"Sometimes you’re in the room and the other boys come in and see if she’ll let them join in. If she’s smashed it helps … You get a slap on the back from the crew. You feel like a bit of a legend hey?! Sometimes it gets ugly but you’re swept up in it. I have felt a bit guilty afterwards. If I’m really keen I’ll nag her and nag her until she gives in. But she can say no if she wants to. If the girl wants us to stop we’ll stop. If she feels bad a few of I will try and talk to her, take her home and stuff."
"I think it’s classic to have sex alongside your mates. We talk about it the next day, about what we did. Slapping the girl on the arse and doing funny shit. You try and make your mates laugh. It’s sort of … like … an adventure together, you know?"
"First time I saw what to do was at the back of the Town Hall. We were getting stoned at Momentum [surf movie] and I could hear noise in the canteen. I went over with a can of Bourbon and saw a few of the older crew fucking some girls on the wooden floor. One took my Bourbon [laughs] I sat on the bench and just watched. Billy came in but he freaked out and ran off [laughs]"
"Where did I learn about sex? Umm … just doing it, you know. A few times I was in a room with others, so I looked over and tried and work it out. That the bell button was not the pussy [Vagina] [laughs] You can’t take a magazine with you can you? [laughs]"
"Sometimes I checked out my older sister’s magazines, or watched a bit of porn. The internet [pornography] is OK, but a bit dodgy and feral."
"I get some pretty crazy texts from girls. Full on slutty texts. If I’ve had a few [drinks] I’ll call those girls, or flirt on the text. If I’m not having much luck at the party I’ll just secretly text one. Sometimes I’ll get her to meet me somewhere else. Texting is good ‘cause the other lads don’t know I’m fucking her. She’s a bit of a prawn [A prawn is a girl whose head should be pulled off]"
"Aww myspace rocks! Best pick up tool ever. It’s like it’s [sex] on tap. I’ve had heaps of hook ups because of that. And putting up pictures of your notches [girls you have had sex with] is pretty fun, the boys rate ‘em [laughs]."
These quotes are from a brief run around a few boys. They are sons, nephews, brothers, friends, and the like. They are all from the same area and surf together, back each other up in fights, help each other out with social and economic support, and the like. They share experiences of fear, joy [stoke], pride, shame, etc. A pat on the back and a handshake is an intimate moment, and evidences a sensual economy of masculinity. By this I mean there is a close homosocial bonding that is fuelled by shared and exchanged experiences, feelings and bodies.
Sometimes the boys are shamed into surfing big waves, experience pride when they act like they are “supposed” to, experience joy when their eyes meet, and so on.
Inter-affectivity produces moments of learning and gives shape to the development of habitus and repertoire. A sensual economy of masculinity underscores boys and mens’ lives, learning, and mateship.
As such, when it comes to sex this sensual life contributes to our decisions about it. Such as where to have sex, who we learn from, who we have sex with or don’t [homophobia underscores behaviour], what we should like and don’t like, and how to be safe.
For example, having group sex is not “weird”, but offers up another opportunity to share sensations and feelings with your mates. Group sex is sometimes not about the girl but about male bonding; it’s more about what your mates are thinking and feeling. The girl’s body becomes something you bond through.
If your mates are cheering you belong, or you get a “pat on the back” that expresses pride in your behaviour thereby confirming its “rightness”. There is a double standard here though, young women who engage in casual sex continue to be condemned.
The sensual life of mateship can be the only thing that matters, the boys are not really sure how to relate to girls anyway.
The sensual life extends to learning about sex. The mateship it facilitates allows you to be part of sexual events. And this allows you to learn, and access a “right of passage”. Sometimes other blokes will let you join into “sexual adventures” because you proved that you “charge” [surf big waves]. And then you get to pass on the knowledge to your mates. A sense of pride comes from sexual knowledge, however inaccurate that knowledge might be.
There may be no use of condoms or mention of sexual diseases or how girls might feel about sex or discussion of consent. These issues may be absent or silenced, and misconceptions about them perpetuated.
What’s clear to me is that for the boys the majority of learning about sex is accomplished as they do it. It is not just a cognitive learning experience but an embodied and felt participation that can escape rationality as bodies learn what to do and how to feel during sexual events.
There’s a long process of trial and error fed by felt feedback. Where sometimes you feel like everything is great while other times you just know something isn’t right, but can’t explain it. It just “feels” wrong. Enthusiasm generated by the event and those present and misinformed expectations can override this “feeling wrong”. In the heat of the moment things can happen that perhaps shouldn’t.
Sex Learning as an Event:
Sexual learning is an interactive, situational, affective, and relative process. Young people negotiate a mixture of biological changes, peer pressure, conflicting parental messages and the power of broader cultural messages that shape gendered expectations about sexuality.
As such, sexual events are contextual, and never the same twice. There is an unpredictability that complicates defining in advance the dos and don’ts.
The spaces change: One time it’s a town hall, another it’s a bedroom, and another it’s on the beach. The enthusiasms change: One time your keen and go along with everything. But other times the enthusiasm wanes because you have been here before and it wasn’t pretty. The sexual knowledge changes: Sometimes there’s crew who know what’s going on and other times you’re all blind as bats. Stimulants change: Alcohol and drugs are present sometimes, in different quantities, or not at all.
Safety is contextual: Sometimes there is access to condoms other times they never come up. Sometimes crew know what gonorrhea is other times they have no idea it even exists. The scary thing is it is more often than not the girl who is expected to manage all this, even if she’s intoxicated.
In light of the sensual life and learning of masculinity and sex as event there is a need to explore possibilities for intervening with sex education during moments where people don’t necessarily know what is going to happen next. An interactive process of education that recreates, and gives access to, the event-based nature of sexual learning is required.
In light of this, it's worth exploring peer-based mentoring as a sex education tool.
Peer-based mentoring is a method under development by the National Rugby League [a football code] in Australia, and borne of a research project called “Playing By the Rules” conducted by a University of Sydney team led by Associate Professor Catharine Lumby. This football code has experienced several furores over the behaviour of players in regards to sexual conduct, consent, sexual ethics, and alcohol abuse.
Traditional mentoring systems have an older mentor tutoring a younger mentee. However, it can tend to be prescriptive, and says to young blokes “be like me and you will be OK”.
But often the older blokes in the “traditional” culture are misogynistic and sexist and lack sexual ethics themselves, as well as being out of touch with the attitudes and expectations and experiences of boys today. They are also absent when sexual activity occurs.
Anyway, young people feel many of their parents are unsure or unwilling to take on the task of sexuality education and that the information delivered to students as part of their personal development education at school has a limited impact on young people’s knowledge and skills in preparing for sexual encounters.
Perhaps it is best to embrace an education program that exploits the sensual life of masculinity at the peer level.
Peer-based mentoring involves mates looking out for mates – both girls and boys – and bonding through feelings generated through a shared sexual ethics that emphasises joy and fun. It’s an education process that targets boys and has them take on the role of educating their mates, of intervening in situations, of taking on the responsibility of “managing situations”, and short-circuiting enthusiasms when they get out of hand. And being rewarded with a sense of pride, affirmation, and belonging because of this ethics. Peer-based mentoring is not prescriptive and doesn’t, in advance, suggest that people know what’s going to happen. And doesn’t short-circuit experimentation through regulation and control, which the boys hate because it doesn’t allow for their enthusiasm for sex.
Associate Professor Moira Carmody, from the UWS Social Justice Social Change Research Centre explains in her landmark study into young people and sex: Sex: Why Now, Why Not? “Young people have their own ideas about what they’d like to learn about ethical and safe sexual relationships.” and “Young people believe they are gaining
a basic understanding of the ‘mechanics’ of sexual intimacy and the importance of safe sex practices from the classroom or their parents, but they want more opportunities to address the complexities of intimate relationships”
Peer mentoring would encourage those present during a sexual event to offer support, advice, and a camaraderie based on “sexual ethics” rather than “sexual conquest”. The idea is to produce interest and a shared responsibility for each other that is already familiar to them through the sensual bonding of masculinity. A pat on the back or
handshake can mean a lot if a bloke has “stepped up” to stop things getting out of hand.
A key question for me at the moment is: Can a sensual economy of masculinity be put to work to produce a repertoire that includes sexual safety and ethics as things to bond over during a sexual event?
A support network through technology would be crucial to this peer-based mentoring. Since the boys are adept at texting, and it can be “covert”, it makes sense to use the technology. It’s a technology that can be accessed anywhere, and is being used during sexual events anyway. It’s just that at the moment it is only used to facilitate pictures of girls drunk and being fucked, rather than being for providing a sexual safety and ethics resource.
To be honest, there are few sex education resources targeted to young men and boys that tap into the things they are enthusiastic about, and contribute to their enthusiasms. For example, no surfing magazines have sex advice, yet they generate enthusiasm for sexual activity as well as surfing. Dolly – a teen girl’s magazine in Australia – introduced a sex section for boys a few years ago but it’s now defunct.
My point: Where are the boys going to go? They’re going to go to their mates. Young people are experiencing more and more pressure to be sexually active at younger ages, and they have little support. We need to access the sexual events. And one way is to make use of the communication and felt economies that already facilitate enthusiasms and learning.