April 23, 2014

Creating A Culture Of Care: Looking At Hooking Up And Consent

"Hooking up" in itself isn't always problematic, but the accompanied lack of consent and sexual communication can be.

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Justin Garcia

Justin Garcia

Recently, a group of around 25 students assembled at Sex Ed: A Real Conversation on Hook-Up Culture in College. The talk, which was part of Culture of Care week and Sexual Health Tuesday, was lead by Dr. Justin Garcia of the Kinsey Institute and Leslie Fasone, Culture of Care Coordinator.

“I talk about sex a lot. I’m wonderful at cocktail parties,” Garcia sheepishly said after Fasone introduced him as “the national expert on hook up culture.” Garcia said that a lot of his work focuses on “emerging adulthood,” and that he wants to tie that into hook up culture.

The discussion centered around how hook up culture seems to have replaced dating within college, and the importance of consent within this new culture. With the use of cell phones, the discussion was made interactive by allowing the listeners to participate by anonymously texting their answers to questions about hooking up, alcohol/drug use, and giving and receiving consent.

What is hooking up, exactly?

Much debate has occurred over what exactly “hooking up” means. Garcia asked the listeners to take out their cell phones, and on the overhead projector, the question “What happens in a typical hookup?” was posed. There was a different code for several actions: vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, oral sex, sexual touching, kissing, ANY of the above, and NONE of the above. As people texted in their answer codes, the screen automatically adjusted and displayed bar graphs. “ANY of the above” won with 15 votes.

After that question, the participants were asked what they did the last time they hooked up, and the majority reported vaginal intercourse, with three answering oral sex. When asked how many people they had hooked up with in the past 12 months, the majority of participants answered three or under, while four reported 4-10.

Is hooking up the new dating culture?

“Not necessarily,” Garcia said. Hooking up and casual sex aren’t new, but what is new is the decline in dating.

“Hooking up” has become pervasive in American culture with its “no strings attached” attitude. Garcia stressed that hooking up is not always a problem — and that positive things have come out if it, like young people being able to figure out who they are and what they want sexually. But the fact that courtship rituals are changing from dating to hooking up raises implications. “Waking up next to someone you don’t know is indicative of a lack of communication,” he said.

Expectations with hooking up

According to one of his studies in 2008, Garcia said that when hooking up, men are comfortable with touching, oral sex, and intercourse, while women start to become uncomfortable with oral and beyond. Furthermore, men tend to think that women are comfortable with all of the listed sexual acts, while women actually underestimate how comfortable men are with them.

When asked for a possible explanation as to why this happens, a participant offered that once a woman says “yes” to one act, she might be too afraid to say “no” to another act. Garcia agreed with this, noting that there’s an “expectation that you are obligated to do D, E, and F if you do A, B, and C.”

“Are people having these conversations?” he asked. “Why are they not having them?”

Hooking up and consent

The conversation turned to Fasone, who said that seeing those graphs blew her mind. Another question was posed to the participants– “The last time you hooked up, how did you give consent?” The categories included explicit verbal (for example: “Do you want to have sex with me?”), non-explicit verbal (asking for a condom), nonverbal (eye contact, undressing), and “It just happened” (no one said no). Explicit verbal won with seven votes, with nonverbal coming in close with six. Only one person texted in “It just happened.”

The results were similar when it was asked how they received consent, with eight reporting in nonverbal and five with explicit verbal.

Fasone noted that most of the students who came to the discussion were women, which lead to her next point– that women communicate consent more verbally, while men do it mostly through body language. And when it comes to interpreting consent from a partner, women use a mixture of verbal and nonverbal signs, while men still rely on nonverbal.

“How do we change this culture?” Fasone asked. Nearing the end of the discussion, she talked about recent examples of college-aged men making light of rape or encouraging it. Fasone pointed out how many of these messages are sent toward freshmen, and that the riskiest time to be sexually assaulted is during the first and second years of college.

Creating a culture of care

These messages really speak for the culture college students are living in, Fasone said. She said that in order to address this culture, there are three major points: don’t participate in making light of rape, speak out against it, and address victim blaming.

When navigating hook up culture through the lens of consent, there are several things Fasone mentioned that you can do to make sure your friends are safe. When out with friends, make sure to stick together and leave together. Make a plan for getting home– keep emergency numbers in your phone. Charge your phone before going out so you can keep in touch with friends. Take turns not drinking and watching out for each other. Fasone recommended the Circle of 6 app. Don’t be afraid to intervene if you see a friend in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation– try spilling your drink or tripping to defuse the tension and get them back with your group. And always believe and support your friend if they tell you they have been assaulted.

On a fitting note, the discussion ended by showing an anti-rape clip with the message that “Real men treat women with respect.”

Rachel Cox is a journalism and gender studies major. She hopes to write about LGBTQ and feminist issues, especially regarding sexuality and gender. In her spare time she reads geeky sci-fi books and plays games where she can collect dragons.