Men and boys in the hookup culture

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Over the past several years, there has been a flood of books and commentary about American boys’ “failure to launch” into adulthood and how many young men today maintain the mentality of a 15-year-old well into their late twenties and thirties.

One explanation for this phenomenon is that boys today have been the victims of the fairer sex’s striking successes. Today, girls surpass boys by almost every academic and social measure. On average, girls get better grades in high school and are more likely to take advanced classes and attend college than boys.  In four-year colleges, women outnumber men in by 6 percentage points, get higher grades, graduate on time more frequently, win more prizes, and attend prestigious law and medical schools in greater numbers than men.  And, being better trained and more disciplined, the ladies are getting the best jobs.

Clearly, women are on the march.  But that doesn’t adequately explain the extended adolescence of today’s male population.

Theories abound.

Some have postulated that as our economy shifts from a labor intensive economy of farming and manufacturing to a service-focused economy, men have lost job opportunities and, thus, emotional confidence.

Others argue that the infantilization of men has occurred because there are today no great role models, and no great causes, like World War II, to transform boys to men.  (Think “The Greatest Generation.”)

Still others maintain that the problem arises from society’s devaluation of masculinity and an overuse of prescription medications to control rambunctious behavior.

But the unstated cause of “the problem of boys” is sex.

Today, boys and young men are awash in sex, real or digitally delivered.  Although studies tell us that there is more sex “goin’ on” than in the past, actual intercourse with a female partner appears to be “feast” for a few and “famine” for many.  Both the “winners” and “losers” of this game are to be pitied.

It used to be that human mating rituals included finding a partner, marrying, and having a family – in that order.  But changing mores and modern birth control technology has radically disrupted this once routine process.

Today, some 70 percent of U.S. males between the ages of 20 and 34 are unmarried.  This is the largest percentage of marriage-shy males in our history.  Related to that, we have, by far, the largest percentage of children who don’t know who their father is.

Sixty some years ago, when a young Elvis Presley was questioned by reporters why he was not married, he opined, “Why buy a cow when you can get milk through the fence?”   It took a while to sink in, but the current generation of marriage-shy men are following Elvis’s lead.

They live with a distorted view of sex and women, which is odd since from kindergarten to their co-ed college dorms they have been surrounded by women.  But familiarity doesn’t always breed understanding.

One dirty little secret in the world of today’s boys is the toxic brew of pornography to which they are subjected at very young ages.  Pornography today is not your father’s “girlie magazine” – the kind that young men had to devise clever methods of purloining; the kind that featured erotic pictures of that all-American girl, Trixie, whose bio revealed that she loves cats, baking and is studying to be a third grade teacher.

No, today’s porn is easy to come by — and it is hardcore!  It s available with the click of a mouse.  It comes in all forms: man-woman; woman-woman; man-man; adult-child; gay and straight; human-animal and on and on.  Much of it is extremely violent.

And it is popular. About 64-68 percent of young adult men [vs. 18 percent of women] “use” porn at least once every week.

But even when they are not technically watching porn, they are surrounded by pornographic images — of Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian – and music with lyrics like Montana’s “I got hoes.  I got bitches everywhere we go.”

How can we expect boys to become men when they are immersed in a sub-culture that ranks women on their bodies and dismisses them as “skanks” and “bitches,” and where their sexual goals are a quick, no involvement, hookup?

The result is twenty and thirty-year old men hanging around with the guys, playing xbox games, and focusing their creative energies on fantasy football.

When one of these baby-men finally notices a girl he might want to get to know, and even ask out for a cup of coffee or to a movie, he can’t break away from the guys.  Sitting in their insolated man-caves, sucking down beers, they laugh at each other, regaling one another with stories of their latest conquests.


We know that boys will be boys.  But in the modern hookup culture, will they ever become men?

Kevin and Marilyn Ryan are writers, former teachers, and the editors of Why I’m Still A Catholic. They write primarily on cultural, educational and religious topics.  This is the second in a series of articles by the Ryans on the hookup culture. 


Hooking up: How’s that working out?

Sex on campus: obtaining consent in the hookup culture

No easy cure for dysfunctional campus sexual culture

Fatherlessness: The root cause of income inequality