Moms and dads need to get over any lingering hesitation they might have about discussing sex with their pre-teens and teenagers these days. Why? If for no other reason, there’s this: Many parents of boys are observing the rising aggressiveness of girls today toward their sons, especially in a secular culture rife with overtly sexualized messages for young women under the banner of strength, confidence, and “empowerment.”
Pick up almost any teen magazine or YA novel — girls are being encouraged to be the aggressors in today’s dating game. Yet for some girls, aggression is often confused as empowerment, which is the buzzword for females this decade. And while all parents want their daughters to be confident, capable, and forthright, neither do they want them to be sexually and irresponsibly aggressive.
If the boy receives a pornographic photo on his phone and someone else sees him looking at it, he can be prosecuted — just like that.
“I literally had to save my ninth-grade son from a sexually aggressive 10th-grader who was sending him text messages basically saying she was up for anything he wanted to do — and suggested some activities that were wildly advanced and also degrading to her,” said one mom in Clovis, New Mexico. “I went over to that family’s house but quick, and showed the text messages to her parents — and my son was not allowed to have any further contact with her. But in terms of any innocence he had left, that was gone.”
A study from the University of Missouri in 2014 concluded that “sexual victimization continues to be a pervasive problem in the United States.” Not much new there — except that the research unearthed some unexpected victims: boys and young men.
Forty-three percent of high school boys and college men report that “they had an unwanted sexual experience and of those 43 percent, 95 percent said a female acquaintance was the aggressor,” according to Bryana H. French, professor of psychology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Nearly one-third of the males reported that they were receivers of unwanted sexual seduction. So boys and men were reporting sexual aggression from girls and women — not the other way around.
“The victimization of men is rarely explored,” the psychologist said in a media release. She said she hoped her research would “help lead to better prevention by identifying the various types of coercion that men face, and by acknowledging women as perpetrators against men.”
The coercion of men and boys can appear unclear because the imbalance of physical strength usually favors men. But Paula Rainer, who worked as counseling director at a middle school in Northern Virginia before she became academic affairs coordinator for Argosy University, said she saw victimized boys all the time.
“More boys are getting prosecuted for this than girls, but when I ask the students if they think that’s true, they always say no,” Rainer told LifeZette.
Sexual aggression from teen girls can take place in various contexts. A girl alone with a boy may suggest more sexual exploration than the boy is comfortable with. A girl can “flirt” by using sexually explicit language — or she can attempt to win his approval by sending suggestive or even nude photos to his phone.
Sexting leaves even the receiver open to criminal charges involving child porn, Rainer explained. “Most states will prosecute children the same way they prosecute adults,” she said. So if a boy receives a photo on his phone and someone else sees him looking at it, he can be prosecuted — just like that.
Why aren’t boys shutting down unwanted sexual attention? The answer often comes down to peer pressure, Rainer said. If a girl is sexually aggressive and a boy pushes back — the girl may criticize him on social media, making claims about his anatomy or indicating he can’t “perform.” For adolescent boys, the pressure to perform sexually is tied socially to their development into men.
All of this is why Rainer encourages parents to have clear, direct conversations with their boys beginning at about age eight. If that age sounds young — well, the truth is that boys need to understand sexual language relating to anatomy and sexual activities. By the time boys turn 12 years old, it’s likely they will have conversations at school about things like oral sex, said Rainier.
“If the boy doesn’t know what the girl is talking about, sometimes the girls may say something like, ‘Well, I won’t tell you, I’ll show you,'” said Rainer. By the time the boy realizes it’s not something he wants to participate in — it’s almost too late for him to save face.
Boys need their parents to prepare them for situations that can be fraught with split-second decisions. Likewise, adolescent boys need to understand they can be prosecuted for sexual assault if they participate in activities the girl’s parents don’t approve of — this is the reality today.
Parents need to help boys create new definitions for masculinity outside of sexual experiences, so that they understand they don’t have to prove their manhood by participating in activities that make them uncomfortable. They should also know that if a girl retaliates online with sexually explicit comments, boys can file for sexual harassment.
Most importantly, boys have to be able to fall back on boundaries their parents discussed with them from an early age. If parents can provide their boys with safe boundaries, kids will know where to draw the line in sexual activity — even when sexual aggression come from unexpected individuals.