November 17, 2009

Hooking Up: Today’s Rewards For The 1960s Sexual Revolution

The Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, aided by women's and gay liberation movements, have made for greater acceptance of casual sex, or "hooking up", on campuses.

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The Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, aided by women’s and gay liberation movements, have made for greater acceptance of casual sex, or “hooking up”, on campuses.  While many celebrate the freedom to hookup, others are expressing concern for safety and health.

What Is Hooking-Up?

Hooking up has emerged as a new trend on college campuses across the United States, and some say it appears among high school students as well.

Today, we see young adults getting together to have sex outside of the context of dating and marriage.  For some, this is simply a one-time thing soon after meeting, while for others it can be a regularly occurring encounter with the same partner (sometimes called “friends with benefits”).

Though we know about how common hooking up is today from research by scholars like Paula England and Kathleen Bogle, we see that there is no universal definition of “hooking up.”  Sometimes it simply means oral sex, or mutual masturbation and “heavy petting”, and sometimes it means sexual intercourse.

As I’ve noted in an earlier post, we tend to be vague and unclear about the specifics surrounding sexual activity in general, so it comes as no surprise that there is no clear, universal definition of hooking up.

So, Why Should There Be Any Concern?

What concerns could we expect aside from the obvious concern about hooking up from groups who would rather adults wait until marriage to have sex?  (This assumes that everyone will get married and can get married.)

Unfortunately, England has found a significant orgasm gap in her research on hooking up experiences of college students, at least in heterosexual hooking up. In almost every case, men can expect to orgasm, but women are often left in the cold.  Men are more likely to initiate hook ups, and hook ups often happen after consuming alcohol.

These points raise concern for women’s ability to maximize their sexual pleasure, including reaching orgasm, but also in terms of fully consensual sex, as consent is difficult to negotiate if you or your partners are not sober enough to give a fully-informed “yes” or “no” to certain activities.

Proceed, But With Caution

I am not the type of person to suggest avoiding an activity all together because of potential risks involved.  Nothing in life is risk-free, even sex within a monogamous, marital relationship!  Young adults, well, really all adults, should enjoy their sexualities, but, of course, while being safe.

This does not only mean in terms of using contraceptives and other means to reduce one’s exposure to sexually transmitted infections.  But, I also mean adults should be safe about their social and emotional selves as well.  Be sure to have open communication with your partners about what you like, what you don’t like, and what you’re seeking in the end (or that you don’t yet know!).

Make sure you are capable of consenting and receiving consent to engage in certain activities.  Hook up all you want, so long as you’re being healthy and safe.

  • So the trend continues, from sex in marriage, to sex in committed relationships, to sex in casual relationships, to sex with anyone. I realise that some see this as good thing, as liberating or more fair. The women who are putting out and being left hight and dry might not feel so liberated.

    All of that aside, what about the reality that sex connects us (read up on oxytocin). Repeated hooking up damages our ability to connect, making long term relationships difficult or disastrous. There is plenty of good science on this for those who care to look it up.

  • viviopsis

    It would be interesting to see studies conducted on this issue that distinguish between consensual, female-empowered “hooking up” and things that amount to date rape or coercive sex. (Also, less heteronormative studies should also be sought after.)

    Rape culture definitely permeates campuses on a level that is disproportionate to other settings; how can we change this? And how can we empower women to enjoy sex and feel comfortable demanding the same amount of attention/satisfaction as their male partners?

    Paul's mention of oxytocin also raises a few points of interest. How do we reconcile data that suggests that hooking up can ruin long term relationships with data that suggests that women who are sexually liberated have more satisfying relationships? I'm not completely informed on the subject, but isn't oxycotin usually released in women who reach orgasm? What does this mean for the women who hook up but are neglected by their partners? I'd really like to hear your take on this.

  • “In almost every case, men can expect to orgasm, but women are often left in the cold. Men are more likely to initiate hook ups, and hook ups often happen after consuming alcohol.”

    This is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of female psychology. The truth is that women are often the initiators of sex. Women often give subtle cues showing interest, so as to make it appear that men are initiating. Men typically respond to these subtle cues. In this way the woman can preserve her status and not be looked at as a “slut.”

    Often, though, women can be quite blatant in showing their interest.