Study of teen relationships picked up widely in media

Andrew SmilerA recently published study by Dr. Andrew Smiler of SUNY Oswego’s psychology department has drawn attention because it confounds decades of pop culture stereotypes of teenage boys.

Published in the February issue of the Journal of Adolescence, Smiler’s “‘I Wanted to Get to Know Her Better’: Adolescent Boys’ Dating Motives, Masculinity Ideology and Sexual Behavior” found that the top reasons for boys wanting to date revolved around relational and emotional, not sexual, reasons.

The study of 105 racially and economically diverse 10th-grade boys did not surprise Smiler but appears to run counter to conventional belief about the motives of teenagers, he said.

When it came to reasons for dating, boys ranked “I liked the person” first, “Really attracted to the person” second, “Wanted to get to know the person” third. “This really speaks against the stereotype we have of boys as sex-driven,” Smiler noted.

When rating reasons for having intercourse, “Wanted to know what it was like” and “I felt desire” tied for first, but barely in front of “Because I liked/loved the person” and “My partner wanted to.” (In both questions, participants could endorse more than one reason.) “There’s a lot of relational stuff going on there,” Smiler noted.

A New York Times reporter, Tara Parker-Pope, saw the study, wrote a blog item on it on Feb. 15, and the story took off from there.

“Her blog had more than 50 comments by the middle of that day and more than 170 comments by Feb. 21,” Smiler said. “It was among the Times’ 20 most-e-mailed stories, and it’s very unusual for an article that is just online to get that kind of reaction.”

The response convinced Parker-Pope to write a follow-up story, which appeared in print on page 2 in the Sunday New York Times’ Week in Review section on Feb. 24.

Parker-Pope’s piece was analyzed by many other outlets ranging from the Baltimore Sun’s BaltAmour blog to Salon.com, and Smiler was quickly contacted by radio stations in Pittsburgh and Montreal.

While the idea of boys wanting to lose their virginity has become an American pop culture plot staple from the 1982 movie “Porky’s” to the recent “Superbad,” that this response rated very low seems to indicate this is more fantasy than fact, Smiler said.

The study found peer pressure had little influence as well. The need to not be the only single one or to fit in with friends were the least endorsed reasons for dating and sex, respectively.

Other questions about drug use, depression and other behaviors matched national data found elsewhere. “If they match all the other data, why would they lie about this part?” Smiler asked.

The continuing stereotype of sex-crazed boys could be detrimental in making them think they have to assume a macho role, Smiler said. “It also impacts the development of girls, as they think all that boys want is sex,” he added. “If we don’t teach them about relationships when they’re teenagers, how do they learn these necessary skills?”

Smiler will discuss his findings during SUNY Oswego’s College Hour program “Gender and Young Men’s Sex Lives” at 12:40 p.m. March 12 in Room 107 of Lanigan Hall. Admission will be free.

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CONTACT: Dr. Andrew Smiler, 312-3462

(Posted: Mar 05, 2008)

Tags: research news: faculty projects