The Hookup Culture Also Hurts Our Boys


When we discuss the growing trends of young people engaging in the “hookup culture” – casual sex and sexual acts outside of marriage – we often speak of the damage it does to girls. There’s good reason for that, obviously – young women often feel great pressure to go along with certain behaviors and later pay a high price for it in terms of sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and emotional wounds.

 But what about the young men?

They pay a price, too.

NBC News recently ran a worthwhile read (which, I should warn you, contains graphic and coarse language) that explores the growing phenomenon where boys have exchanged handwritten notes with graphic text messages and nude photos delivered right to their romantic interest’s phone.

I’ll quote from the NBC News article: “According to new research, boys who engage in this kind of sexualized behavior say they have no intention to be hostile or demeaning — precisely the opposite. While they admit they are pushing limits, they also think they are simply courting.”

It’s a lot to take in, especially the new and corrupted understanding of the term “courting.”

How have young men become so misguided in their thinking? And what are the consequences of this type of mentality and behavior?

I’ll answer the second question first. The hookup culture does two main things to boys: the first is it causes them to have a low and inhumane view of sexuality (often from pornography) which then hurts their general life skills for years and years to come.

Think about it this way: a boy who takes part in random sexual acts doesn’t learn what is good, healthy, respectful and God-ordained. He’s being conditioned for underperformance, as he won’t be able to exercise self-control or a desire to pursue well in other areas of his life. His chances to build and lead a home later on are also negatively impacted – how can he live out the servanthood love required by husbands and fathers if he’s only learned to quench his lust by taking from others?

The second way the hookup culture hurts boys is by crippling their ability to have healthy relationships. As we talked about on a recent broadcast on protecting families from the “digital invasion,” the quick rewards of “sexting” causes boys to lose “emotional IQ.” It does this by creating an environment ripe for sexual addiction – and sexual energy, best understood, is actually relational energy. For humans, unlike animals, sex is a prompting for a real and valuable human relationship, so when sexual energy can be spent so easily in a hookup culture, a boy’s ability to enter into a safe, trusting relationship – of any kind – is atrophied.

I’ll circle back to my original question now: How have we allowed our young men to become so misguided in their thinking?

A lot of the blame falls to us men. After all, how can a boy learn to be a man without someone to teach him?

We have to do the hard, intentional work of fatherhood and mentoring. I say this as a dad to two boys – I know it’s challenging. I know some of these conversations can even feel awkward and embarrassing. Yet we have to get over it and not assume that the boys in our lives will grow up to be good men by some miracle.

 You are that miracle.

If you have a son, you have to work hard at being a good father, and being a good dad isn’t easy. It takes a lot of effort and sacrifice.

Here are some practical ways, culled from the wisdom of our counselors, that we can help boys understand what it means to be a godly man.

  1. Grow in our own manhood and sexual self-control. We can’t teach and model what we don’t live.
  2. Teach them a message that goes beyond just abstinence. God-ordained sexuality is more about doing good – being a living, walking symbol of Christ and His Church through celibacy or faithful marriage – than simply not having sex. Teach your son and the young men God may call you to mentor what our bodies and marriage symbolize versus a simplified message of “stay restrained and bounce your eyes.”
  3. Challenge your boys to goodness through frank discussion and by inviting them into the world of manhood. You can say something like, “Son, I have to stay faithful to your mom, and I want to do that. You have a similar destiny to get ready for too – You are a man in training.  There are challenges to our goals and it’s not always a fair fight with easily available pornography or other temptations. Just know this: I want to be on your team and I want you to be on mine for this journey. God has given us men good sexual interest and desire to invest into a family – and we must honor Him by controlling and directing those desires correctly.”

It’s not easy to guide a young man in the proper stewardship of his sexuality in this world – but as divorce rates remain high and sexual addictions soar, we’re seeing that it’s harder not to take on this important task. You can do it. You must do it.

If you want more advice and tips, Focus on the Family is here to help. Here are some resources you may want to consider reviewing before you start.

  • Pure Intimacy – our website that more deeply explores the heart of sexuality and God’s design for humanity from a more theological perspective
  • Our website’s parenting section dealing with sexuality
  • Our website’s marriage section dealing with intimacy
  • Focus on the Family’s preferred family protection software company, Net Nanny
  • Our family help specialists are available to you for personalized help and advice at 1-800-A-FAMILY, through our online contact page, or via email

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Leave a Comment

robert west More than 1 year ago

--I believe this whole sexual hook up thing was preceded by President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. President Clinton was not a good role model at this time. To give credit, he's an extremely bright man.  Also, quite a bit before this, the Afro-American woman who was in charge of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services started the policy of allowing condoms for high school aged teenagers. Lots of intelligent people have bought into this "preventive measure" for High School Students. When I first Heard this mentioned years ago I could not fathom the stupidity.

Eugene Rossi More than 1 year ago

--I think I need to clarify my last comment. My question was completely rhetorical - It is a well established fact that behaviors and beliefs reflecting altruism as well as selfishness are observed in all people in all cultures regardless of the absence or presence of religion. In short, people do not need to believe in any god in order to be kind and generous people - Richard Dawkins makes this truth very clear in his book "The God Delusion", and he also outlines the danger for religion or faith to hijack a person's conscience and cause them to commit immoral acts such as genocide. Neither religious faith nor atheism are inherently evil in and of themselves, but rather the evil is seen the immoral and hurtful actions people carry out in life regardless of their worldview.

The only reason I even bothered to bring this up was in response to an earlier comment someone made about a need to return to the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament because God supposedly is telling us to do so. Such a decision would not only have devastating consequences, but it would be based entirely on the faith that A: God exists and B: God is telling us to do this. We need not look far back into history to see the horror of misguided faith - Twenty innocent people lost their lives during the Salem witch trials because other people of misguided faith were acting completely in line with Exodus 22:18 which reads "You must not permit a sorceress to live".

As for the views expressed in this article, I certainly do not agree with all of them either. I do not believe in any "golden age" when people lived "perfect" sexuality, because, as Nemo put it earlier, this simply is not the case and history confirms it. Part of the problem we face is indirectly related to the comfort technology has provided - we tend to desire simple and fast answers to all of the world's problems when in reality, the answers are far more complex than we would like them to be. The truth is that as we look for more answers in biology, history, and sociology, we find more complexity and not less.  If it is of any matter, I do not personally agree with many of the current social conservative/ religious evangelical beliefs regarding birth control or abstinence teaching, but I don't believe in making fun of those who disagree.

What I meant when I said people could learn from this article was the simple fact that it is possible to find some ideas of another person interesting and useful without having to accept the entire worldview, whether the person happens to be Jim Daly or Richard Dawkins. For example, this article talks about the theory that sexual energy can be converted to relational energy. I have many religious friends (some who are not Christians) who agree with this, and claim that practicing this through abstinence has helped them find inner peace in their life or "peace with God" as someone described it. While I might not agree with them completely, I find no reason to act mean or hurtful to them just because they are going against the grain of what many others believe about abstinence. The problem, of course comes when people claim that they are better than other people because of their beliefs regarding sexuality and/or spirituality.

Dan Haynes More than 1 year ago

--Nemo, your comments are right on. Also, in addition to complete and comprehensive instruction on sexuality, reproduction, contraception, and disease prevention, young people need to be taught about consent (yes means yes, no means no, intoxication does not equal consent, coercion is rape, etc.). "Don't touch yourself or anyone else until your wedding night" isn't going to cut it anymore, and it shouldn't. If someone feels the need to inject their religious beliefs into this instruction, that's fine, but the facts still need to be there. Way too many kids raised in the "purity movement" have every intention of waiting until their wedding night, and that's a valid choice, but they are completely unprepared when emotions and/or hormones get out of hand and they engage in risky behavior without any thought of the possible consequences. Evangelicals generally don't seem to want comprehensive sex ed in the schools, but many of these same people are also not wanting to do the work themselves at home either, and that's dangerous for not just their own kids, but the other kids that their kids will encounter. This does not need to be an either/or. As long as the biological facts are being taught by someone (the school or the parent), there is no reason why a parent or pastor can't add "...but in our family/religion, we don't date/hold hands/kiss/twerk/etc."

Jules Nemo More than 1 year ago

--@Jadis87, "But do we really need to believe in the God of the Old Testament to live out a reasonable moral conduct?" I've never known Christians to be particularly moral and some of the most moral people that I know are atheists.

We've got to stop thinking that there was some golden age in the past when young people abstained from sex until they were married. It never happened. Instead, they got pregnant and then got married young. Adultery was a lot more tolerated then but everybody "kept up appearances" as they used to say.

Young people aren't having any more sex than they did in the past. In fact, in the US, teen pregnancy rates are at an all time low. (They were peaking there for a while but are going back down now that abstinence education is on the way out. While abstinence might prevent pregnancies teaching abstinence doesn't make teens abstain from sex--but it does make them abstain from birth control.)True, technology has given young people more means of expression but I don't think that they are expressing anything different from before. What the technology really changes is that the expression is now recorded. Parents and other old people now know exactly what the young people are doing. This is not good. Young people are not supposed to know the details of old people's sex lives and old people are not supposed to know the details of young people's sex lives. Phil Donahue broke down that wall from one direction and technology is breaking it down from the other.

Eugene Rossi More than 1 year ago


I agree that "sexting" and similar behaviors are not very good decisions, and I'm sure many parents from many religions and walks of life would agree. I have friends who made some similar choices and suffered the consequences, and many of them did not have good parents or role models. With that being said, I believe people can learn something from this article, even if they do not believe that Yahweh exists.

But do we really need to believe in the God of the Old Testament to live out a reasonable moral conduct?

Michael Leberte More than 1 year ago

--Adulthood is delayed too long now days. We have failed to remember the past and have evolved into error and traditions of men.

Look what was happening in 18th century -  by age 12...

Clausewitz was born on June 1, 1780 in Burg bei Magdeburg, Kingdom of Prussia, the fourth and youngest son of a middle-class family. His grandfather, the son of a Lutheran pastor, had been a professor of theology. Clausewitz's father was once a lieutenant in the Prussian army and held a minor post in the Prussian internal revenue service. Clausewitz entered the Prussian military service at the age of twelve as a Lance-Corporal, eventually attaining the rank of Major-General.[6] Clausewitz's family claimed descent from the Barons of Clausewitz in Upper Silesia, which was eventually confirmed, but now is doubted by scholars.


Edward Mills More than 1 year ago

--That the hook-up culture impacts boys as well as girls has been a topic I have attempted to impress upon our pastors for about the past 15 years.  In fact, at his retirement party our previous Senior Pastor, who had taught at a Christian College and has had books published, tapped me on the shoulder and said I “should have someone collect all my letters, bind them into a manuscript and ship it off to the Library of Congress.”  

Many Feminists argued that a girl has a right of privacy to her body, that she has a right to enjoy sex, that there should be no double standard and that she has the right to say “yes!”  It should be obvious that if a girl has a right to say “Yes!” the culture will apply pressure for her to say “Yes!”  As Deborah Tolman notes in her book, “Dilemmas of Desire,” sexual desire among the high school girls she studied had become “dissociated” from their bodies; the pressures to engage in sex overwhelmed their innate sexual hormones.  

As the pressures on girls to say “Yes!” increases so, naturally, would the pressure on boys to pressure girls.  After all, a boy who does not attempt to have sex will be viewed as less than “macho.”   Study after study demonstrates that good relationships are vital to one’s health and happiness and that a good sexual relationship also has important health benefits but the hook-up culture short-circuits the relationship building process.

What is not understood by theologians and pastors is the enormous contribution Christianity has made in fostering the hook-up culture.  We speak of a Sexual Revolution but little of no scholarship has been devoted to exactly what the Sexual Revolution was revolting against.  Some elementary thinking skills will suggest that the Sexual Revolution was revolting against a mindless, outdated Christian morality as exemplified by the Victorian period.

Victorian morality was heavily influenced by evangelical revivalism and the Industrial Revolution.  Victorian morality probably helped limit family size at a time when extra mouths to feed was more of a curse than a blessing as it was in a predominantly agrarian, hand tools society.

Women through the ages have possessed few legal rights although their actual power was significantly greater as “powers behind the throne.”  However, the legal status of women probably reached an historic low during the Victorian period.  Not only did the not have the right to vote but their assets and earnings belonged to the husband in the absence of a premarital agreement.  Husbands also had the absolute right to the children in the event of separation or divorce.  It is said that when a man and a woman married they became one and the One was the Husband.  Moreover, there were strict gender roles as exemplified in Ibsen’s “The Doll House.”  Worse, the medical profession taught that women could not enjoy sex!

Prohibition, inspired by evangelical moral fervor, led to the biggest crime wave in our history and to the development of the night clubs where both women and men could be entertained.

Also, Christian ‘morality’ led directly to the legal principals reinforcing the right of a woman to use her body as she sees fit.

Laws against the sale of contraceptive devices and the dissemination of contraceptive advice led, in the famous case of “Massachusetts vs Brown,” to the principal of Penumbral Rights, that the basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution cast a shadow over other rights, including the right of privacy to one’s body.  Abortionists seized upon this ruling to declare that anti-abortion laws violated the Constitution. “Roe vs Wade” was a tortured decision which probably would not have happened were it not for the Supreme Court's decision overturning anti-contraception laws.

By their very nature special interest groups are focused on their own interests, generally ignoring the interests of society as a whole.  Christianity has simply been out of the loop in any constructive dialogue on morality.  As Paul Davies noted in his “God and the New Physics,” religion looks to the past, not to the present and the future.  Christian preaching is fundamentally buried in the cultural situation of the first century, not the 20th or 21st centuries.  Any sense of morality must rely on what some call “natural law” or “natural morality.”  In fact, there is an enormous chasm between what one reads in the Christian advice literature and the message one gets from the pulpit.  Some churches have attempted to speak to the needs of today’s culture  but have been effectively silenced by adherence to the words of the Bible rather than to the underlying messages of the Bible.

Michael Leberte More than 1 year ago

--We must focus on the root of the problem and not the symptom.

Such was the culture when Jesus walked. (except for technology)

He said if you've seen Me you have seen the Father. I only do what the Father tells Me.

If you love Me you will keep my commandments (see Leviticus)

As man descended from Noah and in rejection of YHWH, God chose Israel to be a witness to the world of His Power and gave instructions - Leviticus was written as a guide for Holiness (set apart) to God. We are saved by our faith and this is how we show it.

Youthful lusts have always been with us, it is not the worst sin or an unforgivable sin, but due to the conditioning of the brain in childhood by media, society, and the myriad of parental variations, it makes it difficult to see and hear the truth, and then believe the truth when it is presented. WE need to stop the lies we tell children and take time to explain life to them. They are learning lies in music and television. Studies prove people enact what they see.

We must take to heart what Jesus taught His disciples when they asked

"Lord teach US to pray!"  

Jesus said pray in this way -

Father in Heaven! set apart (holy) is your name!

Your kingdom Come! Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven!

Give us today our daily bread

(manna from heaven - man does not live by bread alone but by every word of God)

Forgive US our Sins as we forgive those that sin against us!

Lead us away from temptation and deliver us from the evil one!

You have the Power and the Glory forever and ever Amen!

"If you Love ME you will keep my teachings" (commandments)

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)


Jules Nemo More than 1 year ago

--@Barbara Hattemer, I think that you've misdiagnosed the problem a bit. I'm a man old enough to remember the pre-feminist world. The cultural joke, and expectation, was the male boss chasing the female secretary around the desk. Then along came first wave feminism which taught that in their natural and proper state men and women had equal sexual desires, that if women were freed from their socially constructed shackles then they would chase just as many men around that desk. And so they went around trying to change women to make their sexuality more like men's. Second wave feminism also says that men and women have the same sort of sexuality but that cultural factors, and women's immodest dress, distort men. No one should be wanting to chase anyone around any desk. And so these feminists go around trying to change men.

The key is that both types of feminism assert that men and women are essentially the same in the sexuality department. (And a certain type of Christianity is essentially second wave feminism.) So these young men, through natural and God given processes, discover that they would like to see naked parts of certain young women. It is only polite to treat others the way that one would like to be treated.

We need to go back to teaching young men that sexuality is highly variable and that it is not polite to assume anything about someone else. The problem isn't that these young men are sending naked pictures (though that's a problem of a different sort) it's that they didn't ask if that was the sort of thing that the young woman would like.

Julie Burnd More than 1 year ago

--Constantly swimming upstream! Our culture is so sad! Everything is admissible by worldly standards.  Thank God for strong patents, focus on the family & other family ministries, some teachers, coaches, etc that stand firm and say no! Praying for our children and culture.  Thank you for this article topic, much needed!!!

Barbara Hattemer More than 1 year ago

--This is a very important subject. I have written a novel An Island Just for Us with a strong sub plot about the effects of our sexualized culture on young boys. This is not normally talked about. It is a secret sin, but it's effects can be far reaching: a lifelong addiction to pornography, the inability to enjoy a normal, healthy, lasting relationship with a girl, a major cause of divorce and dissatisfaction with a partner, an insatiable desire for ever more deviant sexual behavior. The story takes place in a beautiful setting that makes it a pleasure to read and there is nothing offensive about it. At a Christian Retailers Conference in June, young women were delighted that the subject has finally been written about. Youth pastors planned to take the book to countries where they are teaching moral behavior to young boys and they were all eager to have it for their churches in this country. I realized this is an issue whose time has come.                                     Barbara Hattemer

Beverly Truslow More than 1 year ago

--Great article. Important topic. Wish it had said " I Want to be faithful to your mother. I have to be faithful to your mother." ( in that sequence)