Today, though more than half of unmarried 18- and 19-year-olds have had sexual intercourse, fewer than 30 percent of 15- to 17-year-old boys and girls have, down from 50 percent of boys and 37 percent of girls in 1988. And there are virtually no gender differences in the timing of sexual initiation.
[...T]he 2002 National Survey of Family Growth found that more than one-third of teenage boys, but only one-quarter of teenage girls, cited wanting to avoid pregnancy or disease as the main reason they had not yet had sex. Fear about sex was intensified by the AIDS crisis and by sex education that portrayed sex outside of heterosexual marriage as risky. Combined with growing access to pornography via the Internet, those influences may have made having sex with another person seem less enticing. [...]
In a large-scale survey and interviews, reported in the American Sociological Review in 2006, the sociologist Peggy Giordano and her colleagues found teenage boys to be just as emotionally invested in their romantic relationships as girls.[...]
[T]he most recent research by the family growth survey, conducted between 2006 and 2010, indicates that relationships matter to boys more often than we think. Four of 10 males between 15 and 19 who had not had sex said the main reason was that they hadn’t met the right person or that they were in a relationship but waiting for the right time; an additional 3 of 10 cited religion and morality.
Boys have long been under pressure to shed what the sociologist Laura Carpenter has called the “stigma of virginity.” But maybe more American boys are now waiting because they have gained cultural leeway to choose a first time that feels emotionally right. If so, their liberation from rigid masculinity norms should be seen as a victory for the very feminist movement that Rush Limbaugh recently decried.
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