Conflicted about sex. What's your experience?
November 9, 2017 8:59 PM   Subscribe

How old were you when you started thinking about sex? Snowflake inside.

I've been reading a book about a man's transition from childhood to adolescence to manhood, and I'm not sure if it's at all representative of men in general (I'm a woman, so I have no idea).

Some of the things I’m reading about in this book are disturbing to me. The stuff about adolescent boys being instructed by their older counterparts about what sex is, talking about the kind of women that “makes a man want to grow up real fast,” flipping through pages of porn, looking at the “newly formed breasts” of their 11 or 12-year-old female friends, kissing with tongues at the age of 12 (12!) — all of it seems incomprehensible to me. At 12, I was trying to figure out if I liked Enid Blyton or Carolyn Keene better.

I don’t know. I feel conflicted about what I’m reading, because it’s such a scandal (to me) to read about someone else’s early sexual awakening, and I feel like an idiot for being so clueless about it all, about the fact that maybe, in the all-boys school across the road (the “brother” school to our all-girls school), the boys were comparing us girls in terms of growing physical attributes and potential sexual capacities, and there I was, clueless as ever, with my equally clueless friends. I also feel strangely violated, as though the girls/women that these boys (in the book) objectify are part of me somehow, or I’m part of them.

PS: I’m not a geriatric, and am therefore very much part of “this” generation (as opposed to my mother’s). I don’t think I’m a prude, but maybe I have some conflicted feelings to work out.

PPS: I’m also not from the US, so it's possible that my reservation has something to do with the culture I grew up in — though I wouldn’t think it’d make too much of a difference.

What was your experience? How old were you when you began thinking about sex, or about kissing/fondling, or about porn? Is it normal for boys at the age of 12-13 to browse porn magazines? Are there really “jerk-off” circles? Do boys jerk off in front of one another, or show each other their penises? (Again, this feels totally bizarre to me, as I can’t imagine showing my vagina to my girlfriends).

Thanks in advance for your answers!
posted by Spiderwoman to Human Relations (41 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Much, much younger than 12. But I don’t recall physical sexual encounters until high school.

For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t consider sexual experimentation between kids to be creepy or weird; I’d consider getting upset over it to be a bit unusual and possibly repressive (with the usual caveats about, obviously, sexual abuse isn’t good and telling kids that some things are private and whatever else parents do to get through that age without dying of embarrassment out loud).
posted by Nyx at 9:20 PM on November 9


Is it normal for boys at the age of 12-13 to browse porn magazines?

No, not at all. Most of them are looking at porn online and probably have never seen a dirty magazine.

More seriously, yes, that’s a normal age to be thinking about sex. Some people earlier, others later. There are lots of good novels about adolescence, if you are interested in how that is portrayed.

The circle jerks and so on, I don’t know. Maybe they are more common in settings like a boarding school, but otherwise much less so in my experience. If you really cared I am sure there is empirical research, since sexuality is a well studied topic; that might get you percentages but it still comes down to individual experiences.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:22 PM on November 9 [5 favorites]


African man here. When I was 11 or 12, while taking a bath with a childhood friend of mine, he said he would show me something. He then started to masturbate until he ejaculated. First time I saw sperm.

At about the same year, I realized I had (very lustful) feelings for someone in my class. By the time we were 14, no boy would be caught dead admitting he was still a virgin. And that was almost 40 years ago.

The experiences you describe seem extremely common to me.
posted by Kwadeng at 9:54 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


I saw “dirty” stuff around age nine, I think, and around the same time I started acting out sexually in a way that is truly embarrassing to think about even now. Thankfully it didn’t actually involve touching other people.

I began feeling desire at twelve. I remember it precisely because when it began, I hated it. I was afraid I might be developing multiple personalities because these feelings were so unwanted.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:55 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


I'd like to just posit that the "thinking about sex" at that age is really, profoundly notional at that point (let's say 13-15 years old). There's an awareness, to varying degrees depending upon your parents' and peers' comfort with the subject. It's largely bravado, speculation and folk wisdom. I was probably early to sexual activity at 15 or so (I'll spare you the details), but I was 19 and at university the first time I had sex [apologies for the unwanted personal revelation]. I do not think that early exposure to pornography was universal (but will admit that it may be now).

For context, I am mid-40s white cis het male.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:08 PM on November 9 [6 favorites]


Speaking as a cis-male raised in a conservative household, 11-12 is about the age I began my fumbling discoveries about sex and sexuality, and had urges that I began to more clearly identify as sexual in nature. I didn't have (easy) access to porn, but catalogs with lingerie and swimsuit sections, National Geographics and the occasional steamy chapter in some books I read were things I distinctly remember from around that age, as well as my discovery of masturbation. I don't think I had a clear idea about what sex actually was and how it worked until later, probably around 13-14, but I wouldn't think that age is universal for everyone.

In any case, while not every child is going to be french kissing and circle-jerking at that age, I wouldn't say that it's uncommon at all for them to be exploring their sexuality on one level or another, either alone or with their peers.
posted by Aleyn at 10:42 PM on November 9 [6 favorites]


Is it normal for boys at the age of 12-13 to browse porn magazines?

I browsed porn magazines at that age, and I was not a boy. What I was was possessed of a very healthy curiosity. I don't know what you mean by "started thinking about sex" but certainly I began masturbating at around 10, I think.

I don't think that posting this as boys being gross about girls is helpful; I think the kind of curiosity, exploration and experimentation you describe is within the range of normal for both boys and girls, and that range *also* includes not being interested until much later, or not thinking about your sexuality in terms of other people until much later (or never.)
posted by DarlingBri at 11:11 PM on November 9 [32 favorites]


I mean, I had sex ed in 6th grade when I would have been 11, which was before I actually hit the puberty part which would have been next year. Somehow, it didn't seem like... new information to me? Even though no one had ever told about the stuff before. I'd kinda figured out that male parts and female parts fit together when I was like 5 when my mom told me I shouldn't share a bathroom with girls because boys had outie parts and girls had innie parts, but I didn't have any real inkling about sex. As far as I remember, the discussion amongst boys in the class about the stuff we were learning was "huh that's weird and kinda gross."

In retrospect there were a bunch of fascinations I had before then that as an adult, I can look back and see were motivated by sexual type desires, but I didn't but two and two together for a really long time. I remember the sexual arousal stuff starting quite abruptly when I was in 7th grade - about twelve. Erections, suddenly being fascinated by the older girl in algebra class leaning toward me wearing a low cut shirt, that sort of thing.

It didn't take me long to go and find nude pics, but more on the "artistically erotic" side of things. I never really ventured around to hardcore stuff until I was an adult and then more out of curiosity than into any sort of habitual viewing. I was raised in a fairly feminist family and holy crap does the... everything surrounding mainstream porn stuff skeeve me right the heck out.

So in short... in my experience 11 or 12 might be a little young for that stuff, but only by a year, and I think having a school sex ed class just before people were starting to hit puberty that everyone had to take (though they divided boys and girls for significant parts of it) probably headed off at least some of the rampant rumor mongering and experimentation. Though I was kind of an introverted and sheltered kid, and probably quite clueless about anything that was actually going on.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:12 PM on November 9


11-12. Usenet binaries, erotic fan fiction, encyclopaedia diagrams, jury-rigged devices. Perfectly normal.
posted by Phssthpok at 11:12 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


I was caught, literally, in the closet with another girl at age 10. It would be another decade before I recognized the irony there. We played doctor a lot. So there was nakedness and kissing but we didn't know what we were doing so not much more. Friends of mine had sex at 12. I dunno. That seems so young to me now, but at the time, with all the hormones raging? I guess it's normal. I also have friends who say they never remember an age they didn't masturbate. So, I would guess they were doing it as young as 6 then? (I don't have a good sense of that because I don't really have any memories at all before maybe 8 years old, which I recognize is very late.) I certainly didn't start that until at least 13, maybe later. I didn't go on to have actual sex until 19, which was well after everyone else I knew.. Everyone I've been talking about, including myself, identifies as female, fwiw.
posted by greermahoney at 11:40 PM on November 9 [2 favorites]


Hrm, let's see -- I grew up in the USA since age 4 and went to liberal, public, well-funded, racially homogenous schools. [content warning: mention of health class, including rape / eating disorders]

I was masturbating at age 5 or 6; I think my parents saw and just didn't say anything, and it wasn't based on any knowledge of 'sex'. I was reading erotica at maybe age 10, and also, Cosmopolitan. There was much confusion about the difference between "oral sex" and "talking dirty." I noticed this was about when my guy friends stopped wanting to do origami with me and started playing baseball together.

Around that time, a few of our gym classes got gender-separated and co-opted into talks of "here are your parts, here is how pregnancy happens; also, wear deodorant, kids". About a year after, girls started getting told to wear longer shorts and light jackets over spaghetti strap tanks. This was also the age of D.A.R.E. (Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education). Girls in my 6th grade class looked forward to our amusement park trip because they would "look so sexy" in their swimsuits, and I thought this was weird. Girls were helping one another with tampons, though probably more through advice and description.

I think 7th grade was my first crush. In 8th grade (age 13?), we were taught about the physical, psychological, and social components of health; that rape was using sex to hurt someone; that anorexia was simply an inability to eat, for whatever reason. Around this time, people started using "slut" as an insult.

I have no idea when people actually started having sex! For the longest time, even though I was extensively well-read (or even, because my masturbation was not at all informed by the mechanics of penetrative sex), I was really skeptical about penetrative sex being something people would want to do.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:49 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


The minute I heard what sex was- around age 8- I was fascinated by it, and scientifically very curious- like I would sneak medical textbooks as a kid and Playboys by age 12, and stare at the naked people and wonder how it all worked. I was not turned on by it- just really curious and interested. (This was pre-internet).

By age 10-12, girls would occasionally talk about sex and masturbation, always in a curious, sensation-oriented way, but never in a sexually-desiring way. So they'd say things like, "sometimes I touch myself because it feels good" or "I wonder what [sexual act] feels like", but no girl ever said, "I want to do [sexual act] with that person."

By about age 12, boys would say things like "that girl's hot" and they'd initiate kissing and touching breasts if they could, but I don't think actual intercourse was on their minds.

At around age 12 I decided I wanted to try kissing, and I actually kissed someone at 13. I found the sensation unremarkable and even slightly gross, but I still liked it because it made me feel mature. So by highschool (age 14) I was willing to "date" people (which meant holding hands, going to the mall, talking on the phone, and some awkward french kissing, usually in monogamous pairings that lasted for two months or so). I started feeling turned on by kissing by 15-16, and was interested in petting and very curious about sex by 16-17, and actually felt ready to have sex at 18. I noticed boys actively discussing and (nicely) trying to initiate sex by about 15.

I'd say my overall pace was about average or slightly slow among my cohort (my friends mostly kissed at 12; the first person to have sex in my friend group was 13 although most people tried sex at 16; and the last person to have sex was probably 21).
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:26 AM on November 10


(Woman, UK, here) I remember kissing boys at 13ish, I'm not sure how much of that was sexual in nature, it was all mixed up in my head with feelings and wanting to be liked and cared for. I don't think I knew anyone who was still a virgin at 16 though and a lot of girls at our school didn't sit their GCSE's (exams at 16) because they were heavily pregnant or looking after small babies then.

I remember that initially, the boyfriend/girlfriend thing, which in reality was 'take a girl behind the science block to kiss her and try to put your hand up her top' was kind of peer-pressured onto me around 13. I didn't have much natural interest and went along with it from time to time so I wouldn't be seen as a weirdo. I know around 14 I was interested though. I thought it was just a natural part of growing up, all the stuff Judy Blume books and Just Seventeen had prepared us for. When I got to university I discovered a lot of the middle class girls there were still virgins though, so I think the area you're in and the people you're with affect things.
posted by everydayanewday at 12:37 AM on November 10 [1 favorite]


Oh and I moved schools when I was 7 to one in a slightly better area. I discovered later that a lot of the kids in my old school (primary, so max age 11) had already started doing the whole bf/gf, kissing, and even foreplay and heavy petting in their final year, which really freaked me out.
posted by everydayanewday at 12:41 AM on November 10


In my experience (in the US, early 90s), age 11-12ish was when parties suddenly began to include "spin the bottle" and "truth or dare" with tongue kissing. Lord have mercy on all eleven year olds and their parents.
posted by salvia at 1:17 AM on November 10 [5 favorites]


I masturbated from ages 3-6 and then again starting at age 10. I was curious about sex and did early fumbling exploratory play with friends from say, 9-12. We told naughty stories we had heard from older pals, touched each other's breasts, licked arms and necks and showed off pubic hair. But I didn't really match my ambient desires to actual people until high school and college. First kiss at 17, sex at 18. There's a wide range for "firsts" I think. I'm a dyke, btw. I felt asexual for a long time before I realized I just wasn't into touching or talking about dudes.

It's perfectly normal for you to feel grossed out by the things you describe. I'd feel disgusted too if I felt, in retrospect, that I was already being objectified by classmates when sex was barely a conception in my mind. It's foul to be propped up as a "man-maker" or be evaluated on your "attributes" (ugh, what a nasty word). To think of all those eyes roaming over you, taking you in.. when you are blissfully unaware and thus incapable of defending yourself. It must feel like you were just lucky to escape notice or abuse. Like a deer passing through a forest of tigers. It's a profoundly alienating thought.

Maybe it will help to separate sexual exploration from sexism. It is disturbing to watch harmful patterns of gendered behavior emerge. But it's not sexuality that's the problem, it's the way culture treats women and trains us all.
posted by fritillary at 2:17 AM on November 10 [15 favorites]


US queer cis woman here. By 12, my female friends and I had well-thumbed copies of VC Andrews and Jean Auel novels and we all knew exactly where the "dirty" parts of those were, and if we'd had online access to porn I think we would have been looking. (Though I also suspect we might have been grossed out and stopped looking real fast, there's something to be said for a gradual introduction to sexuality.). We weren't showing each other body parts or doing anything sexual together, beyond talking about which boys were cutest. Several of them were already "dating" but I have no idea what level of sexual activity that involved. I suspect not much beyond kissing, but who knows. I wasn't allowed to date at that age so my big 12 year old romance consisted entirely of study hall flirtation and slow dancing at school dances.

Sex was definitely a thing on our minds and a discussion topic but not so much anything anyone was doing as a partnered behavior, to the best of my knowledge.
posted by Stacey at 3:55 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]


There are tons of people with zero experience by age 18, 22, even 30 or over. There are also tons of precocious youths. Stories and accounts like this one that say "we did X" or "boys that age do Y" are all inaccurate; _some_ or even _many_ people might do a thing, and whoever is talking is likely to think their experience is more common than it is since they'll probably be similar to their own friends.
posted by amtho at 4:00 AM on November 10


Straight cis woman, US, grew up in the 80s-90s.

There was a stretch of time (maybe ages 6–9? nice) when sex was fascinating as an alien, grown-up, “gross” idea, but not something I wanted any part of. Kind of like how bugs are fascinating. Around 11 I started seeing it as something I personally would probably like to do, and it took several years to reconcile that with the “sex is weird and gross” notion, further muddled by my classmates’ chatter about sex (which was not at all mature, respectful, or well-informed). The very beginnings of boyfriend-girlfriend relationships started around fifth grade, and by fourteen I knew a couple of my friends were “experienced” - but mostly not. And some of them were definitely making shit up.

Also, there were some thoughts and feelings that I had in childhood, as early as five, that I now realize were kind of proto-sexual. I had no idea at the time, because I didn’t have the context, but in retrospect... yeah.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:26 AM on November 10


On another note: I've always found Paul Auster super gross and misogynist, despite the fact that he is a fine and often-awarded writer. I'm wondering if the way he's writing is part of your experience. I think there's a tendency for straight men to write about early sexual desires in a way that does not deal well with misogyny, misogynist porn, the social pressures for boys to bond through hateful behavior about women, etc - it tends to get written about as though early sexual stuff is always hateful, spying, about "tricking" girls and women, etc, and as though this is natural. I've certainly read a lot of creepy "and then we spied on/grabbed the girls and called them slurs when we talked about them" accounts of male sexual behavior...but, like, I also know a bunch of dudes, and have been privy to a certain amount of dude conversation about women, and it's very much not-all-men.

I get you on the feeling violated front. As an AFAB transmasculine person, I've definitely read a bunch of those stories, where the narrative of early sexuality is about putting something over on women - talking in gross ways that are intended to reduce women to their body parts, spying, etc, and it does make me feel bad. It makes me feel like all the friendships I had at that age with boys were based on lies. Is that true? Maybe. But if it is, it's a product of misogyny.

You can be a sexual person and think about people sexually without seeing sex as a way of having power over them or reducing them or tricking them. Those things are patriarchy. To the extent that they are things that men and boys do, they are the product of hatred of women and love of hierarchy and power, not some kind of natural, inevitable way of being - as we can see because there are men who aren't hateful and creepy.

I mean, I think it's okay to feel violated. I felt violated by the actual behavior of boys when I was a pre-teen and a teen. (You went to a girls' school so you were partly protected, right?) My early teen years were horrible in this regard - it was constant and gross and extremely harmful to my own sexuality. Accounts of constant, gross, bullying behavior toward women and girls are going to be upsetting.

I think people in this thread are conflating the fact of early sexual experimentation with the way that men and boys are allowed to abuse women and hold them in contempt, and the way that this contours early sexual behavior. Frankly, too, I am pretty troubled by the rapid naturalization of "well boys that age are watching all this porn on the internet, what are you going to do, that's boys" in our culture, because seriously, there's a vast difference between watching the equivalent of, eg, a Playboy centerfold and watching a lot of the horrible, anti-woman stuff that is out there now. I'd rather give a kid some old Playboys than turn him lose on the fields of the web, honestly.
posted by Frowner at 4:28 AM on November 10 [24 favorites]


Stories and accounts like this one that say "we did X" or "boys that age do Y" are all inaccurate

I beg to differ. What our stories say is that what we’ve experienced as kids is totally common and normal. So are the stories that the Op has read in this book. And by normal and common, I don’t mean universal. But just that: the experience of male adolescents jerking off, watching porn and bragging about “having done it” seems extremely “normal” and “common” to me. Turning that into mysogyny is extreme overreach.

Please Op, don’t be appalled!
posted by Kwadeng at 4:31 AM on November 10


I can remember a bunch of us in my school library giggling over the dictionary definition of the word "bed" because it mentioned that one of the things people could do in a bed was "have sex". We were all laughing so hard at how titillating this was that one of us fell out of his chair. ...We were only 8.

Kids have heard about sex at that age, and they've seen how uneasy and uncomfortable and embarrassed their parents probably were talking about it, so they picked up on the whole "borderline taboo" thing and so talking about it is exciting. they may also have had a talk about "good touch and bad touch". So when they're pre-teens the pump has already been primed a little, and all that needs to happen is for the hormones to start kicking in - which happens at about 11 or 12.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:34 AM on November 10


I'm a cis bi woman in the US. Grew up in the 70s. I started playing Barbies "the dirty way" (naked in the backseat of the plastic car with Ken on top of her) around age 10 because it gave me feelings I liked but didn't really understand. Around that same time I started snooping in my parents' room and found a stack of dirty comic books which I would borrow and read with great interest. I had my first orgasm at age 11 and masturbated regularly after that. At around 12 or so my snooping revealed magazines with dirty stories in them which were somewhat mis-educational but provided my first knowledge of what people actually did in bed (as opposed to the clinical "the man places his penis in the woman's vagina" talk that had been the sum total of my sex education up until then.)

My pre-teens/early teens were an incredibly sexual time for me, but only as a solo practitioner. My sexual awakening did not extend to lust for actual boys (or girls) at that age. While the dirty stories and stuff were arousing it seemed like it would be incredibly embarrassing and awkward to do any of that stuff with an actual boy. I'd had crushes on boys since I was like 5 but my fantasies about them were romantic in nature, never sexual. (I became aware of a sexual attraction to women in my mid teens but it never occurred to me I could do sexual stuff with a woman until I read an erotic story about it a few years later.)

I was about 14 when I first experienced actual sexual arousal from looking at and fantasizing about another person's body (female.) I lost my virginity at 15 to a much older man, more out of curiosity than actual desire.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:42 AM on November 10


I grew up in Europe, late '90s. I started masturbating at about 10 and did fantasize about classmates while doing so (both boys and girls actually). I first 'really' kissed a girl when I was 11 - or rather, she kissed me, as it was she who had planned the whole thing. I kissed her exactly three times: once on the playground, once at the movies, once on a park bench. Some of my fondest memories, actually... At age 14 I followed another girl's very elaborate road map towards 'doing it', only the final part of which never happened - I was 16 when I had sex for the first time. In my age group at that point, more girls than boys had lost their virginity.

So while I was very curious about sex, my own body, and other bodies, it actually were the girls I was with who took the initiative and who were even more into it (and way more serious about it) than I was.
posted by Desertshore at 4:57 AM on November 10


Stories and accounts like this one that say "we did X" or "boys that age do Y" are all inaccurate

I beg to differ. What our stories say is that what we’ve experienced as kids is totally common and normal.


I don't disagree. However, something can be common or normal whether it's true of 60% of the population, 10% of the population, or even 3.8% of the population. 3.8% of my high school of approximately 2000 -- in a small town in Georgia -- would still be 76 people. So, something that is true for just 3.8 % would still be, in my estimation, common and probably normal.

Whether that same trait is good, bad, or neutral is another thing entirely. I personally think that what we're talking about here is probably fine, even good, for most people, but what is potentially harmful is making people with different experiences from the majority believe that their experiences are not normal just because they're different.

There's a lot of room for different experiences to be "normal".
posted by amtho at 4:57 AM on November 10 [3 favorites]


30s, straight cis woman. While I played those Barbie games at about 9 or 10, and gained a lot of book knowledge from reading my parents' books (Wideacre, I'm looking at you), I also think that I grew to understand sex - and accept my own feelings about it - relatively late. I grew up in a non-Western country, and went to a small, fairly religious school, and it took me a long, long time not to feel sinful about sexual thoughts and feelings - I was in my late teens. Most of my friends were in the same boat. We never talked about those things with each other, and when we talk about it now, I realise that we all felt very guilty and isolated about our sexual thoughts, feelings and early explorations. I have no idea when people in my peer group in general started having sex. That is how much we did not talk about it. This was not the norm in our society generally, as I know of other kids who went to other schools and had much more stereotypically 'normal' sexual awakenings, but in the pressure-cooker environment of the small, conservative school we went to, I am fairly sure my experience was normal.

I remember being very guilty and made to feel quite self-conscious about the sexual messaging my body was apparently sending out from a young age (as an overweight child I developed early), with my teachers and female friends constantly pulling up my necklines, adjusting my clothes and telling me I looked 'like a bad girl', and the general weight-related bullying I received from most of the boys also occasionally took on a weirdly sexual overtone. This was when we would have been about 12 onwards. I think this is another reason I was a very repressed pre-teen and teen, because I was on the receiving end of hostile attention that occasionally felt sexual.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:13 AM on November 10


One more thing that I thought of: It seems like the idea that you did not know troubles you. I'd argue that this too is a misogynist narrative.

The misogynist narrative says, "Look, the real, brutal, mean, violent, hateful and competitive world of male sexuality [under patriarchy] is the real of the world, and if you don't know that and accept that, you are stupid and naive and just one stunned broad". But what's really going on is men-under-patriarchy saying "this thing that we want, that's important - don't look away for a minute, don't care about anything else". Not caring gives you power, which is why they are so desperate to rope anyone who isn't a cis straight dude into caring desperately. Those extra years where you didn't care? Those were years where you could focus on the world and on yourself, not on whether some dude had pants feelings. Those were fortunate years, and years that women are not supposed to have.

Being genuinely uninterested in and uncaring about men's sexual regard is tremendously powerful and tremendously alarming to men and boys. That's part of why the whole narrative is always "those girls think the world is all cupcakes and tea parties, but we boys really know that they're all nothing more than s**** and c****. They're so dumb they don't even know."
posted by Frowner at 5:14 AM on November 10 [23 favorites]


I had done pretty much all the solo activities you describe by the time I was a 13 year old girl, including looking at and thinking about people (mostly boys) in a sexual way, and I was by all accounts a ridiculously late bloomer. For example, for my I-think-12th birthday, I had a sleepover, and I remember the lights being off and us talking in great detail about boys we wanted to "run naked through a rainforest" with. I definitely didn't have a great understanding of what those feelings meant, but oh gosh did I want to run naked through a rainforest with some boys! I wouldn't have had the slightest idea of what to do with a real boy, they were definitely just objects whose physical attributes gave me strong feelings. I didn't date anyone until college.

At the same age, I was also spending a ton of time reading geography books or drawing my cat or babysitting my sisters, doing kid things. My sexuality was part of my life, not my whole life, just as it is now. I don't think being uninterested in that until later makes you a fool or anything, any less than having a crush on someone makes them a fool.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:56 AM on November 10 [3 favorites]


Another piece of anecdata I just remembered: A couple of years ago I was having a discussion with friends on Twitter about the whole "12-year-old girls giggling over some really fucked-up V. C. Andrews books" thing, and out of curiosity I asked what the equivalent had been for my male friends at that age. They pretty much universally shrugged and said "Porn. Just, you know, actual porn. We didn't really do sexy books, we just went right for the pictures." It seems like a pretty generally accepted normal thing among my cohort that boys around that age had access to and were interested in some sort of porn. This would have been mostly folks who are currently in their late 30s to late 40s, mostly American, of varying sexual orientations.
posted by Stacey at 6:07 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]


what is potentially harmful is making people with different experiences from the majority believe that their experiences are not normal just because they're different. There's a lot of room for different experiences to be "normal".

If I read the initial question correctly, the Op was merely asking if the experiences that Paul Auster describes in his book are the actual experiences of some men in the real world, because her upbringing taught her otherwise. And the answer is yes, and very much so. Most of the male posters said as much. Nowhere was it inferred that that is the only way young men experience sexuality.

Whereas it seems a lot the answers I see in this thread are replying to a different question about whether the way young men are socialized to talk about sex is problematic, which is an entirely different matter altogether.
posted by Kwadeng at 7:11 AM on November 10


I’m also not from the US, so it's possible that my reservation has something to do with the culture I grew up in — though I wouldn’t think it’d make too much of a difference.

I think it does make a big difference - consider that in parts of Europe it's not considered unusual for one's teenage child's partner to be staying overnight and having sex in the house while in parts of the US, the HPV vaccine was controversial because it could encourage teenagers to have sex and abstinence only sex ed is the rule of law.

There has been a big shift in the US across generations, largely because of the internet. My generation might have had a few Playboys or Penthouses stashed away someplace (and a few nerds had some 640x480 256 color porn images) and main source for sexual information was gossip (which was often incorrect). If you'd told me as a teenager that it would be common that teens would take nude photos of themselves and casually send them to partners, it would have seemed somewhere between extremely odd and unbelievable.

But even then, once puberty hit, kids were pretty interested in sex. There was lots of making out at my junior high. The teen pregnancy rate has dropped substantially since 1990 - there was a lot of sex back then too. My social circle prior to college never did group nudity or masturbation but in college things started getting pretty wild.

Even prior to puberty, I was getting what I later learned were sexual feelings - reading about certain thing would give me funny feelings inside that I liked.
posted by Candleman at 8:34 AM on November 10


I’d probably have the same feelings as you if I was reading a book where it talked about how young boys are instructed on how to have predatory behaviours towards girls/women. Growing up I learned “boys only want one thing” – so boys are scary and a threat. AND I also learned that I had to have a boyfriend to prove my worth as a person. WTF? So getting all these messages growing up was a mindfuck for sure. I’m late 30s btw, grew up in Canada with lots of American media exposure.

So I think what you’re reading is how rape culture is seeded into the next generation and yes, it’s gross and uncomfortable. Probably the worst thing is that this is normalized and then you see comments like “rape culture doesn’t exist.” Yeah, fuck that.

Exploring sexuality and looking at porn when you're 12/13 is one thing. Being taught by older guys that women are objects to be conquered (examples seen in your 2nd paragraph) is fucked up, toxic masculinity, rape culture, etc. Maaaybe someday we’ll see in books where they’re talking about how boys are socialized to have healthy relationships and respect women. (I hope these books already exist out there. They must!...)

Respectfully, I think you’re asking the wrong question, though I understand why you posed your question as is. The question is not “what were your experiences and is this normal” – the question is “What is going on here in what I’m reading and why do I feel so uncomfortable?” And "Is this real and does this actually happen?"

I was thinking about your post yesterday and today and then was inspired to post after I saw this comment on reddit: “I was raised male in the 80s/90s. I can't speak for today's youth, but during that time I was absolutely taught through media and peers that only losers aren't having sex. There was enormous social pressure to be sexually active. To be 'tough' and 'manly' and all these other stupid things. I remember this pressure as early as 8 years old. I had friends watching porn and looking at playboy magazines at that age. During that time, I was bullied regularly in school. I didn't start dating until I was 17 and the first time I showed up to school with a hickey on my neck I was treated completely differently by people. Dudes were congratulating me and finally treating me like I was human or 'a man' or whatever. It was fucked up. I hope its vastly different for children today.”

Two things: 1. This is why there are PUA (pickup artists), the red pill, incels, etc. etc. Toxic masculinity dictates that men must have sex so they're not deemed losers. SMH (shaking my head). 2. This was this person’s “normal.” Normal doesn’t mean not fucked up. And - I also hope that it's vastly different for kids today, but I doubt it. I think it might be a little better, but not vastly.
posted by foxjacket at 8:38 AM on November 10 [8 favorites]


I spoke to Mr. Moonlight (mid 30s/UK born and raised) and posed the question to him. He says he watched Boxing Helena at a sleepover with friends at 10/11, but he says he was more interested in the novelty of it. He says he was interested in sex before 16, but couldn't say exactly when.

As for me, the first time I actively remember wanting to have sex with someone was when I was 19/20, but I feel like I'm an unusual case. I'm in my mid 30s, and can count the number of people on one hand that I've ever felt sexual attraction towards.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:07 AM on November 10 [2 favorites]


US-born with significant UK family influences, cis-het. I had no interest in anything beyond holding hands or a peck on the mouth (which I found as lovely at age 4 as I did at age 14) until my second year of university. Got pushed into (a bit) more than I was interested in during high school, stopped dating at age 15 because I figured boys seemed only interested in one thing, so I'd wait until I wanted that thing before trying to date again. Almost 5 years later, nearly age 20, I was interested and pursued an intimate relationship - with a specific person, not in general. As Frowner says above, I don't find my youthful lack of interest/awareness (anything I was aware of I found pretty icky and uninteresting) troubling at all but instead rather liberating, and I certainly didn't suffer from prudishness once I became interested in sex. I have in common with Ms. Moonlight that I find relatively vanishingly few people very sexy beyond a "that is pleasant to look at" way.
posted by pammeke at 10:48 AM on November 10


Oh, and to add this, which your question just made me recall: once I became aware of "how boys are/were" around age 20 (kindly boyfriend who spoke openly about locker room talk and his level of comfort with same, which was middling), I felt horrified and disgusted. The idea of a stranger seeing me (or any woman) on the street and (as I saw it at the time) secretly borrowing my/her physical image for sexual activity I/she was totally unaware of... creeped me out a LOT. It took me probably a good year or so to come to terms with that. A woman who posed naked in a magazine, I felt, had consented in a way. I felt like an innocent bystander co-opted against her will. I hope it helps to hear that you're not alone in that, and that the feeling subsided for me. In the months after that revelation the idea of "stranger thinking about me sexually" became far less threatening, especially - I have to say - as I encountered strangers who attempted to do more than simply think about it.
posted by pammeke at 10:56 AM on November 10 [4 favorites]


12 seems very young in my eyes for first kiss (with tongue!). From perhaps 14 on I spoke pretty openly and freely about sexual desires with my male peers, but I would say that it was more in the range of 14-15 that people started having first kisses, relationships, etc. Before that (e.g. in middle school) I don't think my male friends and I were particularly aware or concerned with our female counterparts' changes through puberty.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:14 AM on November 10


I would be curious to see statistics about median age for milestones like first kiss, etc., but I don't know if any such research exists.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:15 AM on November 10


When I was 13, my 8th grade boy crush propositioned me to have sex. (He was probably 14 and I'm a female). I thought he was insane- we hadn't even kissed before! and I basically told him so. I know there were kids in my 8th grade class that were rumored to be having sex, and I thought that seemed crazy. 2 years later at 15, i wasn't quite ready for sex, but pretty much everything else, which of course I think of those things as sex now. I think there's a range, but I remember 10th-11th grade feeling much more ready to try things, and like I "got" it, and experimented a good bit. However it wasn't until even later, late teens early 20's that i felt like it wasn't just fumbling around and I like, ah, OK. I certainly felt sexual though from ... 14 up? It just was a long progression from there to sexually maturity.
posted by Rocket26 at 1:38 PM on November 10


Cis get female, very 'normal' childhood. I remember exploratotion with my body at about 6 and it was definitely sexual in nature. Nothing triggered it in particular, I just liked the sensation. And I played 'husband and wife' with a friend a year older at about this time. It wasn't overtly sexual but we'd lay together, stimulate kisses etc. We are both female btw. We stopped soon after due to growing up and stuff. I remember being curious about women's bodies In lingerie catalogs etc before puberty. At about 12 I found a nude mag in the house (I was looking for it) and was endlessly fascinated by it. It disappeared (someone hid it better) and I didn't find it again. I was dismayed, lol. I didn't have Internet but if I did I would have looked up aaalll the things for sure. I remember being in my teens and watching foreign racy moves on late night tv occasionally, without anyone knowing.

Oh and I was heavily into the Wishing Chair, and Mallory Towers at this time.... So.

And it isn't like I was boy or girl crazy or anything at the time, I was pretty much a late bloomer in that regard. My first anything was early 20s. Everything in regards to all that has been pretty normal. So in my experience, it is average.
posted by Dimes at 4:53 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]


I recall it as "wanting to kiss girls before I could even talk". I didn't have those formative experiences of older guys giving me sex information, because my mom had explained human reproduction to me when I was 5 or 6 years old. And because I was an angry introvert who just didn't hang out with anyone.
First time seeing an image of a naked woman, approx 15. Around that age I had also found some dirty paperbacks and The Joy of Sex in the cellar, and had snuck into the public library's shelves with Nancy Friday's two books and Gay Talese's Thy Neighbor's Wife.
[Cishet male, teenager in the 1980's]
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 8:57 PM on November 11


Middle-aged American male here, hit puberty in the mid-late seventies. I started thinking about sex at the age of ten, when a friend explained to me what "screwing" was (in the context of telling a dirty joke), and about that time saw my first naked adult woman in a porn mag. I really wasn't interested in sex before that; I'd discovered a somewhat younger cousin playing doctor with a neighbor girl, and when they invited me to join them, I'd declined. When I became interested in sex, it was at first in terms of it being a new and interesting subject--like dinosaurs or ancient Egypt or something--and only a bit later, as I approached puberty, in terms of something that would happen to me and other people in my class, including the girl that I had a crush on. Until I reached puberty, though, it was probably less important to me than whether or not Star Trek would ever get back on the air.
posted by Deja Stu at 3:25 PM on November 17


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