When Hookup Culture Was Just a Toddler 

19th century college men.

American Hookup by Occidental sociology professor Lisa Wade explains a lot. Like hookup culture’s early beginnings.

I’ll hit a few highlights. For more check out her book or an excerpt in Time.


College students in America’s colonies were typically middle class men (and only men) who wanted to enter the ministry.

By the end of the 18th-century things had shifted. By then, most college students were wealthy young men seeking a diploma to validate their family wealth. They were very different from the humble and obedient ministry students who were their predecessors.

This new breed were all about bucking authority and bolstering the social hierarchy that privileged them. As Prof. Wade put it,

The men who started frats lauded the skills they believed would be useful for winning in this life (not the next). Instead of humility, equality, and morality, fraternities promoted status, exclusion, and indulgence… and hierarchy.

Fraternities isolated them from “blue skins” — their slur for the middle-class they looked down on. As one nineteenth-century frat boy put it, “I am an aristocrat. I love liberty; I hate equality.”

Since these wealthy men didn’t need to make a living they flaunted their wealth by insulting their hard-working middle class peers as “grinds.” The “elite” men were all about having fun — which eventually included sexual conquest.

Before the 1900s, when women were still not admitted to universities in large numbers, frat brothers mostly had sex with poor women, prostitutes, and women whom they had even enslaved (!) Since these women were not their social equals, having sex with them was no great achievement.

But once colleges became coeducational, getting women to have sex with you — when the double standard punished them — was seen as a great accomplishment.

And there you have it. Hookup culture’s early beginnings.

No wonder so many see it as unpleasant and even dehumanizing today.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 19, 2017, in sex and sexuality and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. The relationship between frats and the rest of a university puts them in a place of power. They are either ones who throw parties, determine who is allowed into those parties. The purpose of the frats and how they act is to give a sense of superiority as they appeal to the desire to be selected. If you are selected to join a fraternity, you are part of an “elite” group of people and from your point of view, that makes you better than most other people. You have a group of friends instantly which you do not have to find by yourself because you are simply thrown into that group simply by being selected and paying for it. The desire to differentiate yourself keeps going; however, continuing into the desire to have sex with the most and most beautiful people. You are therefore thought as successful if you are able to attract the most people possible, which you can see in nature shows where the leader of the pack is the one with the most females under his control.

    • Sounds like a good summary. That’s what you get when you have a double standard that shames women’s sexuality so that men having sex with women looks like conquering them.

      And then that leads to all sorts of problems. Not only do women start feeling shamed and used — which hurts them — but men are hurt too. Because women feel shamed and used they try to suppress their sexual desire. And it tends to work. Now in America nearly half of women experience major sexual dysfunctions like low or no interest in sex, difficulty with orgasm, and painful sex. And a lot of women don’t realize they are sexually dysfunctional because they can orgasm– but they need a vibrator. It’s not natural to need technology to orgasm. So sexual dysfunction is widespread. Plus, since it takes more to interest women since desire for their partners tends to plummet in long-term relationships. Not so good for long-term relationships like marriage.

      And you would think than men would be hurt by knowing that their mothers, daughters, sisters and partners have been harmed.

  2. I thought you had spent considerable effort on this blog trying to convince us that in ancient cultures women were sexually free to hookup with whoever they wanted. Now you seem to be telling us that casual sex was invented by American frat boys.

    • Nope. Hook up culture is different from casual sex. Hook up culture is actually quite hostile to one’s partner. You have sex and then shame the person (if that person is a woman). It’s a game where men win and women lose. That’s not what happened in early partnership cultures.

  3. Seeing how the “hook up” culture came to be about is eye opening. Till this day I feel as if (some) fraternities are full of “elite” guys who just want sex, especially in big campuses. It’s not that crazy to think that the hook ups started from guys who just wanted to prove their wealth and have sex, but degrade women all at the same time. I don’t believe much has changed because when a girl sleeps with multiple guys, she’s a slut, yet when the guy does the same he gets praised.

  4. I do agree with what is being said here about hookup culture and its unpleasant socio-cultural roots. However, I believe there are some underlying reasons why our younger generations have been/are more susceptible to hookup culture. As the world around us portrays sexualized imagery and thoughts into the minds of the people, it is hard for the younger generations, who are so absorbed into the internet and technology, to look past simple, quick, physical arousal. They do not desire to put effort into creating or maintaining any emotionally romantic relationships for all the responsibilities they might bear. As a result, with the increasing growth of hookup culture among younger individuals, finding each new person to hookup with becomes a game to win the physical rewards; sex. This is enough to build an objectifying mentality within the people, but more so our culture itself. Overall, I think hookup culture is really preventing the downfall of female objectification in our society and only promotes unhealthy ideas that only push women further away from equality.

    • You make some good points. Interestingly, studies have shown that most young people don’t want to actually do hookup culture. Only 11% of them like it while 3/4 of both men and women prefer relationship sex.

  5. At my old school, I pledged for a sorority for five days, and we had to dress in a “schoolgirl” uniform every day as a part of our hazing. The other pledges and I were upset with the outfit (especially because pledging took place in February and we were in mini skirts), but the members explained that it was just a tradition, and they had gone through the same thing. Perhaps, though, it can be harmful that tradition is so important to Greek life. With beginnings like the one described in this article, it’s likely that outdated ideals are being kept alive by the practice of perpetuating traditions.

    • Yeah. And I’ve read that sometimes fraternities have influence on sorority hazing, and this one sounds rather patriarchal. So the sororities internalizing Male dominance.

  6. Amelia de Leon

    Men seem to have a fairly narrow band of ways that they respond to having their dominance threatened. As soon as women start getting educations and learning and getting more opportunities to work alongside men they have to start looking for how to tip the scale of inequality in their favor again. Using women sexually seems to often follow as next step. Using uneducated women who had few liberties and freedoms of her own was a form of basically kicking someone while they were down, and it can make you feel powerful in the moment but there is less ultimate satisfaction since there was never a real ‘threat’ like women coming into schools and workplaces. Sex is still a topic that people are easily distracted by and so can be used by people in privilege, typically white men to point wildly elsewhere and people will follow and they can reassert their dominance and seemingly feel like they are in the right to have all of the power.

  7. It is very incongruous the way that hookup culture works. The women work hard and get an education only to be degraded because they have sex. The men who find pride in having sex with them only did so because the women are educated; that factor does not change with sexual intercourse. Victim blaming, slut shaming, and rape culture, as I like to see it, is becoming more positive, although it is not at all how I would like it to be because it can improve further. People are rising up against the traditional sexual conquests which derived from the elite males. Celebrities such as Amber Rose who organizes SlutWalks bring light to rape culture and Bill O’Reilly an elite white male was recently removed from his show because of a sexual harassment charge. What the hookup culture was formerly, has undoubtedly contributed to these movements. Since in the early beginnings men performed these sexual conquests women became objectified and stigmatized. Through the absurd but real things women were and continue to be subjected to, there are movements which counter.

  8. I hope I’m not too far afield here, but it appears to me that there is an element of aristocrat thought still alive, and not just in Trump’s boasting of his power and dominance over women, but also in the wealthy conservative families as shown by their political domination and entanglement in conservative politics.

    Economy wise, I think the arrogance of aristocracy is best seen in supply-side economics (a redistribution of the collective wealth of the working class upward to the already wealthy–the new Gilded Age) and politicians completely detached from the working class.

    Perhaps the aristocratic mindset is a natural condition–the pinnacle of that superiority complex that masks our insecurities (i.e., “Everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on”).

    I say this because it seems that among conservatives (even down conservative society’s privilege-scale) there continues to be a strong disdain for the notion of equality and even equity, especially between men and women. Even the conservative working class and poor have been taught for a century that equality means socialism, which equates with communism. I run across this ignorance several times a week as I respond on blogs.

    Perhaps I’ve wandered off the core intent in the article, but I think it is all linked. I would hope that such arguments as John Rawls’ mental exercise (the “Veil of Ignorance”) would be taught early in high schools or even middle schools. The young should be taught early what equality of rights and equity of income mean. But, alas, it appears that ethics and civics are never a priority.

    • Yes, what you are talking about and with this article is talking about both fit under a domination mentality. Those on top or just more deserving than everyone else. I think it’s strange that some wealthy people do everything they can to get more for themselves even if that means others can’t have a living wage, or even a job. Why do these wealthy people need so much money? From what I’ve read it’s a game and they are competing with other wealthy elites to win.

      And then they keep the masses quiet by distracting them from the real cause of their problems. “The real problem is women taking men’s jobs for people of color taking white men’s jobs,” they say. When they are the real problem. A huge redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the top. But they put a lot of money into messaging right wing media and then worn the working class away from “liberal media.” You are so much more powerful if people only hear one side. Much easier to manipulate.

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