By Sophia Rosenthal ‘17
It’s a Thursday night. Or maybe Saturday night. Possibly even Friday if it’s been a tough week or, you know, a miracle happens. Drinks are flowing, moderately-priced cologne wafts through the evening air, and sticky ping-pong balls bounce across tables that have probably seen more than any item of outdoor furniture should have to. Across each of the 5C’s, legs are being shaved, eyebrows plucked, and dorm rooms tidied hastily in the hopeful event that someone-who’s-not-a-roommate-or-platonic-friend happens to pass through. (You know the drill: make “smart” looking books visible, hide dirty laundry and old stuffed animals in closet, make sure condoms are accessible but not obvious…)
Is it clear where this is going?
At this point, engaging with the phrase “hookup culture” at all makes me feel like, at best, an ancient professor or a frantic journalist at a parenting magazine (Ever tried to explain to a parent what exactly hooking up means? It’s great. Try it. 10/10 would recommend). In all fairness, “hookup culture” is an extremely vague and somewhat reductive term that--depending on who you ask--lies somewhere between “meaningless buzzword” and “cornerstone of the modern undergraduate experience.” With that in mind, how the frack does one even begin to dissect what--if anything--is the real problem with hookup culture?
First of all--let’s assume that “hookup” has the traditional meaning of “anything from a brief makeout session in some corner of Dom’s Lounge, to anything and everything that would make E.L. James blush” (if you’re fortunate enough not to know who that is, E.L. James is the sexually frustrated creature who penned the literary feat that is Fifty Shades of Grey). In the context of a “hookup,” such acts typically occur between people who are not in a monogamous relationship. Take notes; there will be a quiz later. Cause this stuff is hard. So hard.
Ahem--so hookup culture. One could potentially argue that this scary cultural tornado of alcohol-fueled promiscuity (that’s the technical definition) has very little to do with sex, and actually has more to do with sexualized media, insecure attachment patterns, fragile masculinity, or misplaced understandings of intimacy and affection. But that gets a bit complicated.
Slightly less difficult to parse, and slightly more arguable, is the fact that it can feel like the only way to have sex in college--especially at the 5C’s--is through navigating hookup culture. I suppose it seems obvious--if you’re going to hook up with someone, it’s probably going to happen within the context of the ever-powerful hookup culture, yeah?
But it really isn’t that obvious. Case in point: my mother still encourages me to ask people out on coffee dates (Yes, it’s very cute. Hi, mom. I write about sex. Aren’t you proud?). I’ve had to explain that to accomplish this, I’d have to interact with drunk-object-of-affection at a party, hook up with them, exchange numbers, not drive each other away with awkwardness, hook up a few more times, avoid each other a bit, hook up again, decide we probably like-each-other-like-maybe-yeah-it’s-whatever, then get a meal at a dining hall, then maybe go out for a “real date.” Am I making this seem complicated? Because it honestly seems this complicated. More likely what would happen is this: we’d meet at a party (or something like that), hookup (or something like that), and exchange numbers (exactly like that), and then spend the rest of the semester wondering why we’re both avoiding each other. Person #1 is embarrassed because post-intimacy/vulnerability shame and goes all Casper the “I’m gonna be friendly but ghost you” on person #2, person #2 doesn’t want person #1 to think they got “attached” or want something serious, both people think since the other person hasn’t said anything that they’re just not interested, and everyone’s confused and pissed. Alas, theoretical coffee date never happens.
There’s a very specific narrative that goes along with hooking up, and although it can be confusing, it isn’t necessarily problematic. The problem is that when you want something that extends beyond that narrative, or you try to interact with people in a way that conflicts with that narrative, you can hit a wall. In other words, if there is a problem with hookup culture, it isn’t with the “hookup” part, but the “culture,” part. Like the concept of virginity, the problem isn’t the narrative itself, it’s when that narrative becomes the only available option out of what could be a plethora of intimacies (also the title of my erotic memoir, coming soon). The “hookup script,” like most of the scripts we follow in life, exists for a reason. Sometimes we just need to identify what that reason is for us specifically, and what function it plays in our lives.
The awesome thing about casual hookups can be that it encourages people to acknowledge their sexuality and go for what they want. (How that manifests is a different story altogether, but the potential is there…) But if you’re stuck acting out an awkward, confusing script that you definitely audition for, you probably aren’t getting what you really want.
So here’s what I propose: try it. Go for what you want. Don’t mess with avoidance and awkwardness and all the things you won’t remember in three years. Be upfront--with yourself. Do you wanna get laid? Cool. Do you wanna get a meal with that cute person you’ve never talked to sober? Cool. Do you wanna fall asleep at 10pm on a Saturday? Cool. Be real with yourself, and then be real in your interactions with other people. If it doesn’t workout, that’s okay. I mean it sucks, but it will be okay eventually. And hey, there’s always next weekend; our leg hair will have grown back by then anyway.