-{The following is a speech that I might give my future daughter. It hasn’t been run by my wife, so in the intervening decade or so before giving it, it would be subject to change on that basis (as well as others). I also use some abstract ideas here, which presents a big of a problem as to when exactly I would give this speech. I would like to give it before boys even become a serious consideration, but I may need to simplify it if I’m going to give it to a twelve year girl and then give her the more high-falutin’ version when it becomes more pertinent. Given that any daughter of mine will have my wife and I as her parents, I figure that will be around 26 15 or 16.}-

The funny thing about money is that, in the end, it’s pieces of carefully crafted paper. It used to represent gold that you could withdraw from Fort Knox, but now it doesn’t represent anything except what we believe it represents. That doesn’t make it worthless. It’s value, though, is in the meaning that we attach to it. We mostly give it out only when we need to or when someone is willing to give us something in return for it. We mostly only get it when we contribute something. But the paper itself only represents the values that we attach to it and the difficulty required in obtaining it. If there were more green paper and fewer things, the money would become less valuable. You would need more money to do less. Money and the things that you can buy with them are valuable only insofar as they are not easily obtained.

Sex is sort of like this. Or at least it is for boys. The physical gratification of sex is something that a guy can simulate on his own if that was what he was mostly after. Even setting aside what he can accomplish on his own, the physical stimulation that comes with sex is largely the same whether a boy is having sex with a girl that he finds desirable or someone that he doesn’t even want to look at. And yet many boys will scour the earth to find the most attractive and popular and desirable women to have sex with. And most will refuse to have sex with someone that repulses them despite the physical pleasure they could get. The reason for this is that most of the value in sex – for boys and girls – is in the meaning and value that we attribute to it. Like money.

For a variety of reasons, boys are less discriminating than girls when it comes to sex. How pleasurable sex is varies far less from encounter to encounter for boys than it does for girls. Boys don’t face nearly the social penalties for being sexually indiscriminate that girls do. They don’t get pregnant and they’re less likely to catch an STD. And for whatever reason, boys are less likely to believe that they need to have any romantic attachment to the person that they are having sex with than do girls. And, of course, his hormones are rapidly approaching their peak. Girls, on the other hand, are more discriminating. They face penalties and repercussions that men don’t. Whether due to social custom or evolutionary psychology, they overtly assign more romantic meaning to sex.

So what this creates is a situation where for boys, there is a natural scarcity of girls that are willing to have sex with them. Sex is harder to get, so it’s more valuable. So when a boy is bragging about how much sex he has, he is sort of saying to the other boys that he has easy access to something that they don’t. He is valuable. He is impressive. He is awesome. Guys sort themselves out from first to worst a number of different ways, but one of the big ways they do as they get into adolescence is by whether or not they can get sex, how frequently they can, and how impressive the person they are having sex with is. This isn’t something reserved for horndog jocks. Guys all up and down the popularity spectrum know that they’re being judged this way. Most of the time they’re judging themselves this way. Some ignore it and come up with alternative ways that they think they should be measured, but it’s pretty rare that he is oblivious to how other people are looking at him and it’s not at all rare that he would incorporate these measures into how he sees himself.

You don’t just have to worry about the horndog jock that’s bragging about all the girls he’s sleeping with. He’s the most loud about this because it presents him in the best light. But there’s as good a chance as not that the quiet kid in the back of the class doodling on his notebook is measuring his worth in the same way. Smart boys will get some solace in their intelligence and the doodling kid – if he’s good – will take some solace in that. But they will also know that in a rather important way – important because their peers believe it is important – they are coming up short.

In fact, in some ways you may have less to fear from the popular kids – unless they are overtly pointing to their sexual desirability as their selling point – than you do those for whom sexual desirability is a source of insecurity. It’s like how money is most important to two groups of people: Those that don’t have it and those that have money but little else going for them except what money can buy. Similarly, sex is most important to the guys that have a lot of trouble getting it and those that don’t have much else going for them. Some guys are so insecure about it that they are like vampires, seeking out sex as a natural urge and a way to try to fill the black hole within their self-esteem. That, like the horndog braggart, is an extreme case, though. Even for guys where it’s not an overriding factor, it still clouds their vision and warps their judgment.

I’m not saying that the only reason a boy would want to sleep with you is to feed his ego. His motives may be as pure as the driven snow. Or they may be questionable. You won’t really know which. Even seeing a side of guys that girls don’t usually see, I’ve been surprised sometimes. I am saying, though, that the younger you are and the younger the guy is, the more likely it is that he doesn’t have a clear idea of his place in the world and the more likely he will desperately seek validation any way that he can find it. As you get older, it will become less of an issue. Some men never really work past these warped priorities, but as time passes more and more of them will gain the perspective of experience and will have more worthwhile ways to establish their identity. Unfortunately, before they’ve established themselves and figured out who they are and what’s really important to them, they are much more likely to be emotionally dangerous.

I wish I had better advice on how to spot the guy with good motives and the guy with bad ones. It’s tough. The more of them you choose to share yourself with, the more likely it is that you will get burned. Even if you’re cautious, though, unless your judgment is flawless, you will probably still get burned. I’m sure what advice I do have will spill out when as I say here and there, “Not that guy!” Beware most those that believe that the world owes them something because they believe either that they are just that special or because they’re unhappy. Take note of how they treat people that they don’t need something from. Don’t waste your time on someone that can’t even pretend to be as interested in you as they are interested in themselves. And beware the person whose self-description is too far at odds with the person you see doing to talking.

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of friends tell me about some first sexual experience that they’ve had with someone I know or have met. Often, at the end, they’ll say something to the effect of “She told me not to tell anyone, so keep tight-lipped.” When they do this, it’s important to take note that they had sex, she told him not to tell anybody, and he told someone anyway. This happens even when he values her a great deal. This happens even when he is generally a pretty honest guy. If a guy lies to a girl about nothing else, he will lie to her about that.

Remember that.

Remember that partly because it reinforces what I’m trying to tell you. He will tell because part of the value of sex is to be able to tell someone. He may even tell it because he wants to share something very special that happened with him and a girl that he cares about a great deal. But also remember that he’ll tell because you will have to live with the consequences of his sharing your most intimate moments. He may share it only with his trusted friends or he may share it with anybody that will listen. It will tell you a lot about him that you will hopefully – but not necessarily – have figured out ahead of time. But the friend that he trusts may be more casual with the information than the guy. Word may get out.

You want to ask yourself some questions before you get intimate with a guy. Are you only willing to do it if absolutely nobody finds out? Would you be surprised if he turns around and tells a lot of people? If the answers are yes and no, think twice. If it does get out, though, will you have the strength of your conviction that you did nothing wrong or will you wonder what the hell you were thinking? If word gets back to us, exactly how horrified will you be that we find out that this is the guy you chose to share yourself with? If you think about these questions beforehand, I think you’ll find that you have more judgment and foresight than you think.

One other thing I want you to ask yourself before moving forward is whether or not you will regret what you did even if things don’t work out. I don’t mean that you’ll regret it the same way that you might regret that expensive birthday gift you got him for your 9-month anniversary. I mean will you regret it in a more fundamental way. Will you feel used. Will you feel like you were a point on his scoreboard. I had a friend who was saving herself for marriage once ask my advice about whether or not she should have sex her boyfriend since she really wanted to marry him but couldn’t at that time in her life. I told her to only do it if she would not regret having done so if they don’t get married. She said that it was a moot question because of course they were going to get married. When he dumped her six months later, she was twice-devastated.

The thing about this game that boys play with themselves and one another is that you are not an active participant. You can’t play and win. If a girl tries to use it to her advantage, to give a guy sex so that his ego will be fed and that she is the one that fed it, he will tire and move on. If she withholds it on the basis that it will become more valuable to him, he will aim for some lower-hanging fruit that he can grab. She is not a partner or a player. She is the ball being batted around in the course of the game.

You are not a ball. You are not currency. You are not a notch in someone’s belt or a point on their scorecard. Don’t willingly allow yourself to be reduced to that. You were not put on this planet to feed the egos of men. You were not put here to please them. Your value is not dependent on your willingness and ability to do that. You have your own wants and your own needs. If you demand that they be met, then you will share yourself on your own terms and in ways far less likely to leave you feeling spent and used.

When you meet the right guy, you won’t be “giving” him anything. You’ll be sharing it. Sharing yourself. It will be mutual. He won’t have to beg, guilt, or needle you into doing something that you don’t want to do. The right guy won’t necessarily be exempt from the urges and psychology of the game, but he will consider being with you, being loved by you, and your happiness to be more important than the scorecard. He will be willing to work with you and your needs, not to the exemption of his own, but in accordance.

Waiting for this, and even knowing that it’s out there, won’t make you any less lonely when you’re being ignored while the boys are off playing their games. But remember that not all attention is good attention and mistakes not made can be as valuable as opportunities missed are frustrating. On the other hand, don’t let your fear shut the rest of the world out. You’ll need to make mistakes so that you can learn from them. But whatever you choose to engage in, make sure that it is in at least equal parts for your benefit, your education, and your self-esteem. If that’s not your aim and if you decide you’ll settle for less than that, you will end up with a lot less than you think.

I’m not going to tell you not to have sex. Your mother and I want you to wait until you are absolutely ready. Ideally, we would like you to only move forward with a man that you love and treasure who feels the same about you. But I’m not going to tell you what to do because we’re not going to be with you when you make that decision. Except to the extent that we deny you the opportunity we won’t be there to stop you from making the wrong one. We are not going to be able to force you to see things how we see them. Besides, your mother and I may not even see things the same way between ourselves. Whatever you do, though, we will hope that it was the right thing. Right by us, of course, but also right by you.

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9 Responses to Father to Daughter: The Game of Boys

  1. ? says:

    Here’s the problem. I having trouble bridging this section:

    [T]he younger you are and the younger the guy is, the more likely it is that he doesn’t have a clear idea of his place in the world and the more likely he will desperately seek validation any way that he can find it. . . . [B]efore they’ve established themselves and figured out who they are and what’s really important to them, they are much more likely to be emotionally dangerous.

    I wish I had better advice on how to spot the guy with good motives and the guy with bad ones.

    with this section:

    You are not a ball. You are not currency. You are not a notch in someone’s belt or a point on their scorecard. Don’t willingly allow yourself to be reduced to that. You were not put on this planet to feed the egos of men. You were not put here to please them. Your value is not dependent on your willingness and ability to do that. You have your own wants and your own needs. If you demand that they be met, then you will share yourself on your own terms and in ways far less likely to leave you feeling spent and used.

    Both of these paragraphs are, by themselves and on their own terms, indisputably correct. But the question that doesn’t get addressed is how your daughter should connect the guy’s wants and needs to her own wants and needs. You use the words “emotionally dangerous” to describe men who are still trying to find their place in the world (i.e. almost all men under age 25, btw), but you don’t explain what makes this quality inimical to your daughter’s interests other than cite a loose correlation between this and a likelihood of breaking confidence.

    Indeed, you don’t discuss at all the content of your daughter’s wants and needs. What are these wants and needs? Are they even the same thing or are they distinct things? Put differently, are the qualities that a sixteen year old is likely to want in a boyfriend the same qualities that are in her long-term best interest? Does this matter?

    You assume she has a need for his discretion, but how much better to ask her (non-judgmentally, of course 🙂 what the desire for discretion should tell her about what she is doing. You might point out that Clancy wouldn’t be particularly scandalized if her parents found out she was sleeping with you, and ask her if she can guess why that is.

    On the positive side, your currency analogy is intriguing. And certainly an explanation of how men view sex should be part of every daughter’s education.

  2. SFG says:

    It’s wonderful that you’re thinking so far ahead about how to take care of your (hypothetical) daughter, but don’t you think this might be a little over the head of a 15-year-old? How about:

    Boys gain status if they sleep around.
    Girls lose status if they sleep around.
    Boys don’t get attached to people they sleep with.
    Girls do.
    Boys will sleep and leave to make boys respect them.
    Girls get hurt by this.

    Don’t put out.

  3. Peter says:

    You sort of touch on it, but what about more explicit details concerning the whole Alpha/nerd issue?

  4. Linus says:

    I like the simplification, SFG, but I also really appreciate Will’s nuance. A parent with a very close, trusting relationship with their teen might be better served by a lecture along the line of Will’s. A parent who has a more troubled relationship with their teen might go your route.

    ? mentions a more “leading question” type of approach, which I think is the best if you can actually pull it off. Most people I know would rather be gently led by good mentors than lectured to.

  5. trumwill says:


    This is only part of the overall discussion. The part about boys’ motivations. I didn’t even intend to put in anything about not being put on this earth to please boys, but I realized as I was writing that it was coming off as “This is the only way that boys will see you.” Which it is, if she allows herself to be reduced to that. So I wanted to add something about being able to get more if you expect more.

    As far as her wants and needs, I did give a vague explanation of that. To be loved and treasured by someone that she loves and treasures. As she gets older, a lot more long-term things will come into play. That’s part of a different discussion, though.

    You’re right that almost all guys under 25 are trying to find their place in the world. Actually, I would probably put it at 20, but your point is taken. But that’s one of the reasons why sex at that age is emotionally dangerous! Not to be avoided at all costs, but undertaken with caution.

    Regarding how these emotionally dangerous boys might be contrary to her interests, I thought I made clear (but I guess maybe didn’t) that the threat here is that she will be manipulated and used for sex and the guy’s self-esteem. Her emotional attachments and aspirations will be taken advantage of. Maybe I should be more explicit on that.

    Regarding what her discretion is telling her… well, put one way, it’s telling her that society will punish her for being indiscreet. The practical question is “Is the threat/possibility of that worth it?” Will she have the courage of her conviction and all that.

    You would probably suggest that society punishes her justly because promiscuity is bad. Maybe that’s so. Whatever my personal take on it is, though, I don’t want to ride on the notion that if society applies certain pressures that it is necessarily right. If she thinks that I am trying to lead her to a conclusion that female sexuality in excess is immoral and she rejects that, she could start rejecting a lot more of what I am saying on the basis that what I’m telling her is really about my not wanting her to sully herself.

    That’s not to say that my views on sexuality, promiscuity, and so on won’t get out. Clancy and I both hold some moderately conservative views on such things (sex is best reserved for a secure, stable relationship). But I want that to be as far as possible from the laying out of the facts about male psychology as possible so that she doesn’t think that one view is unduly influencing the other.

  6. trumwill says:


    I’m not sure what I can really say about it other than what I said. Share yourself (emotionally, physically, etc) with people that treat you well. I’m not going to tell her at the outset to lower her expectations and to just find a “nice boy”. If she seems to continually go for guys that are clearly out of her league, I might indirectly say something, just as I would to a son. But I don’t expect to ever really have enough information to be so presumptuous.

  7. trumwill says:


    One thing I definitely don’t want to do is oversimplify. Once they figure out that the world is a complicated place, you start to lose credibility. I think the speech to the 12yo would necessarily be simple. But at 15 or 16 I expect them to be of the intelligence to understand the concepts outlined in this speech.

    I don’t expect them to say “Sure, Dad!” and believe everything I say and to act on it. They will, of course, believe that they have a better understanding of the modern world than I do. But when she ignores this and it leads to bad consequences, that’s the part where I would expect my laying-it-out to be helpful.

  8. trumwill says:


    My intent wasn’t actually a lecture or a directive. Like I told Phi, the part about what she should do was added mostly to balance out the dreary assessment I give of things. In that part, maybe leading questions may be a better tactic. Runs the risk of being pretty transparently manipulative, though. I guess that’s why you have to be careful when doing it.

    Mostly the aim is to pass along information with an explanation of why it may be important. Most of any daughter’s sex-ed will come from her mother. Having been a teenage girl in a household (and extended family) dominated by girls, she will be in a much better position to counsel any girl we have on girly things. My primary contribution is something that she can only read about and guess about: the psychology of boys.

  9. Brandon Berg says:

    You know, I don’t think I’ve ever thought of sex in terms of any status boost it might confer on me. Isn’t the whole point of status—for men, anyway—that it makes attractive women want to sleep with you? If you already have that, who cares what other men think of you?

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