What’s Wrong With Hooking Up?

By Lisa Wade

Crossposted from Ms. and Sociological Images

Hanna Rosin, senior editor at The Atlantic and author of The End of Men, has written a piece about hook-up culture on and off college campuses for the September issue of her magazine. Given that I’ve done some research on hook-up culture, here are my two cents: Rosin isn’t wrong to argue that the culture offers women sexual opportunities and independence, but she mischaracterizes the objections to hook-up culture and draws too rosy a conclusion.

Those who wring their hands and “lament” hook-up culture, Rosin contends, do so because they think women are giving it up too easily, a practice that will inevitably leave them heartbroken. She writes:

[Critics of hook up culture pine] for an earlier time, when fathers protected ‘innocent’ girls from ‘punks’ and predators, and when girls understood it was their role to also protect themselves.

If this is the problem, the answer is less sex and more (sexless?) relationships. But, Rosin rightly argues, this wrongly stereotypes women as fragile flowers whose self-esteem lies between their legs. It also romanticizes relationships. Drawing on the fantastic research of sociologists Laura Hamilton and Elizabeth A. Armstrong, she explains that young women often find serious relationships with men to be distracting; staying single (and hooking up for fun) is one way to protect their own educational and career paths.

All this is true and so, Rosin concludes, hook-up culture is “an engine of female progress—one being harnessed and driven by women themselves.”

Well, not exactly. Yes, women get to choose to have sex with men casually and many do. And some women truly enjoy hook-up culture, while others who like it less still learn a lot about themselves and feel grateful for the experiences. I make this argument with my colleague, Caroline Heldman, in Hooking Up and Opting Out: Negotiating Sex in the First Year of College [PDF].

But what young women don’t control is the context in which they have sex. The problem with hook-up culture is not casual sex, nor is it the fact that some women are choosing it; it’s the sexism that encourages men to treat women like pawns and requires women to be just as cunning and manipulative if they want to be in the game; it’s the relentless pressure to be hot that makes some women feel like shit all the time and the rest feel like shit some of the time; it’s the heterosexism that marginalizes and excludes true experimentation with same-sex desire; and it’s the intolerance towards people who would rather be in relationships or practice abstinence (considered boring, pathetic or weird by many advocates of hook-up culture, including, perhaps, Rosin).

Fundamentally, what’s wrong with hook-up culture is the antagonistic, competitive and malevolent attitude towards one’s sexual partners. College students largely aren’t experimenting with sexuality nicely. Hook ups aren’t, on the whole, mutually satisfying, strongly consensual, experimental affairs during which both partners express concern for the others’ pleasure. They’re repetitive, awkward and confusing sexual encounters in which men have orgasms more than twice as often as women:

The problem with hook-up culture, then, is not that people are friends with benefits. It’s that they’re not. As one of my students concluded about one of her hook-up partners: “You could have labeled it friends with benefits … without the friendship, maybe?”

Hook-up culture is an “engine of female progress” only if we take for granted that our destination is a caricature of male sexuality, one in which sex is a game with a winner and a loser. But do we really want sex to be competitive? Is “keep[ing] pace with the boys,” as Rosin puts it, really what liberation looks like? I think we can do better.

Crossposted from Ms. Magazine and Sociological Images

Professor Lisa Wade is the author of American Hookup

You might also like to hear her thoughts on millennial’s and modern sexuality at her blog Sociological Images.

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 September 18, 2017, in sex and sexuality, sexism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. the term hooking up sounds like a bit of a fling or that’s how I tend to interpret it. casual sex in my view is like you’re giving somebody the run around (in other words there’s always that chance of making a woman pregnant and just disappearing never to be seen or heard from again while a woman falls pregnant without a clue who the father is or if she knows who the father is they are no longer in the picture). the decision to have sex is not a decision that should be taken lightly well that’s what I’ve heard often enough because too many people in this day and age go through relationships like changing underwear. I’m probably going totally off track but it’s just my views.

  2. I think that many, if not most, researchers underestimate the degree of patriarchy in almost all societies on this planet. We’re inundated with propaganda from the moment we are born from everyone. Your questions are essential. I know I try hard to fight its hold on my thoughts, but it seeps in from all around me and sometimes I am part of spreading its message.

    • I know that I have caught myself with patriarchal notions that are unconsciously embedded in my brain. Yeah, it’s a pervasive. We can only overcome it as we become conscious of it.

  3. If you only think of Rosen’s progress conclusion in terms of very old concepts that confine women to traditional roles it makes sense, even if true equality has yet to be achieved. So hook-up culture, however seriously flawed, probably beats Puritan culture.

  4. There’s nothing wrong with casual sex so long as there’s mutual respect, and hook-up culture is aggressively disrespectful. I’m sure I’ve heard it said that hook-up sex is the art of having sex at someone, not with them.

  5. So the ultimate question of existence is: how can we all stop feel like shit? I recently started to wonder whether any people around who actually don’t.

  6. Does social practices come from biological consequences, or social practices are the result of arbitrary social, moral thinking?
    If you take out the biological factor out of the question, do this, should change out our moral behavior?
    Are women to be dissociated from love, affection, and biological responsibility, leading to the family cell? So they can experience sexual freedom?
    Freedom of what?
    Since I suspect a lot of the men are into hooking up, to enjoy freely the sex, and avoid of the responsibility?
    It’s not this a catch 22 to for women?
    Does hooking up change on men the look of women, as a mere sexual object?
    Or on the contrary, elevate women as equal to men?
    The question should be if a lot of women feel like shit after, what purpose it serve if not for the guys to have sexual fun with no strings attached?
    Should women in order to be equal to men should have a turn on, and turn off switch attached?
    These and many other questions come into mind,
    Thank you for your provocative posts. 🙂

    • Men and women do sexuality differently in different cultures. In some cultures both men and women behave very similarly to each other. So that suggests that culture is having a big effect.

      I feel that there should not be a double standard and hook up culture actually depends on a double standard even as it seems to reject it. Because typically women are put down for participating in it even as they are encouraged to do it. It’s a double behind where there is no good choice, which you tend to find in patriarchal cultures.

      I feel that people should only behave in ways that feel good and authentic to them.

      And only 11% of the college population – men and women included – enjoy hook up culture. According to one study.

  7. Look I am not upholding one behavior better than another one, or casting moral judgment to the 11% college population, which it is a really small percentage of the population, but receive a lot hype, and may be a fad that may reach it’s heyday and fade away.
    I believe everyone has the right to fly their butt as a kite, if they choose freely to do so, but how many are doing it freely? I mean these are young people and they want to belong, and they could be easy victims of peer pressure?
    According to your post:

    “Fundamentally, what’s wrong with hook-up culture is the antagonistic, competitive and malevolent attitude towards one’s sexual partners. College students largely aren’t experimenting with sexuality nicely. Hook ups aren’t, on the whole, mutually satisfying, strongly consensual, experimental affairs during which both partners express concern for the others’ pleasure. They’re repetitive, awkward and confusing sexual encounters in which men have orgasms more than twice as often as women:

    The problem with hook-up culture, then, is not that people are friends with benefits. It’s that they’re not. As one of my students concluded about one of her hook-up partners: “You could have labeled it friends with benefits … without the friendship, maybe?”

    In my view there is a lot more than that, it put women at a disadvantage, and very likely the one to suffer the most if there is negative consequences when things do not go right.

    But if both partners agree, and there is no sore losers after the fact, hey, it’s their business!
    I just have concern for those women who get the short end of the stick, and point to the obvious, many men in college want fun, and no strings attached, how many women really just want that as well? Period. 🙂

    • Part of the reason I do my blog is so that people can become more informed and able to make more informed choices. I’m hoping that women who read my blog and are doing hook up culture only because they feel pressured will think again and realize that they don’t have to.

      I would also like for people to fight things like double standards. Many times you don’t even see that you have a choice to follow them or not when they’re part of your culture and are so taken for granted that they feel natural and normal. You internalize it and then you actually lose choice.

  8. Yeah, I dont like that hook up culture at all. I have never ever ever done it and never will. Unlike the majority of relationships these days, I grew up in a two parent family. My mom met my dad when she was 17 and she married him a month later. AFter 8 kids and 40 years they are still together. I dont hook up because I owe that to my parents. Sure we all get a little lusty(horny). Sure, after watching soap all afternoon, we wish we coud melt into someone’s arms and just let fo of all inhibitions. But honestly I would be disrespecting my family, myself, and women everywhere. I can honestly say that I am a celibate individual. And believe me, celibacy sucks. I dont know how many times I meet these guys who never call me again when they find out I lead a clean and moral life. Then I have a friend who is like the sweetest girl n the world, but she ends up sleeping with every guy she goes out with, usually on or before the first date. I love her to death, but because of her, guys assume that I’m going to do the same thing…..which I refuse. YEs, its a really lonely lifestyle. But I never worry about pregnancy and I never worry about STD’s. It gives me true peace of mind. I know that I am setting a good example for other’s around me. Back about 20 years ago, no one said bad words unless they were really mad. These days, there is so much profanity people swear every 10 seconds. Back in the day, it was a necessity to be virginal. But if people keep, hooking up, what reason would there be for marriage. Honestly men dont even need to pay or dates anymore. They can skip dinner and go straight to the bedroom. Men love to hook up, but if its their sister of their daughter, they probably see things different. I’m really really hoping that people wake up and re-elevate sex to the level of secrecy and intimacy that it deserves.

  9. mohammed mohammed

    i think before we form an opinion about hooking up and judge those who choose to do it ,we first must understand that every case is different . believe in gender equality and that every person should have the right to do whatever the choose with their body and yes unforgettably when a guy has one stand ,he wouldn’t be judged for it and people would only say “well he just a guy” , on the other hand when a girl does then she would be called a slat .I agree with Laura Hamilton that some women choose hooking up over relationships as one way to protect their own educational and career paths and i totally understand that because there men who are intimidated by strong women and we will try to get on the way of his wife/girlfriend success so he won’t feel less about himself so if I honestly respect a women who have to the courage to put herself first .If i have a daughter one day ,my first advise to her will be ( DON’T COMPRISE WHO YOU ARE OR WHO YOU WANT TO BE FOR ANYTHING OR ANYONE )

  10. “Hook-up culture is an “engine of female progress” only if we take for granted that our destination is a caricature of male sexuality, one in which sex is a game with a winner and a loser.” The fact that people view sex as a game between the sexes is what gets people into this debate in the first place. Not speaking for everyone but I think that sex has the ability to be mutually beneficial when two people involved are willing to communicate fully and openly about what it is that they want.
    The people that view hook up culture as a man’s world and that the women are simply a pawn to be toyed with are wrong and I believe living in the wrong time zone. Women have just as much say in sexual acts as men do and calling them cunning and manipulative simply for doing what men is also a double standard. This culture doesn’t stop people from experimenting with their sexual desires. It pushes them to express themselves in ways people would have shunned years ago. Women and men have become more empowered in speaking up about what and who they want more than ever because of this ‘hook up culture’. But with sexual freedom, comes predators becoming more bold and brazen in today’s society. It therefore falls on us to keep the conversation open and also remind women and men to be mindful and also remain vigilant to protect themselves.

    • It’s just hard to get outside of our taken for granted notions – like that sex is a game that men win and women lose unless you bring it to people attention. It doesn’t occur to most people who are raised in a culture that teaches this to see it any other way.

  11. MirandaCaitlin23

    I genuinely believe that there are two sides to this topic that both have a large amount of truth to them. A woman who chooses to have numerous hookups with many different men, in my experience, is acting on her sexual desires as a temporary fix to her insecurities. My best friend uses sexual encounters with men as a way of getting their attention which in turn makes her feel “desired” or “wanted” for a split second. Deep down she is saddened that she doesn’t have someone who likes her for more than just her body, but in reality that is all she is willing to give them. I believe that women should have the freedom to do what they want with their bodies without being “slut shamed”, but I don’t believe constant random hookups is the way to go.

  12. Now these days theres a lot of hooking up I think some people do it because there stressed or just wanna have fun but in this generation people would criticize you on depending on your body count ! I also believe hooking up with other people should be safe and should get to know the other people if they plan to have sexual intercourse ad check if they have any diseases. I believe as well that your body is a temple so you should respect it. So if I was to choose hooking up with other people or respecting my body i would rather respect myself and wait for a while until i really get to know the person and we have a strong relationship. To wrap all this up i think you should wait until you have a strong relationship with that person and not just hook up for fun !

  13. I find this topic interesting since one nightstands are mostly praised when men have them, but women are shamed for having them. I agree with Rosin that women are treated as if they are “fragile flowers whose self esteem lies between their legs.” Even the whole concept of virginity is sexist. Women are seen as not pure once they loose it but men are praised for it. Women are slut shamed for hook-ups but called “prudes” if they choose not to have a lot of sex. It is a double standard. There is no way out of it. Either way you are shamed. There is nothing wrong with casual sex. We are all human beings who have desires and a person’s sex life shouldn’t be anyone else’s business but their own.

  14. As I do believe most of this is true, the hook-up culture is viewed in many different ways. In my opinion, there are also many sides to this culture. I think guys tend to judge girls automatically based on how they portray themselves and how they look, talk, etc… And it may be different from a girls perspective. Girls might think that all guys want to do s hook-up and leave, mostly to just see how far a guy can go with a girl then gossip to there friend and brag about Jane Doe (for example). I don’t think a guy and or girl should be judged on who they would like to have a fling with. Yes, its a part of nature. Hooking up is okay, to certain limitations and or standards. As long as your true to yourself and get your point across to the person you might be “hooking up” with.

  15. I think the most important thing about “doing better” is to get education, to develop the ability to control themselves. I am strongly believed in the philosopher called “Wang Yangming” in ancient China. I think everyone can judge anything. Is this wrong or right. The difficulty is how to do. I mean how to do the action that is followed what do you think, because everyone can figure out the right judgement, but many of them can’t control themselves. Basically like smoking is harmful, but there are lots of people still do it. The way to build this kind of ability is keep facing problems. Don’t be afraid to manage problems and don’t try to escaping from troubles. After building this kind of ability ,women can decide what to do by themselves. I don’t think hooking up culture is wrong. Everyone has different requirement. Just don’t violate your own value.

Thoughts? (Comments will appear after moderation)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: