Abigail Pesta, NBC News contributor
Editor’s note: This report contains graphic language.
A 15-year-old girl sits in high school English class when a text message pops up on her cellphone. It’s from a boy sitting across the room. He hardly knows her, but he likes her. Here’s how he chooses to get that message across:
Him: “So, are you good at hooking up?”
Her: “Um idk. I don’t really think about that.”
Him: “Well, I want my d–k in your mouth? Will you at least be my girlfriend.”
It’s the kind of scenario that’s playing out among teens across America, illustrating an increasing confusion among boys about how to behave, experts say. In the casual-sex “hookup” culture, courtship happens by text and tweet. Boys send X-rated propositions to girls in class. Crude photos, even nude photos, play a role once reserved for the handwritten note saying, “Hey, I like you.”
According to new research, boys who engage in this kind of sexualized behavior say they have no intention to be hostile or demeaning — precisely the opposite. While they admit they are pushing limits, they also think they are simply courting. They describe it as “goofing around, flirting,” said Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and school consultant who interviewed 1,000 students nationwide for her new book, “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.”
How the hookup culture affects young people has long been debated and lamented, in books and blogs, among parents and teachers. A general consensus is that it harms girls, although some have argued that it empowers them. The effect on boys, however, is less often part of the discussion.