Most boys have heard this concept that all men want is sex.

You know, when I was a teenager, whenever I heard other guys talking about sex, it was always talked about as something that was awesome, something that they were proud of, and something that they would pay others out about if they hadn’t also done it.

But something I don’t remember hearing much of? Guys saying that they have had sex, but regret it.

A large US study looked at young people’s experience of regret around sex. When I ask guys what percentage of young men they think regret their first sexual experience, they’ll often yell out 0%, 1%, 2%, 5%, maybe even 15%. A mixed response, but always very low numbers.

There is this assumption that guys don’t regret sex. Why? Because the stereotype suggests that all men want is sex.

In each seminar I then share the results that 57% of young men report regretting their first sexual experience, wishing they had waited until they were older before becoming sexually active. The room I’m presenting in usually goes silent. Guys can’t believe that it’s such a high number.

But why? Why are so many guys regretting their first sexual experience?

Amongst the research there was a common story that sexual regret was experienced in this way: “I had sex because I was so sick of my mates paying me out, and I really wish I had been with someone who I actually loved and cared about.”

Virginity has been pitched to young men as something to be embarrassed about and ashamed of – like it’s a disease that they think they have to get rid of. The concept of “getting it done” or having to prove something to their mates, is ripping young people off from what I believe is in the hearts of many young men. Love, respect and meaningful connection.

In her book, Not Under My Roof, Amy Schalet looked at the difference between Dutch teens and US teens when it came to their experiences of love, sex and relationships. What was really interesting, was that the Dutch tended to talk about their first sexual experiences with notions of love, intimacy, and often in the context of long-term, committed relationships. Much of the sex and relationship education in the classroom and in the home tended to be focused on love.

This was vastly different to American teens, who were more likely to speak of their first sexual experience with regret, and report how it unfolded without consent, while under the influence of alcohol, and disconnected from any sense of love and intimacy.

For the young Dutch teens, the theme was love first, intimacy second, compared to the notion of sex first and hopefully love second, as seen in American culture.

I posted a video recently on LinkedIn after working in a number of boys schools, and seeing first hand that there is more to boys’ desires than just sex.

I believe that most, if not all men desire love. I saw some interesting US research recently that said “boys chose having a girlfriend and no sex over having sex and no girlfriend by two to one.” I love seeing how the boys respond to hearing this research. They look at me with a look that I perceive as communicating; yes you’re right, I want love. Above everything else, I want love and connection.

In the hearts of many young men is the desire to love and be loved, but I think that our culture discredits this desire that boys have for love. If we can speak into their hearts and help them uncover this deep desire that they have, maybe we can see a shift away from the damage done by a culture that has presented boys as wanting sex and nothing more.