That what he said: Sex and the gender card | Amy Johnson

In recent research conducted by Seventeen magazine and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, I ran across the following statistic: 71 percent of guys say they are confused about whether girls want them to initiate sex. The research, titled “That’s What He Said,” was done among 1,200 young men ages 15-22.

Some people might be tempted to make this a gender issue. There is, after all, a huge and lucrative industry built on men and women being from different planets. It’s all too easy to disparage guys for being confused, or women for giving mixed signals. But playing the gender card here is a cop-out. The above statistic is about communication, pure and simple.

Communication between men and women is the subject of many jokes, and while they may make us laugh and feel validated from time to time, these generalities are not excuses, nor are they the building blocks of a healthy relationship. If either partner in a relationship is confused about something —whether it’s about initiating sex, taking out the trash or who’s cooking dinner — they need to find a way to communicate clearly about needs and expectations.

To do this requires risk and trust. A healthy relationship is one where partners support each another, are honest and feel safe. If those qualities exist, then clarifying expectations should be possible. Confusion about one’s intent or desire is a red flag that something is not clear, and therefore, not mutually consensual. If this something has to do with sex, loud warning bells should be clanging.

The statistic that 71 percent of guys are confused about whether girls want them to initiate sex means this: We have a lot of work to do, beginning with expanding our definition of sexuality education. What we teach our youth in “sex ed” needs to include a whole lot of listening and communication skills. How might our world be different if it were common place for couples to routinely discuss expectations, boundaries and limits before they find themselves in a hormonally-charged situation? What if it was “cool” and “hip” to do this instead of awkward and uncomfortable?

According to the report:

"When it comes to sex, contraception and fertility, guys do not know as much as they think they do. More than 8 in 10 (82 percent) say they are not at all confused about how to prevent pregnancy but:

• Four in ten (42 percent percent) don’t know that it’s possible for a girl to get pregnant during her period.

• One-third (34 percent) don’t know that wearing two condoms is not more effective than one (in fact, it’s far less effective due to friction and tearing).

• One in five (20 percent) don’t know that pregnancy is possible even when someone’s on the pill.

• 15 percent don’t know that condoms aren’t foolproof.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that among those who have had sex, about half (49 percent) of the older group (age 19-22) surveyed and one-third (35 percent) of the younger group (15-18) have had a pregnancy scare."

The same research also shows that only six percent of the guys surveyed had broken up with someone because she wouldn’t have sex with him, and 77 percent said sex can be intimidating for guys. One in five says he’s been pressured by a girl to go further sexually than he wanted to, and nearly 20 percent of guys surveyed admitted they had lied to get friends to stop pressuring them about having sex.

You can help. Talk to your children and teens, whatever their genders, about communicating with their friends, their dates, their boy and girlfriends, their husbands and wives and partners. Model using respectful communication skills in front of your children, grandchildren and students. Help young people role play potentially difficult situations before they end up in them. Whether it’s about drugs or sex or chores or what to do this weekend, good communication skills are the key to healthy relationships at any age. At least, that’s what she said.

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