On the talk

Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project  recently came out with a new study exploring the stereotypical teen experience. The findings reveal that most people, teens included, assume that hook-up culture is huge in high school and college. This is not the case. This focus on hook-up culture eclipses two more relevant issues: sexual harassment and healthy romantic relationships.

According to the study, the lack of information stems from parents, teachers, and other key adults in a teen’s life. The project surveyed around 3,000 people 18-25, asking questions about sexual harassment, misogyny, love, and sex.

The first key finding was that teens and adults both tend to overestimate the size of hook-up culture. Both teens and adults assumed that the percentage of teens hooking up was almost double the actual numbers. Those surveyed were more interested in sex in a relationship. The misunderstanding is harmful. Teens feel as if they are failing or lacking because they haven’t had a certain number of sexual partners. The hook-up myth puts pressure on them to have sex even if they aren’t comfortable, potentially leading to unsafe sex. The pressure to hook-up and the stereotypes often lead to substance use which can lead to sexual violence.

Hook-up culture encourages teens to be emotionally distant from their partner(s). To fight this tendency, it is important to talk about romantic feelings and love.

It is assumed that romantic feelings and relationships will just work themselves out and everything will be okay. Again, this is a misunderstanding. Of the people surveyed, 65 – 70% responded that they wanted more guidance on the emotional side of relationships from the adults in their lives. The lack of information leads to stunted emotional health and growth, unhealthy relationships, higher divorce rates, and marital problems. Talking with teens about romantic feelings, cheating, arguments, love, breakups and all the emotional aspects of a relationship is just as important as talking with teens about their sexual health. The two go hand in hand.

Lastly, the study explores the failure to address sexual harassment. Many of the phrases used to talk about sex are violent: “I’d hit that”, “Would bang”, you get the gist. Other phrases are misogynistic: “bros before hos”, etc. Both of these things are used by most everyone, but we don’t realize the implications. These phrases and attitudes lead to the misunderstanding of what sexual harassment is. Most people realize that groping a stranger on the train is assault, because people speak out against it. Catcalling on the streets is just accepted as a fact of life, because it isn’t discussed.

Some porn supports internalized sexual violence. It isn’t realistic. To teens who may not have experienced sex, it is assumed that what is happening on the screen is how sex should go. Most people are desensitized to the violence inherent to they way we approach sex and the negative effect that this has.

So now comes the call to action. These problems often fly under the radar. When they are brought to attention, we don’t know how to address them. Its difficult to communicate the emotional side of relationships. Hook-up culture and the way we approach sex is internalized, and therefore hard to combat. The study has a few steps to starting conversations about these issues and links to many different resources and curricula for teachers, adults and teens. Introducing some of these conversations in the home and classroom starts to fight against the problems facing teens. Loveisrespect.org, Break the Cycle, blogs, and just an open dialogue between teens and adults, can be a huge help. So, when having “the talk” be sure to talk about it all.

Every good wish,


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