This is why we need to talk to boys about the difference between ‘sour’ and ‘gentle’ masculinity by age 11

A sex educator from the United Kingdom wants educators to change how they teach boys about sexuality and consent–and the results could change how both kids and adults view consent.

When Soma Sara started the website “Everyone’s Invited” in March 2021, thousands of high school and college students took to the internet to share their experiences of sexual harassment, assault and rape at schools in the UK.

The website, which is now an anti-rape organization, with launched an investigation of sexual assault in UK schools by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services, and Skills (Ofstead).

At the time, former UK headteacher Andrew Hampton was already deep in his work to help teachers and female pupils create better friendships through his “Girls on Board” curriculum–which he created with his daughters to help teachers and parents support their daughters as they navigate the choppy waters of female adolescent friendships.

When the “Everyone’s Invited” movement sent educators scrambling for solutions to address sexual assault in their schools, Hampton was unimpressed by education officials’ advice for stopping sexual violence. He said the Ofstead report’s recommendation was basically “tell the boys they must not do this.”

Using the threat of punishment or fear to teach boys about enthusiastic consent in their interactions with girls not only won’t work, but could do the opposite, Hampton argues in his new book “Working with Boys,” published in March.

Polling data published early this year found 71% of Republicans and 19% of Democrats believe society “punishes men for being men.” While yes, far more Republicans hold this view (and other misogynist views), these views still persist in America.

Reckon sat down with Hampton to talk about boys, consent, relational cultures and how social media throws a wrench in all of it for parents and teachers.

Reckon: In your new book on boys and your previous writing on girls, you address how boys and girls relate to each other and their deepest fears. How can roughhousing in the locker room translate to sexual aggression?

Hampton: “Girls on Board” is based on the idea that every girl needs a friend. Girls’ biggest fear is being alone, or [in] isolation. For boys, it’s [about] humiliation. But when you talk to boys about humiliation, they don’t talk about that, because it’s humiliating. It’s humiliating for boys to think and to admit their fear.

My approach is a sort of desensitization to humiliation and teaches boys to see what kind of banter is positive. You can teach boys to tease each other in ways that actually form tremendous bonds without piling in on one boy, which becomes bullying.

Teenage boys can be very abusive online towards girls--sending them dick pics or other behavior that pushes girls into compromising positions with social consequences. For example, a boy may tell a girl, “You have to send me a picture of your boobs. If you don’t, I’m gonna call you frigid and spread rumors.” Why do boys do that? I think it’s because of the way they relate to each other.

Reckon: In “Working with Boys,” you recommend teachers talk to boys about how they relate to each other and some aspects of sex education by the time students are in 7th grade—why is this timing so important?

Hampton: What I’ve found is that it’s hard to change the relational culture between boys beyond 8th grade. If we were to really focus on those 11-year-olds, the culture could be different in 5 years. In 10 years, we’d have a different society altogether.

If we help boys see that using crude language is not what they want to use when they talk about girls as friends and as romantic friends. Boys can be boys and be aware their banter or irony is controlled, and it’s dignified. And boys do enjoy the dignity they have in how they treat each other and girls.

Boys and men need to get rid of this idea that because they might be physically stronger than women, then therefore they should dominate civilization. Men are physically stronger and could protect the family from the tigers coming to attack back at the dawn of humanity. This fact of male physical dominance has led to historically men being in charge until very recently. Increasingly we are seeing female political leaders doing so much better than male ones.

There are all sorts of ways women are superior to men in terms of their pain threshold and their ability to be empathetic. These are some of the things that are hardwired into the male brain and the female brain, so let’s just get rid of this idea that because men are physically stronger, they should dominate civilization.

Reckon: Why did you want to address teaching consent to boys when the UK government and school officials are already trying to address the issue? What is wrong with how we are talking to boys about consent?

Hampton: My approach focuses on getting the boys to have conversations about baselines of morality–which they already know. In the lessons, I ask the boys to reflect on how they interact with girls and each other. How do you feel about the way you boys talk to each other? What do we mean by banter? What do we mean by hierarchy? Who are the influential kids?

What a lot of schools do is to respond by teaching consent in a very legalistic and really quite aggressive way in which there was a lot of boy bashing and threat of punishment going on [specifically citing how schools in the UK responded to the “Everyone’s Invited” campaign.

The boys were either utterly terrified by this new consent education or they were indignant at the very thought that the teacher was saying, basically, inside each one of you is a potential rapist.

Reckon: What is “gentle” and “sour” masculinity and how do you teach 11-year-old boys about this?

Hampton: Here’s how I define “gentle” and “sour” masculinity.

Gentle masculinity is supportive, caring, loving, gentle and kind. There is banter, yes, but it’s gentle banter. It’s supportive banter compared to that of “sour masculinity,” which is marked by aggressive behavior, harsh sexualized language, abusive and cold banter about women, and constant put-downs between boys.

Around ages 10-12, boys decide what kind of masculinity they’re going to adopt. Up until then, they’ve been boys, but now they understand they are becoming men. They have to decide for themselves what type of masculinity they want to adopt and why they want to adopt gentle masculinity.

Reckon: Let’s talk about cultural influences: pornography, sports culture, the #MeToo movement and social media. How is the internet and culture affecting boys? You’ve written several pieces about UK-born influencer, Andrew Tate, who was arrested in Romania last year on charges of human trafficking.

Hampton: I’ll start with football [soccer] culture. There are even some teachers I have talked to who say they wish football would be banned. All the rules go out the window when boys start to play soccer in the UK and the boys turn into absolute monsters because they play like the pros–they cheat and they get away with it because that’s what the pros do.

When someone like Andrew Tate comes along and says, “you’re allowed to do whatever you like–you can grab a pussy if you want to, you can do this or that,”this is the fight back against those fear-based consent lessons, in some teen boys’ point of view.

Reckon: So, if boys don’t want to talk about humiliation and the reasons why they bully each other and potential girlfriends, how do we move forward?

Hampton: When you talk to boys about humiliation, they don’t talk about it because it’s humiliating to admit that fear. With boys, you have to use a slow drip approach to desensitize them to humiliation and help them realize that their banter nature’s way of desensitizing themselves to humiliation.

Banter done well is very, very effective at that. Boys learn to be self-deprecating in their humor, but they can tease each other in ways that actually form tremendous bonds. Equally, you can go too far with the banter where you actually end up piling in on one boy, and it just becomes bullying.

What our culture of sour masculinity has created is a hierarchy through accumulation. Our culture teaches boys that the men who end up leading the world, in every sphere, whether that’s political or otherwise, are men who have learned to humiliate others and not be humiliated themselves.

Hampton’s “Girls on Board” program is now available for educators in America, and his new book “Working with Boys” is available on Amazon.

Anna Beahm

Anna Beahm |

I report on the intersection of religion and sexuality in America. Follow me on Twitter @_AnnaBeahm

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