Growing up primarily in same-gender peer groups through elementary school and into middle school, girls tend to rely on each other for emotional support, sharing experiences and talking together, confiding to create intimacy. Girls are often socialized to base their self-esteem on their relationships.
Boys tend to rely on each other for competition, sharing adventures and risk taking together, testing themselves against each other to create companionship. Boys are often socialized to base their self-esteem on their performance.
By late adolescence, when there is more social and cultural pressure for sexual mixing, males and females can approach each other with very different motivations. A teenage girl may treat a boy as a relationship challenge, as a chance for social completeness — to get a boyfriend. A teenage boy may treat a girl as a performance challenge, as a chance for sexual conquest — to get a girl.
Now begins the gaming to “get” each other in different ways. Some of the common stereotypes each has about the other at this age tell more of the story. For boys, girls are “all teases, out to tie you down.” For girls, boys are “all hormones, always on the make.”
“True love” does not strike most teenagers in late adolescence, because of all the social gaming that gets in the way. Although sexual pressure is not all one-sided, it is more often aggressive male insistence that wears female resistance down. Sometimes a bad sexual bargain can be made. Insists the boy, “If you really loved me, you'd sleep with me,” offering the lure of commitment in exchange for sex. Sometimes a girl feels something is wrong with her if she refuses. Insists the boy, “What's the matter, don't you care?”
Sometimes a boy, instead of taking no for an answer, treats it as a challenge to overcome, relentlessly keeping after a girl who, in his view, is playing hard to get. At last, the girl may give in just to get the pressure over. Then the word gets out. Boasting about his conquest, how he has “scored,” the boy gets labeled as a “stud,” while the girl is scorned as loose or easy and is called a “slut.” Of course, this sexual double standard that tarnishes a girl's reputation and burnishes a boy's is a lie. It takes two to make a stud, and it takes two to make a slut.
The more sexually exploitive a teenager acts, and the more he or she is sexually exploited by others, the more difficulty he or she will have establishing and maintaining a committed, loving intimacy later on in life.
Given the sexual gaming that goes on in high school, parents need to encourage their late adolescents to be careful how they play. Tell your teenager gaming for sex just ends with someone, usually the girl, getting hurt. Tell your son you don't want him pressuring, manipulating, or exploiting girls for sexual conquest. You don't want aggression used for sexual ends because that can lead to rape, forcing sex on a girl. (Date rape is the most common rape of all.) And you don't want sex used for aggressive ends because that can lead to sexual assault, using sex as a means to inflict physical harm.
Tell your daughter you don't want her to let herself be sexually exploited.
“If you keep setting sexual limits and the boy keeps testing them, then he is not respecting your limits, is not to be trusted, and you should get away.”
“If you have set your sexual limits and he urges you to drink to change how you think, then he is not respecting your sexual limits and you should get away.”
“If you have set your sexual limits and he tries to argue or manipulate you out of them, using emotional extortion to get his way, then he is not respecting your limits and you should get away.”
Part of a parent's disciplinary job during their teenager's high school years is teaching their son or daughter how