On Hookup Culture

On Hookup Culture

(This post is a response to the Salon article Hooking up as a core requirement:  Casual sex in college isn’t optional anymore, “it’s an imperative” by Philip Eil).

I’ll start with a reflection on my positionality:  as an undergraduate college student in my early twenties, I am naturally suspicious of any Gen-X or Baby Boomer who makes declarative statements about my generation. I would argue that there are enough articles out there criticizing Millennials about their apparent entitlement, impatience, and laziness to legitimize my suspicions. Thus, I will admit that I went into this article highly skeptical of the claims Wade was making, as hookup culture is an often demonized social phenomenon associated with Millenials. I also tend to be wary of anything that looks like it might want to suppress sexual expression, something we’ve seen frequently since the Victorian Era. While there were points where I disagreed with Wade, however, I do really like and appreciate a number of ideas she addressed.

As a point of disagreement, I personally would widen “hookup culture” beyond just drunken sex and makeouts. To me, hookup culture is more like a social environment where sexual activity outside of a relationship is more acceptable, and that behavior may involve alcohol or not. I do not wish to deny that alcohol is very often a factor in hookups, and is especially prominent in instances of sexual assault, but do want to assert that the hookup culture of colleges does involve soberness, too. Reflecting on my own experiences, I have been in a couple situations that involved some sort of “hookup,” but did not involve alcohol or any sort of formal romantic relationship. For me, these were a way of exploring my sexulaity and I think are maybe some of the more positive examples of hookup culture at work.

Wade also discusses what she called a modern obsession with sexuality on college campuses, but I’m not sure if this is really a new phenomenon. In the middle of the last century, women frequently went to universities seeking their MRS degrees, and while this was more relationship seeking than sex seeking, sexuality does play a role. I think this history is important to acknowledge in studying how the role of sexuality in the college setting has changed over time.

I do still want to highlight two points Wade makes that I think are really important. She acknowledges that while students may be talking about sex more now than ever before, that does not necessarily mean they are having more sex, just that that sex looks different to that of generations before. Too often arguments about moral decay center around the scandalous amount of sex the new generation is having, and I appreciate that Wade addressed this myth.

Additionally, Wade addresses the unique position of women on college campuses. In the environment of hookup culture, if you do not engage in casual sex, there is a sense that you are not truly a “modern” or “liberated” woman. This is a perverse situation where “freeing” women from sexual repressions means forcing them to engage in sexual activity they may not be comfortable with. This is an important piece of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position of young women in society today.

Here at MSU, I think our student body is too big and too diverse for there to be the isolation that Wade speaks about with regards to those who decide to “opt-out” of hookup culture and drunkworld. We have so many organizations and student groups, both official and unofficial, that make it easy for even very introverted people to find those with similar passions and interests. Yes, we do have a significant portion of students who like to go out drinking and engage in hookup culture, as is clear to anyone who has ever stood on a corner and people-watched on Grand River on a Saturday night, but I do not believe it is as harmfully pervasive as Wade suggests. I think this may be more the case on smaller campuses, where there are less options about who to know and what to do, and thus less ability to opt-out of these activities.