“Sexual freedom” is not a new thing on university campuses. At least since the 1960s and likely before, campuses were hardly celibate enclaves. What is a newer development is the “hookup” culture. Donna Freitas has been chronicling this first in Sex and the Soul and now in The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy. I’m currently reading the latter book. Working on a campus, I’m well aware of most of what she writes, but I still find her narrative extremely disturbing.
Two chapters in the middle of the book have been especially so, because of the misbegotten ways women and men are trying to conform to their perception of social expectations. She chronicles how women are accessing the internet porn men watch in order to present themselves in the ways they think men want them–basically as whores who exist to satisfy male sexual whims. By the same token, interviews with men reveal many are deeply ambivalent about “hookup” culture, doing “it” often as much to impress other men as out of any real sexual desire.
Freitas contends that in this hyper-pressurized world of social expectations, neither sex is able to connect these experiences with sexual desire or intimacy. It’s all about not feeling (which accounts for the role alcohol plays in this culture). The thing I wonder is why so many surrender their real longings and identity to satisfying what they think are the perceptions of others? I can understand this in high school, but why has this become such a powerful force at the university level? Is it the ubiquitous character of social media in which people tweet and post about their experiences and about others?
The serious business of this has to do with safety–physical and emotional. When not feeling and not communicating (which are the primary “rules” of hook up sex) govern relationships, where is the line between consent and rape? Where is protection from sexually transmitted diseases? And where is the protection of the heart, when so often one person really does want more from this? Campus campaigns for “safe sex” and “no means no” go out the window in this climate.
There is the hope that in reflective moments students might ask “why do I put myself and others at risk for what, in my most honest moments, isn’t actually that pleasurable?” An even deeper question is “what kind of person do I want to be and are my sexual choices consistent with that kind of person?” An even harder question is “what do I do when I fail to live up to my moral aspirations?” Of course, the challenge is unplugging from the steady stream of input from our smartphones, computers, and, oh yes, classes, long enough to engage in that kind of reflection.
What are your thoughts about campus hook up culture? Is the picture as negative as Freitas paints it? And how do we understand what drives it?