The Erotics of Adolescent Male Altruism

in Boyhood Studies
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ABSTRACT

Close bonding in male friendship groups in adolescence (ages 12–28) provides the foundation for altruistic behavior in the group, from routine selflessness to the ultimate sacrifice of life for the others. This article draws on ethnographic evidence from two settings—troops of Boy Scouts in California and US military units living and fighting together in the Middle East. In both settings, close bonding of the male adolescents has significant homoerotic elements, which suggests that there are significant erotic elements in male adolescent altruism, including the eroticization of pain and suffering (non-pathological masochism). If these links prove true, this has policy implications for the integration of adolescent girls and young women into previously all-male organizations, such as the Boy Scouts and the military.

Contributor Notes

Jay Mechling is Professor Emeritus of American Studies at the University of California, Davis. An Eagle Scout, he writes about the lives of men and the lives of children in American culture. Email: jemechling@gmail.com

Boyhood Studies

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