A Response to “How Accepting The Hook-Up Culture Is Getting 20-Somethings Nowhere”
Millennials, we have a new collective nickname—“The Hookup Generation.” Sound ominous? That’s the problem. It’s time to take a closer look at what really scares us about hookup culture.
It’s not hard to understand why our new moniker comes with an implied sense of wrongdoing. Many of our guardians approached The Sex Talk with a sense of dread or shame. Articles with titles ranging from “Teaching Generation Y the Basics of a Strong Relationship” to “Young People Who Sacrifice Romance for ‘Unencumbered Striving’” argue that our lack of romance is robbing us of important emotional lessons. And a recent Elite Daily piece by Erica Gordon entitled “How Accepting the Hookup Culture is Getting 20-Somethings Nowhere” decries hookup culture based on three objections: that it’s killing chivalry in relationships, that it “causes women to reluctantly participate” in the hope of a relationship (and leaves those women “crushed when this dream dies”), and that participating will cause problems when you “one day decide you want to be in a relationship.”
The concept of a (good) relationship is key to understanding these arguments, but that word means different things to different people. This article uses “relationship” in the context of committed, monogamous long-term heterosexual romances. Not everybody wants such a relationship to begin with (and that doesn’t reflect on those people’s morality). And when you factor in another of Ms. Gordon’s other criteria for a good relationship—that the man (assuming you want a relationship with a man) “should be asking [the woman] out” and with “definitive plans in mind,”—the group of people who agree with that definition grows smaller. Not everybody enjoys formal dates—some like the ceremony and tradition, and some find low-key hangouts less intimidating and more conducive to openness. Beyond that, not all men want to make the first move, and not all women want to take a more passive role in a relationship. Women are equally capable of asking men out, and not all men want a position that puts them at risk for so much more rejection. In the 21st century, we each have the right to choose greater gender role flexibility.
As for women in general being reluctant participants in hookups initiated by men? That idea only holds up if we disregard the fact that many women, like many men, enjoy varied sexual experiences. The truth is, there are plenty of women who actively like or even love casual sex. And the reverse is also true—there are plenty of men who just aren’t interested in sex outside of exclusive established relationships. Some people only enjoy hookups in certain circumstances or with certain people. Wherever you fall, your sex preferences don’t make you any better or worse as a person. But assuming that one set of preferences is a one-size-fits-all for a gender causes problems. Ignoring the reality of those women who want casual sex helps keep female sexuality, outside the context of committed relationships, stigmatized and deviant—which leads to less safe environments for women to have sex in and can make females feel hugely ashamed of what their own bodies want. This black and white viewpoint also perpetuates damaging stereotypes about emotionless, sex-crazed masculinity that leave men with far fewer safe environments to be honest about emotions (ironically, that emotional blockage is a common complaint about hookup culture).
Ms. Gordon’s last concern – that hooking up will cause problems down the road once “relationships” become appealing – may be the most common. Because of that, it’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we believe that men need to “score brownie points” with women, who in turn need to “hold off on sex until a commitment is made,” then some men will feel that they have to play a game instead of being honest about what they want in terms of sexual fulfillment. If we teach that men will only consider “relationships” with women who won’t have sex with them outside of a “relationship,” then men and women can only see their roles as a limited dichotomy—player/gentleman, slut/girl-next-door. In reality, it is possible to have both; they’re only mutually exclusive because society teaches us to see them that way, and so we treat them as if they are.
The key is, this doesn’t mean that everyone has to enjoy hookups. You can like being chased or take the lead; love casual hangouts or planned dates; want casual sex or be totally turned off by it (or be turned off by sex in general); you can want a committed monogamous romance or not (or not want romance at all). You can enjoy any combination of these and all the grey areas in between. It is your right to be able to be fulfilled by old-fashioned courtships, avoid romantic rules altogether, or take pleasure in some combination thereof. Your attitudes can change over time, too as most people’s do. But hookups aren’t the monster here—it’s lack of choice in the kind of relationships available to us. And wherever you stand on the subject of hooking up, I think we can all agree that more variety of feasible options for how we want our love life to look (and therefore more freedom to live in a way that suits us best as individuals) would be wonderful.
*A disclaimer: hookups involving coercion, alcohol, or any sort of impaired judgment/freedom are an entirely different matter. In this article, I’m only referring to safe and completely consensual sex.