What Boys Want

Hook-up culture doesn't just hurt girls. An examination of who is actually falling behind amid parental panic

Laura Pannack for TIME

Eighteen-year-old Dre Gambrell is complicated. A defensive tackle at Potomac Falls High in Northern Virginia, he's capable of both romantic gestures and sophisticated manipulation. Sometimes, as he explains it, he'll ask girls to send him pictures of themselves partly undressed, and not for the reason one might expect. "If the girl lies a lot, goes around saying she doesn't like me ... I'll have that picture of her," he says. In an environment where looking as if you've been rejected in front of your friends is tough to stomach, the images are insurance.

Such is the code of Boy World — a place where the rules of courtship shift by the hour and the Internet can accelerate any teen impulse to the speed of light. As an entire generation of parents panics about hookup culture and its effect on their daughters, it's easy to write off the emotional lives of boys. Boys often wind up portrayed as either opportunistic perpetrators of the worst sexual behaviors or thoughtless beneficiaries of an era in which boys get sex and girls get hurt.

But is that really what boys want?

As an educator who has worked with teens for more than 20 years, I wanted to delve deeper. So I spent two years talking to hundreds of boys about school and home, their love lives, their sex lives, and the power struggles that shape their days. Here's what they had to say:

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