By James Taranto - An odd recent New York Times op-ed by sociologist Amy Schalet touts the rise of, as the headline puts it, "Caring, Romantic American Boys." Schalet, who studied American high school sophomores (along with Dutch ones) for a forthcoming book, reports that "boys [are] behaving more 'like girls' in terms of when they lose their virginity," by which she means they "are becoming more careful and more romantic about their first sexual experiences."
Maybe her book will flesh out that claim, but in her op-ed the boys sound downright terrified: "American boys often said sex could end their life as they knew it. After a condom broke, one worried: 'I could be screwed for the rest of my life.' Another boy said he did not want to have sex yet for fear of becoming a father before his time."
...Schalet's most interesting assertion is that "the American boys I interviewed seemed more nervous about the consequences of sex than American girls." It's not clear if she interviewed girls as well as boys, but she offers this further point of comparison: "The 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."
Given that nature imposes the physical burden of pregnancy on the female of the species, that sounds counterintuitive. And it's possible that some of the boys in the survey, mindful of what Schalet quotes another sociologist as calling "the stigma of virginity," are rationalizing away their lack of success with girls by chalking it up to prudence.
At the same time, there is good reason for males (men as well as boys) to be more fearful of sex than females. Contemporary reproductive technology and law place all the burden for unwanted pregnancy on them. Between the pill and abortion, women have complete control over the reproductive process. They can avoid or end any unwanted pregnancy, and the man involved has no say in the matter. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the U.S. Supreme Court went so far as to hold that a married woman has the constitutional right to abort her husband's child without even telling him.
A woman's "reproductive rights" also include the right to carry a pregnancy to term. The crucial point here is that while the decision belongs entirely to her, in the event that a child is born the law assigns financial responsibility to the male involved. That is what the boy in her study means when he worries about being "screwed for the rest of my life." Short of sterilization, the only way for a male to be sure of avoiding this fate is to abstain from sex.
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