Masculinity Ideology: Its Impact on Adolescent Males' Heterosexual Relationships


  • Joseph H. Pleck,

    Corresponding author
    1. Wellesley College Center for Research on Women
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      JOSEPH H. PLECK is Senior Research Associate at the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women. His major books are The Myth of Masculinity (1981), The Impact of Work Schedules on the Family (1983), and Working Wives, Working Husbands (1985). His research currently focuses on adolescent male sexual and contraceptive behavior, and on fathers' use of parental leave (both formal and informal) and other family-supportive employer policies.

  • Freya L. Sonenstein,

    1. Urban Institute
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      FREYA LUND SONENSTEIN, a sociologist, is the Director of the Population Studies Center at The Urban Institute in Washington, DC. Much of her research has focused on family and children's policy issues. She is the author of several articles about adolescent pregnancy, child care, and child support. Formerly she was the codirector of the Family and Children's Policy Program at the Florence Heller School, Brandeis University.

  • Leighton C. Ku

    1. Urban Institute
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      LEIGHTON KU is Senior Research Associate at the Urban Institute and Associate Professorial Lecturer in Public Policy at George Washington University. His current research interests include teenagers' HIV risk behaviors, Medicaid, and nutrition assistance programs for children.

Center for Research on Women, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA 02181.


This paper calls attention to the impact of masculinity ideology, an aspect of gender-related attitudes, on adolescent males' heterosexual relationships. Previous approaches to the male gender role and close relationships, and attitudes toward the male gender role (the operationalization of masculinity ideology), are briefly reviewed. Data from the 1988 National Survey of Adolescent Males are reported. With sociodemographic and personal background factors controlled, males who hold traditional attitudes toward masculinity indicate having more sexual partners in the last year, a less intimate relationship at last intercourse with the current partner, and greater belief that relationships between women and men are adversarial—characteristics suggesting less intimacy in their heterosexual relationships. They also report less consistent use of condoms, specific attitudes about condoms associated with low condom use, less belief in male responsibility to prevent pregnancy, and greater belief that pregnancy validates masculinity. These associations persist when more global gender role attitudes are controlled. Traditional masculinity ideology is thus associated with characteristics suggesting limitations in the quality of adolescent males' close heterosexual relationships, and increased risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.