I am not here to belabor the “sinful repugnance” of hookup culture as our grandparents or parents might. Kids these days…. Nor am I here to bemoan a bygone era of dates to the soda shoppe and nice boys asking permission to court a man’s daughter. They are over and there is no point whining about yesteryear.
Yet, we have to ask ourselves, is hookup culture “bad” for us?
Something like 70% of college students will experience a casual sexual encounter during college. Why? It is fun. It is exciting. It is hip. Who does not want to feel desired?Hookup culture can be empowering. It is a chance to experience a diverse array of sexual situations with many different partners. Casual sex can be a great way to try new things like toys and positions. It is a chance to learn good communication skills and better express ourselves in vulnerable situations. It can increase sexual aptitude. But it can also hurt us when feelings arise and human decency is absent from purely physical encounters.
Sure there are some negative ramifications for those who invest in and participate wholeheartedly in the endless buffet of sexual encounters that permeate college campuses. Yet, there were negative components to dating in 1950 and courting in 1850 and arranged marriages in 1500. It is therefore silly to assume that there are no consequences to whatever mating style we are experiencing this century. But what I want to discuss is how the ghosts of hookup culture follow us out of the dorm rooms and into the adult world. What happens when we are tired of meaningless sexual encounters and actually want real monogamy??? How does the hookup culture influence the dating choices we make long after we have left the frat basements???
Everyone’s sexual experiences are different. For some it is a chance to explore their sexualities in a way that is vulnerable, empowering, and fun. For a lot of millennials, they feel that sex should not always be confined to committed relationships. Sometimes they just want sex. For fun.
Hookup culture does not always create baggage, sometimes we enter hookup culture with our own baggage and that correlation does not equal causation.
However, I am not saying that all hookups are great sexual experiences where both the man and woman orgasm, high five and then get dressed and go on their merry ways, grinning ear to ear with that post sex glow and a sense of liberation. Hookup culture does not always stay in hookup culture, and that sometimes its baggage can follow participants into their next relationships.
- There is a strong correlation between hookup culture and women who say “men ain’t shit”
Sometimes hookup culture breeds a sense of mistrust between genders. Hookup culture is meant to be “carefree” and “easy” and “fun” right? Yet it often ends up turning men and women against each other after the initial thrill wears off and reality starts to set in. Sometimes women learn from hookup culture that all men want is sex and men learn that all women are “hoes.” This carries into later life stages when people actually want to date and marry and settle down, but they find that those feelings of resentment and mistrust still exist. In college, hookup culture is easy because it is assumed that almost everyone is interested in the same thing, meaningless sex, but now that that is no longer the case how can you decipher who wants more and who is still in it for the physical?
Likewise, hookup culture is not really about compassion or respect, it is in fact pretty selfish. It is sometimes about meeting your own needs and getting in and out quickly with very little regard to other people’s feelings. Too often it is a direct negation of feelings and a deliberate effort to diminish and underestimate encounters. Most of the time people get ignored and treated poorly for the sake of maintaining the image that it was all “meaningless.” It is easy to see how these sentiments might breed a sense of mistrust between genders if you spent years of college life, and perhaps beyond, getting treated like a masturbation toy or being ignored by people whom had seen you naked and vulnerable, even if that is what was preferred at the time.
2. Hookup culture is kind of cold…
Hookup culture can antagonize feelings, attachment and even basic human kindness in favor of no-strings attached, meaningless, casual, carefree sex where feelings are the enemy. The logic behind hookup culture goes something like this: if relationships are about mutual respect, kindness, empathy, compassion, meaning and selflessness, in order to make sure that a hookup remains the meaningless antithesis of a relationship it must be devoid of all of those things. In fact just so everyone is clear how meaningless and truly casual a hookup is, it must be disrespectful, unkind, apathetic, disinterested, meaningless, and selfish, lest anyone mistake a hookup for something more. This might work well for those in the college arena who are merely looking for sex and are not interested in a relationship at the time, but let us not believe that this is an attitude that can just be dropped once the diploma is in hand.
Hookup culture can teach and prepare participants to treat sex like NBD and therefore the people they have sex with are NBD. Hookup culture sometimes encourages participants to turn a blind eye to the humanity of the people they get with. They are just mediums of pleasure and nothing more. Men become susceptible to actions and attitudes that objectify and demean women, while women adopt attitudes of suppressing feelings, fearing commitment, not standing up for themselves and treating their partners with aloof indifference. This is a hard cycle to break and I can see why. It is difficult to go from training one’s self to treat sex with a blase approach to experiencing it as a meaningful, loving component to commitment.
3. Hookup culture creates bad habits
Hook up culture is actually a lot like porn. It is addictive. it is cheap. And most of all it creates unrealistic expectations. I am legitimately worried how I am going to keep the sexual attention of my future husband/monogamous partner knowing that like most of our generation he probably engaged in the hookup culture. How can I, as one woman, possibly keep a man’s interest sexually who spent years of college and young adulthood getting sex from different women. Even if I am 100000x better in bed I still cannot replace the thrill of the chase or the thrill that comes with conquering a “new woman.” How can I expect to hold his attention if the alternative to monogamy and real relationships is the addictive, ever-thrilling pursuit of new pussy that was encouraged of him in his youth?
It is positively daunting and can set up both genders to ultimately fail. You just cannot replace the excitement of not knowing who you are going to end up in bed with no matter how great the relationship, and that is why so many people in long term relationships seek how to “keep things spicy.” Likewise, women often partake in hookup culture for the thrill of being chosen and desired by many different men, something that is not a component of monogamy. It is an aphrodisiac in itself to be picked out of a crowd of other young, hot people. This element of hooking up can create boredom or anxiety in monogamous relationships later down the road, no matter how great the relationship is.
Also, lots of hookup culture hinges off of comparison in a lot of ways. Men compare the hotness of conquests. Women compare dick size. Men compare how good she gave head. Blah blah blah. When hookup culture enthusiastically encourages as many partners as possible it is impossible for there not to be an element of physical comparison. Especially when sex is meant to be casual and shallow, there is little else to base the encounter off of besides appearance and sexual aptitude.
There is also an external social aspect of hookup culture that happens exclusively between friends in which swapping details of last night’s sordid affair makes for great conversation. It is a part of the culture to sit at brunch with your friends and giggle over what happened and who did who and how good so and so was and hot she was and yaddah yah. Yet, when comparison takes center stage this can be damaging to how individuals view sex later on in life. It can be intimidating to be in bed with a man or women that has been in a lot of other people’s beds. “How will I compare?” or “how will they compare?” becomes a hugely daunting question riddled with insecurity and anxiety.
Likewise, sex is bound to be less enjoyable for someone who has trained their perception of sex to be all about comparison. Someone who has been with a lot of people cannot help but continue to rank and compare and analyze the skills and attributes of the person lying naked next to them, and that can have a negative impact on their sex life even after they are in a relationship and there is no one left to compare to.
So what’s the verdict?
I am not here to rag on hooking up, it is an intrinsic part of our dating/mating culture now and has its merits. In most ways “it is what it is” and there is no point in whining about the good old days. But it is also naive to pretend that it is all good either, or that hooking up is always some milestone of progress for sexual liberation and empowerment. There are a lot of negative aspects and corruption that comes into play when a culture revolves around meeting only your own needs.
I get it Millennials are busy getting their lives together and hooking up seems like an effortless way to meet your own needs while also having fun, but without the rigidity of commitment. Yet, it is important to understand the impact of these seemingly “careless” and ‘carefree” sexual experiences and remember that they can influence us long after the next morning’s hangover.
*Check out this Ted Talk on the “benefits” of hookup culture. I feel like many of the perceived benefits were fleeting, short-termed, misrepresented and did little to outweigh the cons, although she presents the cons as barely more than nuisances (STDs and unwanted pregnancies and broken hearts). I am honestly shocked that some PhD advisor passed this as legit research let alone sound advice to young people.