At the Theology of the Body Congress last week, I got into a conversation with some of the other speakers about the way Catholics do ministry with teens, especially teen boys. I have long objected to the weird double-standard Christians take in ministering to teen boys versus girls. My son, who was part of the discussion, feels even more strongly than I do about this–and I feel pretty strongly. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.
When speaking with teen girls, youth ministers typically say things like, “You’re such beautiful princesses! You are young, grace filled women of God. You need to know how precious, and special and worthy you are in God’s eyes!”
When speaking with teen boys, on the other hand, youth ministers typically say things like, “We know you all just want sex. We know you’re all a bunch of dogs and you can’t control yourselves. But women aren’t like you guys. They’re precious. They deserve better. You need to learn to keep it in your pants so you can be the men they deserve. So, in the Name of Jesus, stop acting like dogs and man up already.”
Now, I realize that teen speakers and youth ministers don’t necessarily say those exact words, but trust me. If you listen to enough talks to young men and young women they all break down along these lines. Girls are God’s precious princesses and boys are predatory, sex-obsessed dogs that God needs to whip into shape to make them passably human. Frankly, this approach has always disgusted me. I have never been a dog. I worked hard all my life–even as a teen–to be a godly, virtuous man. Likewise, my 21 yo son is not a dog. He is an even stronger and more virtuous man of God than I was at his age. Regardless, I have always resented these talks because they made me feel that if I didn’t want to objectify women–and I didn’t–then there was something wrong with me. I was less manly because I wasn’t a dog. I was insightful enough to know that wasn’t true, but it made me angry for myself and for all my peers. I felt then, and continue to feel, that our boys deserve better. They deserve and desperately need to know that God sees them as princes. As gentlemen. They need to know that they are called–no, destined–to great things. They need to know that because God loves them, they deserve so much more than the cheap pleasures the world holds out to them and that God wants them to save themselves–not just for women’s sake–but because they are special and valuable and deserving of a love that is free, total, faithful and fruitful. I have always believed that men desire a deep, loving, meaningful relationship as much as women do. The problem is, men aren’t given the skills to actually accomplish their hearts desire–largely because we’re too busy expecting them to behave like animals.
Well, in light of this new study from Columbia University, I think I’m going to be a little less shy about my contrarian view of the message we need to be sending to our boys…
“Prevailing values in our culture suggest adolescent males want sex, not relationships. However, values and behaviors related to sex and relationships are likely more complex than typically portrayed,” said first author David Bell, M.D., M.P.H.
“In fact, very few of the participants described sex as the main goal of opposite-sex interactions and relationships.”
The study advances an understanding of adolescent males’ early relationships in two significant ways.
First, close relationships were important to the participants. Second, they desired intimate and caring relationships, expressed vulnerability and dependence, and placed great importance on trust in relationships.
Few participants described trying to trick or talk a partner into having sex, and few evidenced pride and boastfulness about numbers of sexual conquests. READ MORE
Incidentally, not that it should matter, but since we’re destroying stereotypes today, some readers might be interested to note that this study specifically looked at the attitudes of low-income, African American adolescent males.
Catholic parents and youth ministers take note, our boys deserve better than we’re giving them. If you’d like to learn how to help your boys fulfill the authentic desires of their hearts–desires for love, acceptance, intimacy and healthy vulnerability–then pick up a copy of Beyond the Birds and the Bees. I think you’ll be glad you did. Your young men certainly will.