Note: This article mostly addresses heterosexual hookup culture, since most studies focus on it. I acknowledge that hooking up is not something that only heterosexual people do, and the outcome might be different in other cases.
In recent years, hookup culture has become more and more popular, and casual sex is preferred by many, instead of a stable relationship. Society is trying to normalize a culture that would have been considered immoral and sinful a few decades ago. At least for women.
Throughout the years, one thing seems to have remained unchanged – society’s view on women who love sex. In the 1960s, the well-known period of hippies, women who had casual sex were called “floozies” – the women of loose morals. The “Summer of Love” of 1967 was celebrated by nearly 100,000 individuals who fought for peace, love, and freedom of expression.
Although young people in the 60s became more and more uninhibited, they could not see sex without love.
Today, hookup culture is very common, especially among millennials. However, for the most part, there is no love in these types of hookups, and everybody seems to be okay with it. Dating apps are very helpful when it comes to it, making the jobs of both parties much easier. Except, the dating in ”dating apps” is silent, since it has been normalized that they are mostly used for sex.
He is a Stud, She is a Slut! A Meta-Analysis on the Continued Existence of Sexual Double Standards points to the fact that men and women are held accountable in different manners for the same type of act. ”Traditionally, men/boys are expected to be sexually active, dominant, and the initiator of (hetero)sexual activity, whereas women/girls are expected to be sexually reactive, submissive, and passive. Moreover, traditionally men are granted more sexual freedom than women. As a consequence, men and women can be treated differently for the same sexual behaviors. For example, slut-shaming is experienced by 50% of girls, compared with 20% of boys,” the study shows.
”There is a huge difference between women and men, because if you, as a woman, are willing to have casual sex with somebody you will be perceived as an easy to get woman, but if you are a man doing the exact same thing, you will be seen as an alpha male and your masculinity depends on the number of girls you can get,” says Mihaela Badea, a 21 year old student from Romania.
There are also gender differences when it comes to the way an individual feels toward another, women being more likely to get attached than men. Attachment specialist, Adam Lane Smith, explains that this is possible because of the release of oxytocin, also known as the ”cuddle hormone”.
”Most are conditioned to believe real love does not exist, that they are not worthy of love, and that false intimacy is the best they can expect. This is evident most often in avoidant men using hookup culture to exploit the insecurities of anxious women to achieve sexual release and then ghost them. Many of these women are looking for deeper connection and develop feelings for these men and are then hurt further upon being abandoned. The impact may be worsened if she achieves orgasm and bonds to him through the rush of oxytocin. When anxious insecure men manage to have sex with women in hookup culture, it’s often with avoidant women where she refuses to bond with anyone on principle, and often she will not orgasm and in fact takes pride in this fact later when questioned about it, as it confirms she is right to never draw close to any man,” according to Adam Lane Smith.
However, he also believes that this is not applicable to every individual, and there might be exceptions depending on the attachment style a person has. For instance, individuals with an avoidant attachment style are more suited to hookup culture, compared to anxious attachment style where attachment is almost impossible to avoid.
”This is not to say no one should ever have the choice of casual sex. But hookup culture in particular has taken center stage as the main dating circus for the majority of young adults who actually desire an emotionally intimate experience with a loving partner. While some people may pride themselves on being strong (avoidant) enough to navigate hookup culture without ever developing even the slightest emotional attachment to any human being, most grow frustrated or sad as they connect with person after person, doing things they’re not proud of, in the name of hopefully finding love with one person. Those best suited to hookup culture are those with avoidant attachment, men and women who often brag about never feeling any emotional bond. Which begs the question, is hookup culture really best for them either if it reinforces their belief that being vulnerable and bonding is worthless?,” states the specialist.
WHERE THINGS GO WRONG
”In a culture of casual sex, my job is to essentially shut down emotionally and shut down as a person, in order to be sexually intimate with you. I’m gonna pretend that you are not really a person, you’re just there for my pleasure.” (Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution, 2017)
The documentary Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution approaches the subject up close, analyzing the behavior of young people during Spring Break. At the beginning of the documentary, a young man is interviewed in regard to girls and hookups. The man makes it look like for him – and for men, in general – sex is only a game and he normalizes the process of having sexual intercourse with multiple strangers. Throughout the documentary, we notice that men often feel entitled when it comes to women’s bodies, touching them at any time of the day, in public, regardless of whether women agree or not.
Dr. Robert Jensen, professor of Media Law and ethics, shares in the documentary that ”We are talking about a sexually coercive landscape in which men are socialized into taking sex from women. Women are socialized into complying to that as a part of a normal social scene. The terrain on which that takes place is very difficult and dangerous, especially for young women. This is a culture where sexual intrusion has become normalized.”
During the spring break of 2021, two men were identified in an online video, while sexually assaulting an unconscious girl on a public beach in Florida. They were surrounded by numerous people who stood there watching, having a beer, laughing and enjoying their day.
According to a study called Sexual Hookup Culture: A Review, ”the discrepancy between behaviors and desires, particularly with respect to social sexual relationships, has dramatic implications for physical and mental health. Despite widespread allure, uncommitted sexual behavior has been shown to elicit a pluralistic ignorance response promoting individuals to engage in behaviors regardless of privately feeling uncomfortable with doing so. ”
”I think that normalizing this culture without proper education can lead to emotional or even physical abuse. It may also make people not put the work into actual relationships because they have never worked towards that goal. They might not give real relationships a chance or the respect they deserve,” says Cristi Lazăr, a 23 year old student from Romania.
Encouraging young women to take part in the hookup culture is not an act of feminism
While hookup culture can be healthy, it is often damaging, especially for women.
Sex is a wonderful thing that everyone should enjoy. However, living in a society where the hookup culture is based on an obvious lack of communication, deprived of gender equality, and with a lack of sex education, encouraging young women to take part in a culture that undermines them is not an act of feminism. More than that, according to a study, women are much more likely to feel unsatisfied, regretful, or used after a hookup than men are.
Often, boys use sexual coercion on girls – usually girls under the influence of alcohol, who find it hard to say no – and then call it hooking up, as it is meaningless. The act of sexual coercion is very well hidden inside the hookup culture, and girls just let it go because they feel guilty for giving in.
A study shows that, in a sample of students who have engaged in hookup culture, nearly a third of the women had experienced unwanted intercourse, compared to 10% of men.
In an interview for The Atlantic, Donna Freitas, author of The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy, states that there is a lot of passivity in the hookup culture when it comes to consent. “‘I don’t know how that happened,’ or ‘I found myself in bed and suddenly we were having sex,’ where is consent in that? Men and women are distancing themselves from their own agency. They’re not saying ‘I told the person no,’ but they’re also not saying, ‘I consented to this.’” She also states that “what hookup culture teaches is that communication makes you attached” and that “we need to look at the values hookup culture teaches young people about sex. “