Many people believe that boys are genetically coded to fight and hustle each other for the most desirable girls in the village in order to spread their seed repeatedly. I’m no scientist, but I’ve read enough to know that this view (which is given perhaps its most nuanced, convincing defense in the book The Moral Animal) is in great dispute, to say the least. (Here’s a great piece by Tyler that talks about their experience with male hormones, and how that affected them.) Do you really want to buy into the idea that we’re all destined by natural selection to exist in a state of animalistic sexual manipulation and faithlessness? We can do better, guys.
I’ll never forget one summer many years ago, when, while sitting in a Miami hotel lobby with a group of work acquaintances (including a couple of women), I leered at a complete stranger in a bikini, and exclaimed, “Goddamn!” as she walked by. My female co-workers sneered in disgust and disbelief, and I had to agree with their reaction. I’d never even thought about catcalling a woman before, so why was I doing it now? The especially troubling part was that this moment coincided with a moment when I was really feeling myself for the first time as an adult—cool job, new girlfriend, all-expenses-paid business trip to South Beach. So, to celebrate, I guess, I decided to act like a depraved Wolf-Whistler of Wall Street, entitled to loudly assess a woman’s body in public. Somewhere, I’d apparently learned to associate livin’ large (at least my version) on South Beach with acting like a colossal douchebag.
I’ve got no interest in blaming the broken-down scapegoat that is “society” for dumb behavior like this—it’s important to accept responsibility for your own stupid decisions. But this d-bag impulse came from somewhere. It wasn’t just a result of having grown up in a conservative small town in the South (though that was a big part of it).
Because I never really talked to family or friends about sex, I learned about it mostly from movies, TV shows, and music, which generally showcased implausibly grandiose, romanticized adventures about crass, bros-before-hos, hit-it-and-quit-it scenarios. There were the sweeping escapades of film Lotharios, like those played by Tom Cruise and Sean Connery, who collected women like trophies as James Bond, and the musical hijinks of Led Zeppelin, N.W.A., and too many more to name. Porn also seeps into every part of our culture, and while it’s not inherently “bad” as a standalone thing, there’s plenty of it that makes sex between men and women look like a power game, and it’s not too difficult to guess who’s usually in power. After being fed these outrageous ideas about POSSESSION and POWER and PIMPS and GIRLS GONE WILD, till it’s no wonder that everyday life seems rather tame by comparison. I once wrote this in a diary years ago, and it hasn’t aged much:
You are not a pimp. You are not like a pimp. You are not up on “pimp game.” Pimps are psychotic abusive creeps who live off the grid and get arrested a lot. No matter what Ice-T says, they ain’t that smart. Snoop Dogg is not a pimp; he’s a legendary, millionaire rapper whose music has gotten more boring the more he’s talked about being a pimp.
To be blunt, no matter what the external world promises, the idea that you can possess women as a form of social currency, as a way to gain power, or to impress your friends, or as retribution for the time some girl dissed you in elementary school for trying to talk to her after band practice…anyone who seriously buys into that is probably a sad, lonely, injured person.
When straight teenage boys have feelings of powerlessness—due to a lack of opportunity or the information necessary to make decisions, sexual or otherwise—and want to lash out at a world that seems to be conspiring against them, one very strong tendency is to feel like you at least deserve the attention of girls whom you want to like you, comfort you, or love you. It should be self-evident why this is a flawed assumption. You’re skipping past the girl’s feelings, you’re asking for a yes/no answer to a complex question, and you’re actually setting yourself up for a variety of bad results, possibly including heartbreak or despair. Girls are not inanimate generators of self-respect; and sex, even with someone you love, will not magically solve your personal problems.
It’s normal to mess up. And it’s also normal to adapt and improve your behavior based on those mistakes. We’re all inclined, at one point or another, to play the blame game or go off the guilt-filled deep end, but, when that happens, it’s a way better choice to face the mirror, learn from your errors, and treat girls—and yourself—with more respect.