They describe it as "goofing around, flirting," said Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and school consultant who interviewed 1,000 students nationwide for her new book, "The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age." How the hookup culture affects young people has long been debated and lamented, in books and blogs, among parents and teachers.
A general consensus is that it harms girls, although some have argued that it empowers them.
In one case, a boy sent a naked snapshot of himself to his girlfriend, with a suggestive caption. The girl described the conversation as "a stupid, disgusting exchange," adding that it was "typical for the boys at our school." Still, the girl became intrigued when the boy revealed in a subsequent note that he liked her.
The girl, who had never seen her boyfriend naked, was shocked, and said she felt the relationship had suddenly lost its innocence. The girl wondered if she should tell him how his initial approach had offended her.
Then she started to cry, questioning whether it was worth the effort.
It's "insufficient, superficial and polarizing when boys simply get cast as aggressors and girls as victims," she said.
In her view, girls can certainly suffer negative consequences from the hookup culture. "It's such a bad part of our culture to think that boys aren't also harmed," she says.
"We are neglecting the emotional lives of boys." In interviews and focus groups, Steiner-Adair talked with boys and girls ages 4 to 18 at suburban public and private schools, with consent from parents and schools, about their relationships and influences.
Kids from the fourth grade and up shared their private texts and Facebook posts, unveiling the dating landscape. His behavior, said Steiner-Adair, was "aggressive in a way that boys don't understand." Steiner-Adair also saw the string of texts between the 15-year-old girl in English class and her suitor.
A 15-year-old girl sits in high school English class when a text message pops up on her cellphone. Will you at least be my girlfriend." It's the kind of scenario that's playing out among teens across America, illustrating an increasing confusion among boys about how to behave, experts say.
Here's how he chooses to get that message across: Him: "So, are you good at hooking up? I don't really think about that." Him: "Well, I want my d--k in your mouth?