Hookup culture permeates the college experience. Thousands of students witness themselves and their friends willingly participating in hooking-up without conscious regard for the consequences. Author and Boston University professor Donna Frietas uses extensive research she conducted to examine how hook-up culture impacts sex and romance in her latest book The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy.
Freitas surveyed thousands of college students and concluded that men and women are dissatisfied with hookup culture, but are incapable of escaping it. She describes the hookup culture produces “bad sex, boring sex, drunken sex you don’t remember, sex you couldn’t care less about, sex where desire is absent, sex that you have just because everyone else is too or that just happens.” Freitas asserts 41 percent of college students felt “sadness” and “despair” when recalling their hook-ups and these feelings and experiences have an extended impact on students as they begin seeking life-partners.
“The sheer amount of repression and suppression of emotion required for living in the context of hookup culture teaches young adults (or tries to teach them) not to feel at all,’’ she writes in The End of Sex. “In pretending that what happens after dark on campus doesn’t matter, we are failing these young people and fooling ourselves about our roles as educators and parents.”
Cultural critics and academics have differing viewpoints on The End of Sex. Professor David Masciotra agrees with Freitas, citing his experience on college campuses as the basis for his assertion. He writes in a review of the book on The Atlantic:
Freitas’s work is important because it offers a third way toward sexual independence and autonomy in an America caught between Puritanism and pornography. Rather than morally condemning college students for promiscuity or telling them to treat romance with the detached analysis of the headhunter, she is promising them that better sex—more fun, excitement, and intensity—is available if they only invest more of themselves than their genitals into the experience.
Despite Masciotra’s points of agreement, he also sees Freitas’ solutions as problematic. In The End of Sex, the author suggests feminists are responsible for the perpetuation of the hookup culture by encouraging the separation of sex and love. She also encourages professors to integrate dialogue about sex and intimacy into all of their general-education courses. Masciotra problematizes these proposed resolutions, calling them “dubious.” He deflects blame on hip-hop and other shifts in popular culture, rather than placing fault on professors and parents. Masciotra writes:
Professors and parents can intercept these questions, but most college students will probably ignore their answers. Pop culture is in the best position to reframe the romantic approach of teenagers and 20somethings. The shift from the sensuality and sweetness of Smokey Robinson and Motown to the aggression and misogyny of Jay Z and hip hop is one of many pop cultural changes indicating how entertainment reinforces and shapes hookup culture.
Millennials, including Policy Mic’s associate editor of culture Laura Donovan, disagree with Freitas. Donovan views hookup culture as a viable aspect of the college experience without real-world ramifications. She writes:
As we’ve seen on shows like HBO’s “Girls” and perhaps in our own lives, hook-ups can leave young people feeling unsatisfied, unloved, and used. These aren’t ideal experiences to have, but they aren’t enough to destroy a person, even a vulnerable 20-something with a slew of post-grad/college student (read: first world) problems and immense uncertainty, and that’s why Freitus’ analysis of the hook-up culture is over-the-top and underestimates the resilience of young people.
Donovan also sees potential ramifications from hookup culture, but doesn’t think it defines her character.
Why are millennials being defined by sexuality, and what’s the harm in learning what we like and don’t like? If anything, the hook-up culture showed me and my friends that we have to be careful, both physically and emotionally. People who engage in the hook-up culture have to be mindful of STDs, but they also need to learn their boundaries. I haven’t cried over a member of the opposite sex in years because every guy I’ve interacted with since graduating college has been better than the last, and I can now laugh about some of the duds I spent time with (and hooked up with) in my student days. If you like the hook-up culture, it’ll always make room for you. If it’s not for you, you’re free to look elsewhere for something lasting, whether through online dating, blind dates, social groups, friends, the possibilities are endless. The reality is that you have options, and you don’t deserve to be judged for which one(s) you select.
Acclaimed writer Hanna Rosin stirred feathers when she equated hookup culture with America’s workaholic culture in The End of Men. She has not responded to release of Freitas’ book, but her words resonate within the context of this conversation.
Single young women in their sexual prime—that is, their 20s and early 30s, the same age as the women at the business-school party—are for the first time in history more successful, on average, than the single young men around them. They are more likely to have a college degree and, in aggregate, they make more money. What makes this remarkable development possible is not just the pill or legal abortion but the whole new landscape of sexual freedom—the ability to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don’t derail education or career. To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture. And to a surprising degree, it is women—not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.
The constant discourse surrounding the hookup culture should be encouraged and continued, but not at the expense of women’s agency.
Do you think the hookup culture is detrimental to women?