Hookup culture is "a girl giving and a guy receiving"? We don't think so.
Today, Donna Freitas' new book, The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy will be published by Basic Books. Her scathing (and, at times, moralistic) assessment of today's youth being corrupted and dissatisfied by their pervasive practice of casual sex makes a lot of interesting points, but mainly does a lot of panic-mongering. And people hooking up? We're not all that unhappy. So, here are our reasons why we like boning strangers and why we actually aren't confused or unfulfilled by that decision at all.
1. Nobody is an emotional zombie because of hooking up.
"Hookup culture teaches young people that to become sexually intimate means to become emotionally empty, that in gearing themselves up for sex, they must at the same time drain themselves of feeling." DF
Let's give us all some credit: Women aren't all starving would-be wives and men aren't walking sperm guns. Freitas is proposing a reality where we are all shambling around as shells of people, completely devoid of the ability to achieve intimacy and romance after entering relationships, sexual or otherwise, where we engage in sex that doesn't fulfill our "true" deepest desires. But all relationships are different animals. To say one type of behavior makes someone "emotionally empty" or drains an entire generation of feeling, is assuming that our sexual encounters not only limit our range of emotion, but stunt all future encounters for the remainder of our lives. Which is just completely unfounded.
2. Hooking up is just as enjoyable for women as it is for men
Hookup culture is "a girl giving and a guy receiving," and "Women and men who learn to hide their true opinions and any aspect of themselves that might mark them as outside the norm, despite the fact that their colleges boast communities of tolerance." DF
The idea that women are still serving men through hookups, that they aren't actually interested in casual sex, is a tall tale Freitas would like to perpetuate. She reveals in much of her writing that behind closed doors, women don't actually want to participate in the culture and would rather date. But that ignores basic facts. Elizabeth Armstrong, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, did extensive research on hooking up in 2009. Her findings? "Nearly as many women as men (85 percent and 89 percent, respectively) report enjoying the sexual activity of their last hookup "very much" or "some-what," and less than half of women report interest in a relationship with their most recent hookup."
3. Female agency and upward mobility
Hookup culture produces: "Women's studies majors to whom it does not occur that there might be a disconnect between their work in the history of the feminist movement and the fact that they attend theme parties on the weekend." DF
Actually, do you know what hookup culture produces? A generation of women with the agency and opportunity to delay or avoid the expectation for an early marriage. As researcher Armstrong found, hooking up might be better thought of as a strategy in a woman's "sexual career." Hooking up might actually be a viable way of finding sexual satisfaction, enjoying oneself, and remaining social without interfering with the the educational and professional trajectory of young adult life. A woman using hookups as a way to explore sexuality while mainly focusing on her career and personal life—maybe Donna Freitas wouldn't buy it, but it's the reality.
4. Good relationships can be built out of random hookups.
"College students have perfected an air of bravado about hookup culture, though a great many of them privately wish for a world of romance and dating." DF
"It is true that the existence of hookup culture allows young women to put off relationships. Yet it doesn't simply allow this, it fairly forbids the formation of long-term romantic attachments, something both genders complain about in private." DF
Are hookup culture and dating and romance mutually exclusive? Most people have eschewed the whole "we need to date before we have sex" mentality, and so, who is to say romance couldn't come out of a random hook up? According to a study at The University of Iowa, hooking up before you seriously date somebody doesn't impede your chance at having a successful relationship: "couples who became sexually involved as friends or acquaintances and were open to a serious relationship ended up just as happy as those who dated and waited." Hooking up and dating don't negate each other, and even when a large amount of people hookup, there is always going to be a vast majority of people who prefer good ol' fashioned dating.
5. We're blowing this way out proportion
We're creating "A generation who doesn't know how to foster an awareness of human dignity at their parties and in their sexual decision-making." DF
Hookups may seem common, but it's not really fostering an entire generation of bacchanalian orgies or wasted integrity or anything. According to a study done last fall at The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine which surveyed female freshmen (you know, that group whose morals and happiness are being squandered): "The average number of sexual hookups per month ranged from one to three, suggesting that—for most women—hookups are experimental and relatively infrequent as opposed to a regular pattern of behavior. Specifically, the highest rate of sexual hookups took place at the beginning of the academic year (October) and the lowest rate was during the summer (June)." Which means, sex in a relationship is still twice as common for college students than sex outside of one. Ipso facto, we all have our undies in a bunch about a phenomena that, well, it's that phenomenal or as pervasive as one might have guessed.
6. You might get better in bed.
"Everything about post-college life is ambivalent; that there is little to which anyone today might aspire. That the sex is depressing and boring is par for the course." DF
If practice makes perfect, hookup culture offers a way to explore sexuality and improve skills before we are locked into marriage or other long-term relationships. Most people aren't remaining abstinent before marriage, so where is the harm in experimenting with the freedom? Sex varies with each encounter. To say that our hookup sex is "depressing and boring" across the board stands in huge contrast to the fact that people keep on doing it. Something must feel good about it or we would have already kicked the habit. Besides, you have to test drive the car before you buy it.
7. You can stumble into really, really good sex.
"But to at least strive for good sex is not an unreasonable goal." DF
Having good sex with a stranger isn't an unrealistic goal. If one or both of you have a penis or vagina, you have all the ingredients you need for good sex. While some people's pleasure is predicated by intimacy, there is also a large majority of people who are able to enjoy their bodies with a person they quite enjoy without wanting further romantic attachment. Skill, attention, and attraction can determine good sex, and that, my friend, you can find in a hookup. If the TV show Girls has shown us anything, it's that you have to stumble in order to get to the good stuff.
8. We're all still getting married
"Life in hookup culture denies the experience of meaningful sex and romance." DF
If life in hookup culture makes us slaves to meaningless sex and sets the stage for romance inaccessibility, how come most of us, statistically, hop on the marriage train? Hookup culture seems like something we're all interested in, but eventually grow out of. We're delaying getting married because we want to sort out the rest of our lives before we attack romance, but we are (as a trend), still looking to the altar once we have sown our wild oats.
9. It's not as dangerous as you'd expect
"55 percent of the sexual encounters on campus with someone who was not a steady partner involved alcohol." DF
Maybe over half of hookups are drunk hookups. Maybe we are painted as an unhappy, unraveled hookup culture who are drunkenly getting knocked up and sexually assaulted. But, that's actually a lot of scare-mongering. Since 1981 (a quaint era before hookups), unwanted pregnancies have gone down for women. Not to mention, according to the US Department of Justice, "The rate of intimate partner violence against females declined 53% between 1993 and 2008". Being able to freely test the waters seems to only make us safer—emotionally and physically.
10. It's here to stay
"Students learn to be ashamed of their politics." DF
If young people, especially women, are forgoing their politics and gods in favor of casual sex, then why is hookup culture sustaining itself? When we cry wolf about young folk's sexual habits, we always forget that social behavior evolves. As Hanna Rosin, author or The End of Men argues, "There is no retreating from the hookup culture to an earlier age, when a young man showed up at the front door with a box of chocolates for his sweetheart, and her father eyed him warily. Even the women most frustrated by the hookup culture don't really want that. The hookup culture is too bound up with everything that's fabulous about being a young woman in 2012—the freedom, the confidence, the knowledge that you can always depend on yourself." Hooking up isn't going anywhere, so it's clear that it must serve us sexually, socially, and politically in some way.