam Briger and Thea Chaloner produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Deborah Franklin adapted it for the Web.