The worst part being that this behavior is so widely accepted and expected that it is nearly impossible for girls to escape some form of mistreatment.
The Rise of Hookup Sexual Culture on American College Campuses
Skip to main content. It shows the other side of spring break. It does not glorify, nor shame casual hookup culture but seeks to understand it. The women interviewed voiced the same fears we all have. So, Lisa, does hookup culture have anything to do with what some people would call rape culture? Yes, I would argue that hookup culture is a rape culture in that it facilitates and excuses behaviors that translate into sexual assault.
Can you expand on that?
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I mean, there are enthusiasts who would basically say, you know, we're just exercising, you know, our free choice, we're not constrained by the norms that might have hindered a prior generation. What's wrong with people experimenting, trying new things, figuring out who they really are? So part of the reason we see hookup culture on college campuses can be traced back to the sexual revolution and the women's movement.
And the women's movement wanted two things for women, both sexually and otherwise. They wanted women to have the opportunity to do the things that men do and to embody masculine traits and interests.
And they wanted everyone to sit up and notice that the things women had been doing all along and the traits and interests that they were believed to have were also valuable. And we really only got half of that. So the feminists succeeded in convincing America, for the most part, that women should be allowed to do what men do and even have masculine traits. But we never really got around to valuing the things that we define as feminine.
So a young woman who's growing up in America today is going to - she's going to be told by most - not all parents are like this. But most parents are going to encourage their daughters to mix in masculine traits and interests into her personality.
And they're even going to encourage her to do so and perhaps reward her more so when she does that than when she incorporates feminine personality traits. So we're excited when she likes to play with engineering toys when she's a kid. And we're excited when she chooses sports over cheerleading. And we're excited that she decides to major in physics instead of education. And so women have been getting this message.
If they're paying any attention at all it's very clear that, as they say, well-behaved women rarely make history. We reward you, we think it's great when you act like we think a stereotypical man does. So then when they get to campus, that's what they try to do.
And it should surprise none of us that many women on campus decide to approach sexuality the same way they've been rewarded for approaching everything else in their lives, with this idea of the thing to do, the way to be liberated is to act in the way I think a stereotypical man might. So, you know, while there are lots of people who do say that hookups can be liberating, one of the young women we spoke with said she actually feels a little trapped. I think girls know when they're being used.
And I think it feels bad to be used. And that means that you're not hooking up with anybody. So there's something heartbreaking about that question, Lisa, because it sounds like what this young woman is saying is that she recognizes that she feels she is being used, but she feels she doesn't have a choice but to be used. There are not a lot of good options for women in hookup culture that don't truly enjoy casual sex. And there are some that do. But for the rest of them, they're kind of faced with two options.
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One is that they don't participate in any sexual activity at all, which also means never getting into any sort of romantic relationship with someone. And the other is passing through this period with a person, the hookup period, with the hopes of coming out the other end as that person's girlfriend.
And there's something different about the double standard on college campuses. It used to be - right? And if women just, quote, unquote, "behaved herself," she could probably stay in the good girl camp, although there's no guarantee. But today, men still have this power to put women into one of these groups.
But they put basically all women into the bad girl group, all women they're hooking up with anyway, and then have the power at some point to decide, oh, I've been hooking up with you for a while, now I'm going to decide that I like you. And now I'm going to treat you with respect and as an equal. If a woman wants a relationship where at some point she'll be treated with respect and as an equal, then she has to go through this period where she's not those things. So women's options are either opt out of hookup culture altogether or expose herself to this period where she's treated disrespectfully in the hopes that it translates into something better on the other end.
One of the women we talked with actually describes a situation very much like this but also describes a dilemma which she faced, which is even when she likes someone that she's hooked up with, the rules of hookup culture prevent her from telling the other person what she actually wants.
Or like, oh, that kind of guy that hooks up with a girl and doesn't let go. Like, that's not really a thing people talk about versus the, like, the girl who hooks up once and just - and falls in love with you and never leaves you alone. That's - yeah, that crazy girl. Yeah, that's a thing. And we so desperately don't want to look like that. So when, you know, you hook up with someone that you actually really liked and you really wanted to be with them and then they don't text you back and so it's over.
That sounds like a terrible place to be in because you're going through hookup culture to try and find a relationship, but the rules demand that you can't actually ask for one. She used the word desperately, which is interesting. I argue in the book that the worst thing a student can be called these days isn't slut and it's not even prude, although that one's a big one, it's desperate. So if the rule is that we're supposed to be having meaningless sex and we're enacting all the things that enable us to keep that illusion going, even when that's not how people actually feel, then it's against the rules for them to say, I actually quite like you.
And this is gendered in that to be disinterested in a hookup partner is less believable than men's, even when they're actually quite good at this. And so men tend to assume that all women are interested in having a relationship with them, whether they are or not, which makes men even more sort of standoffish after a hookup than they otherwise would be 'cause they're assuming the girl just wants to get with them. And it puts women in the position of trying to prove that they aren't the kind of person who wants to get with the guy she just hooked up with. And so then she's even more standoffish than she would be otherwise.
And because the rule is to care less than the other person, then this creates this downward spiral. We've talked a little bit, Lisa, about how hookup culture might not be serving women very well on campus. But I also get the sense from your book that it might not be serving men very well. Laughter Men are human beings and so are women. And they have all kinds of different needs that are not served by hookup culture. Hookup culture serves a stereotypical idea of a man.
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There are some guys and some women that are like that, that really do thrive in that. But most students want a different mix of opportunities. And when you ask, actually, men are more likely than women by a few percentage points to say that they wish they could be in a relationship.
Having meaningful relationships, having meaningful sexual experiences that are kind - that's something that everyone wants, certainly not just women. So you write in the book that hookup culture demands carelessness, rewards callousness and punishes kindness.
Both men and women are free to have sex, but neither is entirely free to love. That sounds pretty depressing. However, most students overestimate the amount of hookups in which their peers engage. One study has found that the strongest predictor of hookup behavior was previous experience hooking up. Subculture can affect gender roles and sexuality, and youth subcultures are particularly susceptible to peer pressure. Most predictors among males and females rarely differ. One third of gay and bisexual college men have met an anonymous sexual partner in a public place such as a park, bookstore, or restroom.
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The trend toward marrying later may be what is fueling the hookup scene on college campuses. Another study was based on a survey of over 18, college students from ages 18— This survey asked questions like how many sexual partners they have had since graduating high school, how many sexual partners per year, and how many times per week they have sex. Many female college students explained how the "frat boy" perfectly embodies the persona of a sex driven male. Hooking up generally refers to having sex; however, many others indicated that when they say hooking up they are referring to something less than intercourse.
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