Review: The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy

The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy
The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy by Donna Freitas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is a paradox here. On the one hand, Donna Freitas sees a pervasive hook-up culture of casual, impersonal sex, and at the same time an end of “good sex” and meaningful relationships. The title gives some clues to resolving this paradox and the early chapters help us see very quickly that hookup culture–the casual sexual encounter between usually highly inebriated students with little or no communication and (supposedly) no emotional connection is in fact a barrier to deeply satisfying relationships and sexual experience.

She chronicles the rituals of hookup culture on campuses including theme parties that all are variants of “pimps and hos” that require women to dress up in skimpy and skanky outfits that play to men’s pornographic sexual fantasies. (She wonders at points if this was what women like Gloria Steinem went to the barricades to fight for!) And through her interviews with both women and men, she discovers that many (not all, however) are ambivalent or deeply dissatisfied by this culture while feeling trapped in a “this is the way the game is played” world. A few escape either through a series of hookups with the same person that lead into a relationship, through opting out by some temporary or longer form of abstinence, or even through the discovery of the lost art of dating.

This last was stunning to me. On some campuses, the author describes either herself or student life personnel teaching students how to have a date, including asking the person out, who pays, what to do, where to go, refraining from alcohol, or physical interaction more than an “A frame hug”. She actually encourages parents and other adults to talk about their own dating lives, arguing that there are many in the campus culture that are actually clueless about all this–there is either “hanging out” or “hookups” but little else according to her.

I do not doubt the existence of the things she describes. At the same time (and perhaps it’s the circles I run in), I wonder if this is quite as prevalent as the author contends. Perhaps it depends to some degree on the campus and the particular options available to students. At very least, it seems there are plenty of alternatives and social opportunities for students dissatisfied with this form of interaction.

Freitas, without moralizing, is trying to initiate a serious conversation about sexuality on campus that goes beyond the “safe sex” and “no means no” conversations that typify much of the sexual guidance college students received that basically assumes hookup culture. While she assumes that many will engage in sexual intimacy outside the traditional structures of marriage, she contends for sexuality that is meaningful in relationships as the context for the best sex. What she does want is for students to be empowered to make their own decisions about their sexuality apart from the party, hookup culture that many feel compelled to participate in or be marginalized. At the same time she uses the language of virginity and abstinence, albeit at times redefined, in the context of strategies of “opting out”. She even asks (without spelling out her own views) questions about the meaning of sexuality–is there something that makes sexual intimacy “special”? If her project succeeds one wonders if some will even find their way back to a sexual ethic deemed traditional, prudish, and ethical, but one that allows relationships to flourish and even sexuality to flourish in the safest context of all, committed, covenantal relationships?

Stranger things have happened…

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3 thoughts on “Review: The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy

  1. Pingback: The Most Important Area of Our Personal Life | Advanced Dating Advice

  2. Pingback: Higher Education Books « Bob on Books

  3. Pingback: Review: Consent on Campus | Bob on Books

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