Newsletter: June 2004

Dear friends,

The school year is almost over. Enjoy a well-deserved summer break!

In this edition of the Dibble Institute e-newsletter, we’re sending you an article from last week’s New York Times Magazine. It is a sad commentary on the attitudes and behavior of youth about sex and romantic relationships. Marline Pearson, the author of Love U2®, is cited in the article.

Marline will be speaking twice at the Smart Marriage Conference in Dallas this July. On Monday, July 12th, she will be part of a FREE all day youth marriage education training institute. Char Kamper of CONNECTIONS and Nancy McLaren of the Art of Loving Well are also part of the program. To register
go to SmartMarriages.com, find the conference registration form, print it out and mail or fax it in. It’s a great opportunity to personally meet and hear from these leaders in youth relationship skills.

With all warm wishes,

Kay Reed
President
The Dibble Institute

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New York Times Magazine, Sunday May 30, 2004

Friends, Friends With Benefits and the Benefits of the Local Mall

By BENOIT DENIZET-LEWIS
Jesse wants to meet at Hooters. ‘It’s 40 minutes from where I live,’ he

says, ‘but trust me, it’s worth the drive.’ Jesse is 15. Surprisingly,

there is no age requirement to dine at Hooters. When I call the restaurant

to make sure I’m not aiding and abetting teen delinquency, the woman who

picks up seems annoyed I would even ask. ‘No, we’re a family restaurant,’

she says. So, amid the bronzed, scantily clad waitresses and a boisterous

bachelor party, I find Jesse, a high-school sophomore with broad shoulders

and messy brown hair peeking out from underneath his baseball cap. Jesse is

there with four of his close friends, whom he has arranged for me to meet.
Among them is Caity, a thin, 14-year-old freshman with long blond hair and

braces, who says that she is a virgin but that she occasionally ‘hooks up’

with guys. Caity doesn’t make clear what she means by ‘hooking up.’ The

term itself is vague — covering everything from kissing to intercourse —

though it is sometimes a euphemism for oral sex, performed by a girl on a

boy. Sitting next to Caity is her best friend, Kate, also 14, whom everyone

affectionately refers to as the ‘prude’ of the group. Outgoing and

attractive, she’s had a boyfriend for a couple of months, but they haven’t

even kissed yet.
In her New England exurban world, where, I was told, oral sex is common by

eighth or ninth grade, and where hookups may skip kissing altogether, Kate’s

predicament strikes her friends, and even herself, as bizarre. ‘It’s

retarded,’ she says, burying her head in Caity’s shoulder. ‘Even my mom

thinks it’s weird.’
Just a few weeks ago, Caity and Kate met a cute boy at the mall. ‘Me and

Kate walked into this store,’ Caity says, ‘and this boy saw the shirt Kate

was wearing that says, ‘Kiss Me, I’m an Amoeba.’ So he was, like, ‘That’s an

awesome shirt.’ And she was, like, ‘Want me to make you one?’ So he went and

got Sharpies, and she went and got T-shirts, we met back there and then he

said to me, ‘You want my screen name?’ So he wrote it on my arm. He just got

his license, so he came up, and we hooked up.’
I ask Caity if that’s it, or if her hookup might lead to something more.

‘We might date,’ she tells me. ‘I don’t know. It’s just that guys can get

so annoying when you start dating them.’
Adam, a 16-year-old sophomore at the end of the table, breaks in, adding

that girls, too, can get really annoying when you start dating them. A

soccer player with shaggy blond hair and a muscular body, he likes to lift

his shirt at inappropriate times (like now, to the Hooters waitress) and

scream, ‘I’ve had sex!’ Adam has had the most hookups of the group —

about 10, he estimates.
When he lived in Florida last year, he lost his virginity to a friend who

threw a condom at him and ordered him to put it on. ‘Down in Key West,

high-school girls are crazy,’ Adam said. ‘Girls were making out with each

other on the beach. Lesbians are cool!’
While Adam and Caity denied it, there was a thick fog of sexual intrigue

that surrounded their friendship — and a few weeks after our dinner at

Hooters, Jesse sent me an online message notifying me of a hookup in the

making between Adam and Caity. They were planning to go over to Jesse’s

house and ‘mess around.’ As Jesse explained it, Adam told Caity he didn’t

want a relationship, and she replied that that was fine, she didn’t want

one, either.
According to Jesse, Caity set the ground rules. ‘Caity told me, ‘Adam knows

he’s not going to get in my pants, but I might get into his.’ For now they

might just make out, but Caity said that if they hang out a lot more, maybe

they’ll do more.’ The next day, Jesse messaged me to say that the hookup

never materialized. ‘Everyone got busy. But I’m guessing it still might

happen.’
I first met Jesse online at facethejury.com, one of many Internet sites

popular with high-school and college students, where teenagers can post

profiles, exchange e-mail and arrange to hook up. (Though facethejury.com,

like many such sites, requires members to be 18, younger teenagers routinely

lie about their age.) Over the course of several months spent hanging out

and communicating online with nearly 100 high-school students (mostly white,

middle- and upper-middle-class suburban and exurban teenagers from the

Northeast and Midwest), I heard the same thing: hooking up is more common

than dating.
Most of the teenagers I spoke to could think of only a handful of serious

couples at their school. One senior in Chicago, who’d been dating the same

girl since sophomore year, told me that none of his friends want girlfriends

and that he’s made to feel like a ‘loser’ because he’s in a relationship.

As if searching for reassurance, he turned to me and asked, ‘Do you think

I’m a loser?’
The decline in dating and romantic relationships on college campuses has

been deplored often enough. By 2001, it had become so pronounced that a

conservative group, the Independent Women’s Forum, was compelled to take out

ads in college papers on the East Coast and in the Midwest pleading with

students to ‘Take Back the Date.’ But their efforts don’t seem to have

paid off. The trend toward ‘hooking up’ and ‘friends with benefits’

(basically, friends you hook up with regularly) has trickled down from

campuses into high schools and junior highs — and not just in large urban

centers. Cellphones and the Internet, which offer teenagers an unparalleled

level of privacy, make hooking up that much easier, whether they live in New

York City or Boise.
And yet, still, many date. Or sort of, falling out of romantic relationships

into hookups and back again. When teenagers do date, they often do so in

ways that would be unrecognizable to their parents, or even to their older

siblings. A ‘formal date’ might be a trip to the mall with a date and some

friends. Teenagers regularly flirt online first, and then decide whether to

do so in real life. Dating someone from your school is considered by many to

be risky, akin to seeing someone from the office, so teenagers tend to look

to nearby schools or towns, whether they’re hoping to date or just to hook

up.
It’s not that teenagers have given up on love altogether. Most of the

high-school students I spent time with said they expected to meet the right

person, fall in love and marry — eventually. It’s just that high school,

many insist, isn’t the place to worry about that. High school is about

keeping your options open. Relationships are about closing them. As these

teenagers see it, marriage and monogamy will seamlessly replace their

youthful hookup careers sometime in their mid- to late 20’s — or, as one

high-school boy from Rhode Island told me online, when ‘we turn 30 and no

one hot wants us anymore.’
Brian, a 16-year-old friend of Jesse’s, put it this way: ‘Being in a real

relationship just complicates everything. You feel obligated to be all,

like, couply. And that gets really boring after a while. When you’re friends

with benefits, you go over, hook up, then play video games or something. It

rocks.’
Why Valentine’s Day Is for Losers
ating practices and sexual behavior still vary along racial and economic

lines, but some common assumptions, particularly about suburban versus urban

kids, no longer hold true. Parents often think that teenagers who grow up in

cities are more prone to promiscuous sexual behavior than teenagers in the

suburbs. But according to a comprehensive study sponsored by the National

Institute of Child Health and Development, more suburban 12th graders than

urban ones have had sex outside of a romantic relationship (43 percent,

compared with 39 percent).
It’s unclear just how many teenagers choose hookups or friends with benefits

over dating. Many, in fact, go back and forth, and if the distinction

between hooking up and dating can seem slippery, that’s because one

sometimes does lead to the other. But just as often, hooking up is nothing

more than what it’s advertised to be: a no-strings sexual encounter. Recent

studies show that it’s not uncommon for high-school students to have sex

with someone they aren’t dating. A 2001 survey conducted by Bowling Green

State University in Ohio found that of the 55 percent of local 11th graders

who engaged in intercourse, 60 percent said they’d had sex with a partner

who was no more than a friend. That number would perhaps be higher if the

study asked about oral sex. While the teen intercourse rate has declined —

from 54 percent in 1991 to 47 percent in 2003 — this may be partly because

teenagers have simply replaced intercourse with oral sex. To a generation

raised on MTV, AIDS, Britney Spears, Internet porn, Monica Lewinsky and

‘Sex and the City,’ oral sex is definitely not sex (it’s just ‘oral’),

and hooking up is definitely not a big deal.
The teenagers I spoke to talk about hookups as matter-of-factly as they

might discuss what’s on the cafeteria lunch menu — and they look at you in

a funny way if you go on for too long about the ’emotional’ components of

sex. But coupled with this apparent disconnection is remarkable frankness

about sex, even among friends of the opposite gender. Many teenagers spend a

lot of time hanging out in mixed-gender groups (at the mall, at one

another’s houses), and when they can’t hang out in person, they hang out

online, asking the questions they might not dare to in real life. While this

means that some friendships become sexually charged and lead to ‘friends

with benefits’ (one senior from Illinois told me that most of her friends

have hooked up with one another), a good number remain platonic.
On Valentine’s Day, I was invited to spend the evening with 12 junior and

senior friends in an upper-middle-class suburb of Chicago. They were hanging

out, eating pizza and watching TV. Not one had a Valentine, and most said

they wouldn’t have it any other way. Several pointed out that having close

friends of the opposite sex makes romantic relationships less essential.

Besides, if you feel like something more, there’s no need to feign interest

in dinner and a movie. You can just hook up or call one of your friends with

benefits.
‘It would be so weird if a guy came up to me and said, ‘Irene, I’d like to

take you out on a date,’ said Irene, a tall, outgoing senior. ‘I’d

probably laugh at him. It would be sweet, but it would be so weird!’
Irene and her friends are not nerds. They are attractive and well liked, and

most have had at least one romantic relationship. If that experience taught

them anything, it’s that high school is no place for romantic relationships.

They’re complicated, messy and invariably painful. Hooking up, when done

‘right,’ is exciting, sexually validating and efficient.
‘I mean, sometimes you’ll go out with a group of friends and meet someone

cool, and maybe you’ll hang out and hook up, but that’s about it,’ said

Irene’s friend Marie (who asked me to use her middle name). ‘There’s a few

people I know who date, but most of us are like, ‘There’s no one good to

date, we don’t need to date, so why date?’

To read the rest of this article please visit the link for the New York Times
magazine below:
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/30/magazine/30NONDATING.html

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The Dibble Institute for Marriage Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping young people learn skills which enable successful relationships and marriages. We serve as a nationwide advocate and resource for youth marriage education and publish materials which help teach relationship skills.

If you are interested in viewing sample lessons, current research, links to relevant websites and a variety of relationship skills educational resources, please visit our website at www.BuildingRelationshipSkills.org.

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This e-newsletter shares information on youth relationships and educational approaches. The Dibble Institute does not necessarily share the opinions expressed; they are shared for knowledge of happenings within the field.

The Dibble Institute for Marriage Education
Kay Reed, President
P.O. Box 7881
Berkeley, Ca. 94707-0881
(800) 695-7975
(510) 528-1956 Fax
Skills@dibbleinstitute.org
www.BuildingRelationshipSkills.org.

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