What Boys Want

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

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Laura Pannack for TIME

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The relationship with his friend, however, never fully recovered. "We never really sat down and talked about it," Dre says. "Every once in a while, it gets brought up, but I just let it go." And even though he says they're still close, there are now limits to their friendship. "I keep him away from certain stuff ... Every time I tell him about someone, he says the same thing: 'Oh, she's a goer [promiscuous],' which means he'd hook up with her," Dre says. "I don't want to be like, 'I have feelings for her.'"

Expressing any feelings about girls can be tricky between boys. During one of my interviews, Brian (the boy who goes to school abroad) told me about a girl he really liked and with whom he'd hooked up just that weekend. "At first, I didn't tell my friends," he said. "As soon as word spread, all I heard for the next three days were nasty sexual remarks." In fact, it's not uncommon for boys to relentlessly trash-talk a girl they know one of their friends likes--saying she's "nasty" or even that she has an STD. But then the same boys might go off and pursue the girl themselves.

That kind of betrayal is a common story. But the bro code, where emotions are involved, quickly turns into a code of silence--which can lead to dangerous consequences, especially when it comes to girls.

The Dark Side of the Code

That code of silence--not loyalty--is one reason boys have a hard time coming forward when they see other guys doing something humiliating or dangerous with a girl. When adults see disturbing stories of sexual misconduct perpetrated by groups of boys while other kids remain passive bystanders, it can be difficult to fathom. But for boys conditioned to avoid rocking the boat and to accept bad behavior from those who outrank them in the social hierarchy, combined with the punitive approach that adults use to talk to boys about these issues (if they talk at all), the outcome is predictable.

Ricky, the boy from New Orleans, told me the story of a guy at his school who recorded himself having sex with different girls and then started showing the videos around the school. "Do you want to be next?" he'd ask girls as a way to seduce new partners, according to Ricky. "The girls that don't have a lot of self-esteem go for it," he said. "The ones who do have self-esteem think it's disgusting."

How do the other boys react? "Some guys say, 'Good job, man. How many videos do you have?' ... Others say the guy is a clown. It's a divide."

None of them, however, stepped in to tell the guy to stop showing the videos. Why? According to Ricky, the girls were recorded consensually (at least taking the word of the friend). It was the girls' choice, he said, to allow the videos to be taken. And it's worth bearing in mind that for the selfie generation, raised in an era when celebrity sex tapes are commonplace, public sexuality doesn't always seem particularly taboo.

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