Monthly Archives: October 2011

And the Most Sexist Halloween Costume Award Goes to….

by  @ The Ms. Magazine Blog

It’s that time of year again—Halloween!–when corporate America encourages girls and women to celebrate our inner sluts.

I took my 11-year-old son to a newly opened “Halloween City” in the small southern town where I live. After wading through all the wonderfully gory zombies, steam- spewing skeletons and catapulting ghouls, we came to the costumes.

From past experience, I generally know what to expect, but even I was surprised at what I saw. All along the back wall in Halloween City were pictures of hundreds of costumes for females displayed under a sign that read “Hot! Hot! Hot!”

I’m amazed at the ability of Halloween marketers to turn any kind of cartoon character, profession or sport into a sexpot costume for women and girls. The sexed-up witch, nurse or cheerleader is predictable, but here’s what I also found:

Police officers: “Officer Naughty,” “Your Busted,” “Handcuff Hottie,” “Dirty Cop” and “Sexy Border Control Costume.”

Fire fighters: “Fire Fox” and “Smokin’ Firewoman.”

Sports: “Tackle Me,” “Boxer Babe” and “Fastball Fox.”

Fairytale characters: “Seductive Snow White” and “Racy Red Riding Hood,” and “Dorothy Diva” (as in the Wizard of Oz).

Pirates: “Pirates Treasure” (yes, she IS the treasure), “Pirate Wench” and “Sex Swash Buckler” for adults, and “Pirate Cutie” for girls, complete with very short, off-the-shoulder dress, hip wrap, fishnet tights and fishnet elbow-length gloves.

Students: To fulfill men’s sexual harassment fantasies, there’s “Teacher’s Pet Sexy.”

At this small-town Georgia store, hypersexualized costumes far outnumbered other costumes for women (by 10 to 1, easily). And there were no sexualized costumes for men, except for pervert costumes like “Banana Flasher” and “Dr. Howie Feltersnatch, M.D. Gynecologist.”

For little girls, there was “Indian Babe” and “Geisha” (sexualizing and exoticizing the non-white other), while for the boys you had the “MacDaddy” pimp costume, complete with hundred-dollar bills.

Many of these costumes come from Dreamgirls. Their Dreamgirl Junior page includes “Robyn da Hood,” complete with corset, lace-up gauntlets and money bag.

After all this, I finally came upon the costume that clearly wins the Most Sexist Award: “Anita Waxin.’” Designed to be worn by men, it includes a long blond wig, artificial breasts, pale flesh-colored stockings and a red lifeguard bathing suit with black hair protruding out of both sides of the crotch. All for $30–a steal!

The costume’s contempt for the female body is palpable. It oozes scorn for women who don’t wax and says that natural women are disgusting and a joke. Can you imagine a world in which comparable scorn for the male body existed to the degree that it ended up in Halloween costumes?

In sum, the costumes I saw at Halloween City are all about women as objects of men’s sexual pleasure, abuse or scorn.

How about you? What Halloween costume have you seen this year that should get the award for most sexist?

Reposted with permission from the Ms. Magazine Blog.

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Driving a Fagbug

If someone spray painted “fag” and “u r gay” on your car would you drive it around? Through 48 states? Through the hell-fire breathing, Leviticus quoting Bible Belt?

Erin Davies didn’t think she would either.

But by happenstance she rose to meet the challenge of the gay hero’s journey.

It all began one day on her way to work. Approaching her Beetle, she saw it was covered in homophobic epithets. “I figured the rainbow sticker on the back window had inspired the attack,” she said. Erin had hoped to inspire something else. Eventually, she did. In a big way.

“Could you please fix it right away,” she begged the insurance company. But since it was drivable they’d do no work for several days. “You expect me to go around with the word ‘fag’ in my face?!” she asked. Embarrassed, and with no choice, she drove to work.

Later that day she picked up a rental. But media coverage brought such an outpouring of support that friends proposed she keep driving her “fag bug” to start conversations.

So she did. It all started with a 58 day trip through 41 states. This August, driving through the Dakotas, she visited states 47 and 48. On her way, she collected notes on her windshield, videotaped people’s reactions, and made the six o’clock news.

On video, one person commented on the vandalism saying, “Spray painting a car doesn’t make what you stand for look any better.” Indeed, this paint job seems to have backfired on the messenger.

Surprisingly, the nastiest note Erin got on her windshield only claimed, “It’s a shame u made this up.” Mostly, the notes inspired her: “You’re my hero.” On her journey, hostile people became her friends, or at least friendly. Some, hoping to help, tried washing the graffiti off her parked car, leaving Erin to repaint the words she had first felt shamed to see.

Erin could have hidden behind a rental and restored her car – sans rainbows to halt further attacks. But she went the other way, eventually washing the entire Beetle in rainbow colors, with “fagbug” printed loudly on the side.

Erin could have retreated in shame. Instead, she concluded that hate crimes shouldn’t end in silence, but in dialogue.

Ironically, someone struck out at our lesbian friend, seeking to harm her. But it didn’t work out that way. At all.

Learn more about Erin and her adventure, buy a videotape documenting her travels, or have her to come speak to your school or university by clicking here.

October is LGBT Month

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Miss Representation: How I Look Is What Matters

Girls get the message early on that the most important thing is how they look. Too often their self-worth depends upon it.

Miss Representation premiered last week on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network, seeking to combat that unfortunate reality. The film opens our eyes to all that creates the message. And offers change.

From the time they’re small, little girls are told they’re pretty – or notice that they’re not told that. They receive gifts of play makeup and vanity sets. They watch endless repeats of Disney princesses on DVD, buy beautiful princess dolls, and then graduate to Barbie or Bratz. All of whom have extensive wardrobes. It’s all about being pretty. Meanwhile, girls and women are bombarded with media images of impossibly beautiful women who are photoshopped up the wazoo, modeling what they’re supposed to look like.

Who’s popular in middle school and high school? Pretty girls. By the time they’re in college young women are under relentless pressure to be hot, as if that’s the most important thing in the world.

Media creates consciousness, but women don’t have much control over media. As Miss Representation tells us, women hold only 3% of the clout positions in publishing, advertising, telecommunications, and entertainment. And women comprise only 16% of producers, writers, directors and editors.

And so women come to see themselves through men’s eyes.

Meanwhile, media makes its money through advertising. And advertising works by making people feel bad about themselves so that they’ll buy products to “help.” But if the feminine ideal is impossible to achieve, women can buy an endless stream of products and still feel eternally insecure.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Miss Representation’s writer-director, makes this observation:

When youth are engaging in cutting and other forms of self-injury, when 65% of American women have eating disorders, when depression rates have doubled in the past ten years, when plastic surgery has tripled in the past decade amongst youth in particular; when you look at that you think Something is wrong. This is not healthy.

Fashion magazines are especially harmful. Girls and women who read them have worse body images than those who don’t. But women aren’t the only ones affected. Just looking at those “perfect” models can leave men finding real women less attractive, too.

So women and men who compare women to unattainable ideals both end up dissatisfied and estranged from each other.

Too many women sit in their inadequate, one-dimensional corners opposite too many men who do the same thing.

And no one is better off.

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Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze

Della Calfee. Ass Like That

“Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at,” art critic John Berger famously observed.

Now some feminist artists are turning the tables in the exhibit, Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze:

With a gallery filled with men stripped naked this body of work exposes women’s cheeky, provocative and sometimes shocking commentaries on the opposite sex (which) may make the viewer squirm a little. But that is precisely the point.

The exhibit reveals sundry masculinities from female/feminist/
transgender perspectives, moving from sensuous rear views of the male buttocks to gender-bending to daughters gazing at fathers. Featured artists include Juana Alicia, Nancy Buchanan, Guerrilla Girls on Tour!, Lynn Hershmann, Jill O’Bryan, ORLAN, Carolee Schneemann, Sylvia Sleigh, Annie Sprinkle, Elizabeth Stephens, May Wilson, and Melissa Wolf.

Man as object strikes a pose, buttocks pushed out, offered to us as bedroom eyes shoot a backward glance. Men flex in awkward positions, or bend gracefully into compliant cants. Some men turn submissively into tables.

Others lie down. Natural enough, yet rarely seen in art. Too sensually passive… waiting… vulnerable… or “on the bottom” for mainstream viewing?

Karen Zack, Man As Object

Karen Zack, Man As Object

The visions can come across as “gay.” Since sexual pose is so often meant for the male gaze, on some unconscious level we may see it all through male eyes. And that is jarring, too.

The camera pleasurably zooms in on erotic man-parts. Images of male autoeroticism and penises abound, including a piece called “Where’s His Head?” that depicts a giant phallus-man fondling his much smaller man-phallus. Indeed! And when Pinocchio tells a lie, it’s not his nose that grows. More like a woody that “lasts more than four hours.” Actual penises are rarely displayed, apparently unable to live up to what Richard Dyer called “the mystique implied by the phallus.”

The exhibit includes a lenticular postcard (turn it one way and it’s a woman, turn the other and it’s a man) that juxtaposes Courbet’s “Origin of the World” with a close-up vagina shot versus ORLAN’s “Origin of War” with a penis close-up.

At times men are objectified in one-dimensional, controlling and demeaning ways. But sex-positive feminist photographer Shiloh McCabe explores the other side, working to ensure that her gaze does not consume or dominate. She takes a wide view, seeing those who are usually not. Her subjects help create their own representation so they can retain their power. “I’m not here to objectify or harm; I’m here to nurture and document,” she explains.

Laura Hartford. Graham Reclining

Man as object, Rubenesque, reclining, bathing, cooking, lounging, washing up before bed. Man as Madonna and Child, patriarchal man, veiled man, man as cowboy bunny, trans man. Blonde man in short shorts. Bodybuilder, Founding Father. Homeless man. Nude and vulnerable. Empowered. Bound and submissive. Striking a pose. Objectified.

So much to gaze at. And so much to see.

“In the past it was totally taboo for women to gaze upon the male, yet it was appropriate and common in the reverse,” observes artist Marian Yap. “Do you think that things are changing?”

Good question. This exhibit pushes us out of our taken for granted ways of seeing to explore that path.

Check out a video on the exhibit here.

Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze. Opening Friday, November 4th at SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco and running through the end of November. The show will travel to the Kinsey Institute Gallery, Bloomington, IN and will open April 13, 2012 through the end of June.

This exhibition was created by The Women’s Caucus for Art – the founding organization promoting feminist art and art as activism since 1972.

For more information click here.

Ms. Magazine reposted this piece on their blog October 28, 2011

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Why Do Women Fight Against Their Own Interests?

Growing up Mormon, it seemed women fought against their own interests all the time. In the 70’s my Mormon piano teacher spent an hour post-lesson talking to my mom about stopping feminists from setting up battered women’s shelters!

Other Mormon women followed orders to pack a lunch, get on a bus, and vote everything down at women’s conferences, hoping to keep the Equal Rights Amendment from passing.

Today women are still not allowed priesthood, but few seem disturbed.

And it’s not just Mormons.

Over a century ago some women ridiculed and ostracized suffragettes who sought the vote.

Even today sororities receive invitations addressed to “bitches and sluts” and accept
the invite – and the degradation.

Outside the U.S., Egyptian women defend men who murder their lovers because the women “must have done something to deserve it.”

Until recently, Saudi women couldn’t vote. They still can’t drive a car. Some have said they like it that way.

In North Africa and parts of the Middle East women cut girls’ genitals to preserve virginity until marriage. The girls may end up crippled or living in pain. Many die.

Women aren’t the only ones who accept second-class status. “Uncle Tom” brands African-Americans who accept threads of racist society. “Untouchables” accept their lot within the Hindu caste system. And Karl Marx coined the term “false consciousness” to describe workers who accept low wages and poor working conditions.

Why do underprivileged people so often accept limitations?

In a nut shell, it’s all they know, and as such, the world’s ways seem natural, normal and “right.”

Basically, society ends up in our own minds through a little process called internalization.

We are born without many thoughts in our heads. The world seems chaotic. But we must cope. So unconsciously we notice patterns and start classifying things. Reducing a complex world to simple categories leads to oversimplification and stereotyping. “Men are leaders in business, politics, and priesthood. Women stay home with kids or work outside the home as nurses, teachers, and secretaries.”

The stronger the pattern, the stronger the stereotype. Few thought to think outside the box in 1950’s America. Diversity (e.g., coming into contact with other cultures) can offer expanded vision.

Some do move out of “normal” ways of seeing: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Gloria Steinem, for instance. These leaders have often had unusual lives that help to remove the blinders.

But if people believe God wants things “the old way,” minds quickly close. Yes, add God to the brew (our ways are God’s ways) and you’ve got a strong tonic.

Other processes specific to sexism add to women’s acceptance of inferior status, like eroticized male dominance and women’s close relationships to men, but I’ll save that discussion for a later post.

So women acquiesce.

Some will call this victim-blaming: blaming the oppressed for their compliance. But you can’t blame someone for doing something that’s unconscious. It all becomes so taken-for-granted that few realize there are other ways of seeing and being.

In the Mormon church I see some improvement. When visiting my mom’s congregation the bishop said they were raising money for a battered women’s shelter. I have also heard “unequal relationships” cited as a primary cause of family disintegration. Though, the “Proclamation on the Family” diminishes that sentiment. “Men and women are equal, but men are the head”? I guess some are still more equal than others.

Change will only come when we take off our taken-for-granted blinders to see the light.

I originally wrote this piece for Feminist Mormon Housewives

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Better My Daughter Die Than Signal “Sex is Ok”

If adolescent girls are given the HPV vaccine to guard against cervical cancer, will they be more likely to have sex? Some worry they will, and are pushing to keep girls from getting
vaccinated.

I’ve never understood the concern.

I suspect few girls or women think much about the sex/cancer relationship. So how would inoculation make sexual activity more likely? “Oh, now I won’t get cancer, so I’ll have sex!” Who cares about STDs or pregnancy (which is what girls are much more likely to worry about).

Maybe parents fear that signing a consent form is tantamount to giving their okay to adolescent sex. All the more reason to allow girls to get vaccinated without parental consent.

And besides, a girl could end up getting cancer from HPV without ever having consensual sex outside marriage. She could be raped, or her husband could have an affair and transmit the disease to her in that way.

Still, it’s been a huge fuss in the conservative ranks. But why do so many conservatives feel that girls’ and women’s lives are not worth saving?

Right now, political fights revolve around limiting girls’ or women’s access to: the HPV vaccine, cancer screenings, tests for STDs — including H.I.V., nutrition programs for women and children, and Topeka, Kansas recently decriminalized domestic violence, saying they couldn’t afford it. Most recently the House passed HR 358, the “protect life” but kill women act, under which hospitals could refuse to perform emergency abortions even when a woman’s life is threatened by her pregnancy.

But back to the HPV controversy. Why would some parents risk their daughter’s death to send a signal about sex?

And is sex really so bad?

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Who Falls In Love Faster? Men or Women?

Who falls in love faster? Men or women?

Who is more likely to fall in love at first sight?

Who is more likely to believe that love lasts forever?

Who is more likely to feel there is one perfect love?

Who is less likely to marry without love?

When I ask my students these questions, most guess that women are more likely to do all of the above. Yet it turns out that the right answer is “men.”

I should note that the gap has been closing over time. And these days, the gap is quite small.

But everyone’s surprised, probably because women have grown up on Disney princesses and are stereotyped to want romance and relationship while men supposedly just want sex.

So why doesn’t reality match expectation?

The reasons men appear to be the more romantic sex are largely tied to three factors: looks, jobs, and physical strength.

How could any of that be linked to believing in love at first sight?

Men are more likely to place greater emphasis on looks — and only looks — as the signal for “she’s the one,” leaving them falling more quickly in love, or even falling in love at first sight.

Women can be very focused on looks, too. But they put greater emphasis on a wider number of factors.

Because they’re more likely to expect they’ll stay home with kids at some point, they’re more concerned with whether a man’s job can support a family. Even among career women, wives are more likely to follow husbands around in their jobs than vice-versa. So what sort of a job does he have?

Also, “his” job has more impact on “her” status than the reverse. So a waitress who marries a dentist is likely to see her prestige rise to his level. Not so much for the waiter who marries an attorney.

And because men are usually bigger and stronger, women will suffer greater injuries if there is abuse, so they’re more likely to be concerned with a man’s mental health and stability.

Men are also more rumored to stray (may be less true today) so women may want to take more time to discern character.

All this discovery takes time.

But actually, women are more likely to be concerned with a plethora of factors even when they are engaged in simple sex fantasy. For fantasy men usually turn to two-minute porn clips that focus on body parts. But women favor long romance novels. As I’ve written before, referring to cognitive neuroscientist, Ogi Ogas:

Men’s interest is simple, uncomplicated. But women more likely want character-driven stories that reveal the lover’s nature…

The female cortex is highly developed and skillfully scrutinizes all available evidence – social, emotional and physical, somewhat consciously but largely not. All this leads to a general feeling of favorability or suspicion: Is he committed and kind? Is he a rouge? A player? Only if the detective work leads to a stamp of approval will physical and  psychological arousal unite.

Women are also more likely to marry for reasons other than love, like, “He’s a good stable man with a good stable income.” That leaves women less romantic, on average, and less supposing that there is one perfect love that lasts forever.

The good news, as I said, is that the gap is closing and women are more likely to marry for love now that they have greater opportunity and are less dependent on men. And that’s a lot better for marriage.

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Apple® and Eve’s Choice

Ever wonder about the Apple icon? The apple with a bite taken from it?

Once upon a time, the story goes, a woman named Eve took a bite from an apple that brought the fall of humanity.

Or did something else happen? Here’s the story:

Adam and Eve lived in the paradisiacal Garden of Eden. God told them they could eat from all the trees except the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eat this fruit, and surely die. But one day a snake told Eve: Die? You will not die. If you eat this fruit you will become wise like God, knowing good from evil. Desiring wisdom, Eve took the fruit and ate, and gave some to her husband, who also ate. Upon discovering the breach, God cast Adam and Eve out of their lovely garden and into a harsh world.

Hence, the Fall.

There are other ways of understanding this story.

The story can be seen as a metaphor of human life. Children are born into a state of innocence, with all their needs attended to. Life is cushy. Others make their decisions. But then they reach “the terrible two’s” when they begin to rebel and think for themselves. Disobedience sounds bad. But what happens to a person who just does what they’re told all of their lives? Or who never struggles with anything?

And is greater wisdom, knowing good from evil, a bad thing?

If Adam and Eve had stayed in the garden forever, certainly things would have been pleasant. But would they have grown? Would they have gained any wisdom? Life would have gone on as it always had. Always staying the same.

In choosing this icon Steve Jobs, who placed his headquarters at the corner of Technology and Liberal Arts, knew the power of a symbol. He also had ways of seeing that others lack.

Apple’s early logo slapped a rainbow on the very archetype of human fallenness and failure – the bitten fruit – and turned it into a sign of promise and progress.

In Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford he talked about the power of failure — how you learn from it.

There is no progress when we stay static. When we are afraid to fail. When we fail to think. And when we avoid struggle.

Choose wisdom. Choose growth. Choose, the bitten apple seems to say.

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Men, Women React to Male/Female Nudity

By Lisa Wade @ Sociological Images

We’ve all heard the truism “sex sells.”

But whose sex is sold?  And to who?

If it was simply that sex sold,

…we’d see men and women equally sexually objectified in popular culture.  Instead, we see, primarily, women sold to (presumably heterosexual) men.  So what are we selling, exactly, if not “sex”?

What is really being sold is men’s (presumably heterosexual) sexual subjectivity: the experience of being a person in the world who was presented with images that were for his titillation.  Women do not live in the world this way.  They are not exposed everyday to images that legitimize their lust; instead, the images teach women that they are the object of that lust.

In light of this, Sociologist Beth Eck did a series of interviews attempting to tap into what it felt like for men and women to look at male and female nudes.  Her findings were pretty fascinating.

First, she asked men and women to look at naked images of women, including this one of Cindy Crawford:

Women viewing images of female nudes almost inevitably compared themselves to the figure and felt inadequate.   Said one women:

…the portrayal of these thin models and I just get depressed… I’m very hard on myself, wanting to be that way.

Women ended up feeling bad whether the model conformed to conventional norms of attractiveness or not.  When looking at a heavy set woman, they often responded like this:

I am disgusted by it because she is fat, but I’m also… I need to lose about 10 pounds.

I don’t necessarily find her body that attractive… Her stomach looks like mine.

Men, in contrast, clearly felt pandered to as holders of a heterosexual male gaze.  They knew that the image was for them and offered praise (for a job well done) or criticism (for failure to live up to their expectations).  About Crawford they said:

Personally I think she is attractive.

I like that.

Both men and women, then, knew exactly how to respond to female nudes: women had internalized their object status (women as sex object-things) and men had internalized their subject status (men were people looking at sexy objects).

Eck then showed them male nudes, including this one of Sylvester Stallone:

Interestingly, both men and women felt uncomfortable looking at male nudes.

Men responded by either expressing extreme disinterest, re-asserting their heterosexuality, or both.  They did not compare themselves to the male nudes (like women did with female nudes), except to say that they were both male and, therefore, there was “nothing to see.”  Meanwhile, because men have been trained to be a lustful sexual subject, seeing male nudity tended to raise the specter of homosexuality.  They couldn’t see the bodies as anything but sexual objects for them to gaze upon.

In contrast, the specter of homosexuality didn’t arise for women when they looked at female nudes because they weren’t used to being positioned as lustful.  Eck explains:

When women view the seductive pose of the female nude, they do not believe she is ‘coming on to’ them.  They know she is there to arouse men.  Thus, they do not have to work at rejecting an unwanted advance.  It is not for them.

Many women also did not feel lustful when looking at male nudes and those that did often experienced lust mixed with guilt or shame.  Eck suggests that this may be, in part, a reaction to taking on the active, consuming, masculine role, something they’re not supposed to do.

Summarizing responses to the male nudes, she writes:

Men, over and over again, reject the seductive advance [of a male nude].  While some women welcome the advance, most feel a combination of shame, guilt, or repulsion in interacting with the image…

This is what it means to live in a world in which desire is structured by a gendered sexual subject/object binary.  That is, men are taught to be subjects who see women as objects, and women are taught to be objects.  It’s not just “out there,” it’s “in us” too.

This piece was originally posted in Sociological Images. A slightly edited version is
reprinted here with permission.

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Hookup Culture

College students are having sex, but not as much as you might think. And most of them are kind of disappointed about the whole thing.

Sociologist Lisa Wade told MTV that’s what she learned after interviewing first-year college students. You can see the three-minute video at Sociological Images.

Rumor has it that at four-year universities one and all are hooking up with random strangers to have no-strings-attached, emotion-free sex. Everyone thinks everyone else is having great sex, and lots of it. But not them. Turns out, they’re not alone. They’re typical.

Throughout the entire four years of college, most average only 4 to 7 different hookups. That’s just more than one a year!

And nearly one third of the women have opted out entirely, figuring if the only sex they can get is with acquaintances or strangers, why bother?

Others tolerate the hookup hoping to find love, or at least relationship. But things don’t usually work out as hoped.

And most are dissatisfied by quality, too.

Almost everyone is drunk, which doesn’t help. Women complain that men are not skilled. And an awful lot of these encounters involve women giving men oral sex, but getting nothing in return.

Only about 11% say they enjoy hooking up.

Students wanted at least one of three things:

  • pleasure
  • meaningfulness
  • empowerment

But few were getting any of these.

Yet everyone assumes they know what everyone else wants so no one ever asks.

Wade found that 70% of women and 73% of men wanted a committed relationship, but thought that everyone else felt differently. And they don’t want to talk about it because they fear they’ll come across as repressed, dysfunctional, or needy.

So no one says anything and hookup culture ends up the only game in town.

Wade says casual sex can be a good thing for students who want to focus on school since relationships — and breakups — take up a lot of time and energy.

But with widespread dissatisfaction, she feels that hooking up shouldn’t be the only option.

Students think no-strings sex is sexual liberation. But if you believe you have no other choice, is it?

Maybe it’s time for students to talk to one another.

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