ThreeSixty is a youth journalism program based at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. It uses the tools and principles of journalism to help Minnesota youth — particularly minority youth — tell the stories of their lives and communities, practice the skills of active citizenship, learn the basics of good reporting and strong writing and pursue careers in journalism and communications.
Many young men feel they gain respect by winning girls and moving on
Back in the spring I was listening to my cousin’s phone conversation with a girl who just told him that she was pregnant by him. Five minutes later, he was on MySpace trying to get a number from another girl.
This got me to thinking, why do so many young men like me and my cousin feel they’ve go to be players and have a lot of girls? And what about the consequences?
Kenny, a 17-year-old senior at Johnson High School in St. Paul, has a steady girlfriend. Still, he finds it easy to get caught up in a player mentality.
“It’s a game, you just gotta play it right,” he said. “It’s like a game to have and hit the most girls without them knowing.”
The player way of life
The player way of life is often motivated by peers, hip-hop culture, even family members, said Juliet Mitchell, the program consultant and facilitator of UJIMA, a teen pregnancy prevention and youth development program that works out of Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church in St. Paul. UJIMA targets African American youth in the Summit-University area. It is funded through a state program to improve health in minority communities.
“If there’s not an example of healthy relationships in their home, if families are not married, if there’s not a father in the home, the young men are left to figure out how to be a respectful man,” Mitchell said.
Some experts believe that because they lack job and education opportunities, some black teens see sex as a different kind of accomplishment. Cathy Cohen, professor of political science and former director of the Center for the Study of Race and Culture at the University of Chicago, expressed this idea in a National Public Radio interview in March.
“Sex works to provide a domain for young black people where they feel like they are in control and have some success. I think it is substituting for other opportunities and areas of success that some young people have access to,” she said.
The young black men I talked with agreed that the pressure to be players can be intense.
“Hip hop is like an advertisement to have the most amount of women. They make that lifestyle look so perfect,” said Keiyon, a 14-year-old freshman at Highland Park High School in St. Paul. He didn’t want his last name printed.
Being pressured by friends also plays a part. “It’s the pressure that push guys to have a lot of females and have sex with them,” Keiyon said. “You get respected more by your peers if you have a lot of girls.”
Even uncles – and sometimes aunties – will tease guys who don’t have girlfriends or stick with just one girl. They’ll say things like, “Is he funny or something?”
Kenny, a 17-teen-year-old junior at Johnson High School in St. Paul, agreed. “You can’t have only one girl because then people are going to start saying you stuck on her or you whipped.”
Disease and pregnancy
But the game can hurt. The 2004 Minnesota Department of Health’s STD surveillance report said that 56 percent of all new cases of HIV and AIDS in Minnesota are contracted by 13- to 24-year-old African Americans. Meanwhile, gonorrhea cases are increasing rapidly among young adults. In 2000, 15 to 24-year-olds made up 14 percent of gonorrhea cases. By 2004 that number had risen to 57 percent. The rate is higher among African-American youth.
The Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancies, Prevention and Parenting reported that of every 1,000 African American girls ages 15 to 19 in Minnesota, 66 gave birth in 2005. That was down from 71 a year earlier. Birth rates were higher among Latina and Native American teens in Minnesota and lower among Asian and white teens.
Some guys boast about being players. Eighteen-year-old Stephen Jacobson of St. Paul estimates that he’s dated five girls over the past year and says he had sex with all of them.
Having more relationships can mean having more sexual partners. Jacobsen said he talks to several girls at a time and expects to have sex with at least one of them.
“I wouldn’t call them girlfriends. I call them friends,” he said.
Jacobson said that he couldn’t be with only one girl because being a player “runs through my blood.” He protects himself, though. “That’s the code of the book, man. If you don’t use no condom, you ain’t got no respect for yourself.”
Research shows that black teens are more likely to have sex earlier and with more partners. The Black Youth Project, a research project underway at the University of Chicago, surveyed nearly 1,600 youth ages 15 to 25. Among 15 to 17 year-olds, 42 percent of black youth, 32 percent of white and 27 percent of Hispanic had had sexual intercourse.
The Journal of Sex Research published a 1996 study of adolescents that found that by age 19, black males reported having had intercourse with an average of 11 partners. White and Hispanic males in the study reported half as many lifetime partners by age 19.
The emotional cost
The emotional and physical consequences of the “game” can be life-long for young women and men.
“One of the deeper issues I think with young men is they don’t realize the emotional impact they have on our young women,” said UJIMA’s Mitchell. “It is hurt feelings in the simplest of terms…On a deeper level, loss of self-esteem. Young ladies are looking for love and they’re looking for commitment…They’re looking for someone to be close to.”
When relationships fail, she said, “Their heart gets hurt and their image gets hurt. Girls still get reputations… All of that is clouding their head.”
This “game” also can have an emotional effect on young men because they don’t learn to build trusting, committed relationships, she said.
Jacobson admitted that he avoids getting too close to one girl. “I wouldn’t even let it get that far or let it get too deep to a point where a female could hurt me,” he said.
Isiah Dennis, 17, who works with Mitchell as a team leader with UJIMA, plans on being a virgin until he gets married.
“[Some young men] are trying to find some love because they don’t got no love in their families,” he said.
Change comes hard
Programs like UJIMA work to reduce the risky sexual behaviors among teens, in particular black teens. But changing the trend will be tough, Mitchell acknowledged.
“There is a lot of money being spent, a lot of efforts. You see it on TV. You see it on advertisements to ‘wrap it up,’ be responsible, all those messages,” she said. “The media is sending a lot of good messages, but the hyped up ‘I am the man’ messages seem to overshadow those messages.”
With all these efforts being made, youth workers like Mitchell hope to see a change.
“Unfortunately, I don’t see it changing soon. I wish I could because I always want to remain hopeful,” Mitchell said. “I think it might get worse before it gets better.
“It’s going to be this generation and those under who make the biggest change. They are going to have to make the impact and they are going to have to care about life in order to make that change.”