Why Hookup Culture Sucks

This week’s Daily column.

Most people over the age of 35 would probably tell you that the college hookup culture is a terrible thing.

To them, the truth is plain to see — casual sex leads to sexual assault, has all sorts of negative psychological consequences, and is usually a sign of low self-esteem. Popular books like Laura Sessions Stepp’s Unhooked and Miriam Grossman’s Unprotected, along with countless news stories and opinion pieces, promote this viewpoint tirelessly.

I agree that the hookup culture as it currently exists is unhealthy, but not for those reasons. The way I see it, the problems writers like Stepp and Grossman identify within the hookup culture are very real, but they are not caused by casual sex itself. Rather, they’re caused by a lack of education and communication.

For instance, two possible negative consequences of hooking up — sexually transmitted infections and accidental pregnancy — could be eliminated almost entirely if people knew how to protect themselves from them. Of course, the issue of obtaining access to contraceptives is also a valid one, particularly given recent political events.

Sexual assault, too, can be curbed by educating people — and no, I don’t mean educating women not to drink too much or walk home alone. According to a 2010 study in the United Kingdom, two-thirds of people think that victims of rape are partially to blame if they initially got into bed with the rapist, and about one-fourth think that the victims are partially to blame if they dressed provocatively. It’s difficult to end rape on college campuses and in our society in general if so many people still don’t realize that rape is caused by rapists, not by revealing clothes.

Furthermore, our culture is saturated with TV shows, songs and other media that make it seem acceptable to “get” people drunk in order to make them willing to have sex, and I would not be surprised if some people take that message to heart. Of course, a drunk person cannot legally consent to sex, so people who try to get potential partners by using alcohol may not realize that they are actually making them legally unable to provide consent. A Columbia University study implicates alcohol in 90 percent of sexual assault cases on college campuses, showing that the relationship between alcohol and sex is not an entirely healthy one.

Even if the hookup is completely consensual, communication frequently gets the shaft. We’ve all seen movies like “The Notebook,” which usually climax with two people having sex for the first time without uttering a single word. Yet the sex still manages to turn out fantastic. I hate to rain on the parade, but that’s not really how it works. Sure, there’s a chance you’ll go to a party one night and meet someone who just happens to like having sex the exact same way you do, but it’s a pretty small chance.

Those lucky people can probably skip the rest of this column, but the rest of us should remember that you can’t get what you want if you don’t ask for it.

Unfortunately, expressing yourself clearly isn’t easy when you’re slurring your words, which brings me right to my next point: In order for hooking up to be safe and fun, we need to stop depending on alcohol as a social lubricant. According to a study done at Syracuse University, nearly two-thirds of hookups involve alcohol. Though drinking can be great for letting go of inhibitions, it also tends to make people less willing and able to speak up when something’s not right and to treat others with respect.

Respect might seem like an outdated word to use, but I hope it isn’t. I’m sure there are people out there who truly don’t care whether or not their hookup partner respects them, but I think most people do.

One common justification I hear from people who like to hook up is that, “It’s okay if they use me, because I’m using them too.” That is a terrible way to look at it. Just because you’re only spending one night with someone doesn’t mean you should treat him or her like an object.

Besides, the hookup can’t be that enjoyable if each person is simply “using” the other’s body, because sex requires a certain amount of teamwork.

Luckily, Northwestern does not ignore these issues. This past fall, the Essential NU program for freshmen was revamped to include an updated presentation on sexual health and assault. Staged in the form of a play, it emphasized the need for open communication between sexual partners and for challenging the cultural scripts that lead to both bad sex and rape. But this is a conversation that we need to have more often than just once a year during freshman orientation.

Though we do discuss issues like this on occasion — such as in meetings and events planned by organizations like College Feminists, Sexual Health & Assault Peer Educators, and Rainbow Alliance — they need to be higher up on the agenda.

Unlike the authors who write books with titles like “Unhooked” and “Unprotected,” I don’t think that casual sex is intrinsically wrong, unhealthy, or dangerous. I do think, however, that most of us are going about it the wrong way. For those people who want no-strings-attached sex, hookup culture could be a great thing — just not the hookup culture that we currently have.

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6 thoughts on “Why Hookup Culture Sucks

  1. That’s a very interesting article but in my experience casual sex, if done right, shouldn’t lead to any of those kind of situations. I’ve dealt with thousands of people on our site who’ve had great experiences but just didn’t want to mislead the other party that they were looking for a relationship. Sometimes people just want to deal with their urges without the risk of baggage. I guess maybe college kids are generally younger than my audience and more at risk of negative reactions but generally I would disagree with anyone that says casual sex leads to low self-esteem etc

  2. I think if youre going to have casual sex(hookup) then you need to be emotionally prepared for the potential consequences. As far as the physical act goes, there is more than enough information out here on contraceptives and std’s that if you cant find you definately are not informed or mature enough to be doing it. One thing about provocative dress that most people overlook is not that you might get raped because of it but the kind of attention you are more than likely going to invite into your world. I point this out to my daughter all the time, be careful what you represent and dont whine if you make a certain choice and then get a certain outcome. This song pretty much sums it up. The question isnt whether its right or wrong, but is it wise.

  3. Pingback: Is Casual Sex Intrinsically Demeaning? | Brute Reason

  4. I must admit that I find it really astonishing that people have been running around choosing to have one-nite-stands at the rate that they are….I really don’t know where this is going to lead us as a Nation…because in history the last place where the vices started outweighing the virtues…is underwater I’m told…and I don’t know about the rest of this country, but I don’t want to end up like that, so in short, I don’t think anything good is going to come out of having casual sex with different people. For one,there are Soul Ties,during sexual intercourse there is a spritual connection made with the person(s) involved,so everything that that person is,emotionally like psych issues,addictions etc… is believed to be passed on to the people that they have had sex with..,In addition to that there are all of the STI’s, that are sometimes unknowingly passed on that people like to forget about because it dampens the mood when it comes to sex, so they don’t think about it, which is very irresponsible but you can’t tell them that because they are too busy running around looking for someone to give them their next orgasim…some of these people are murders, child molesters,involved in drug or sex trafficing all of which the person involved may have found out if they took the time to get to know the person before having sex. In thinking about just the missionary position, having a strange man lay on top of a woman,put his member (that has been who knows where) in her vagina,mouth,and or anus, coupled with other sex positions…to do that continuously with different men?…on different but frequent occasions?….and that woman is not going to have low self-esteem?…yeah right ….she’ll unfortunately after acting out all of that behavior…will most likely be having serious bouts of depression sooner rather than later……. If you play with fire….sooner or later your going to get burned….Too much of anything….is no good…..always remember that……Peace….(Butterfly42)

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