Is Hooking Up Good for Girls?

By | February 25th, 2010 | 117 comments

As a relationship advice columnist for Teen Vogue, I get a lot of mail from girls in “no strings attached” relationships. The girls describe themselves as “kind of” with a guy, “sort of” seeing him, or “hanging out” with him. The guy may be noncommittal, or worse, in another no-strings relationship. In the meantime, the girls have “fallen” for him or plead with me for advice on how to make him come around and be a real boyfriend.

These letters worry me. They signify a growing trend in girls’ sexual lives where they are giving themselves to guys on guys’ terms. They hook up first and ask later. The girls are expected to “be cool” about not formalizing the relationship. They repress their needs and feelings in order to maintain the connection. And they’re letting guys call the shots about when it gets serious.

My concern led me to Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus by sociologist Kathleen A. Bogle. It’s both a short history of dating culture and a study of the sexual habits of men and women on two college campuses. Hooking Up is a nonjudgmental window into the relational and sexual challenges facing young women today. It’s also a fascinating read.

Bogle opens with some downright cool history: In the first decade of the twentieth century, a young man could only see a woman of interest if she and her mother permitted him to “call” on them together. In other words, the women controlled the event.

Cut to a hundred years later: in today’s hook up culture, physical appearance, status and gender conformity determine who gets called on, and Jack, a sophomore, tells Bogle about party life at school: “Well, talking amongst my friends, we decided that girls travel in threes: there’s the hot one, there’s the fat one, and there’s the one that’s just there.” Er, we’ve come a long way, baby.

Like the girls who write to me at Teen Vogue, most of the women Bogle interviewed crammed their dreams of a boyfriend into casual connections determined entirely by the guys. Susan, a first year student, has a typical story: “…We started kissing and everything and then he never talked about…having it be a relationship. But I wanted…in my mind [I was thinking] like: ‘I want to be his girlfriend. I want to be his girlfriend.’….I didn’t want to bring it up and just [say] like: ‘So where do we stand?’ because I know guys don’t like that question.” Susan slept with the guy several times, never expressed her feelings, and ended the “relationship” hurt and dissatisfied.

Bogle’s interview subjects cope by using mental tricks like denial and fantasy to rationalize their choices, even going so far as to “fool themselves into believing they have a relationship when this is actually not the case.” They try to carve out emotional attachments within relationship categories determined by guys – “booty calls,” “friends with benefits,” etc. You can pretty much guess how that ends up.

According to Bogle, in the “dating era” (just the use of the word “era” tells you where college dating has gone), men asked women on dates with the hope that something sexual might happen at the end. Now, Bogle explains, “the sexual norm is reversed. College students…become sexual first and then maybe go on a date someday.”

So what’s the deal here? Is a world in which guys rule the result of the so-called man shortage on campus?  Fat chance. More likely, we’re enjoying some unintended spoils of the sexual revolution. As authors like Ariel Levy and Jean Kilbourne and Diane Levin have shown, the sexualization of girls and young women has been repackaged as girl power. Sexual freedom was supposed to be good for women, but somewhere along the way, the right to be responsible for your own orgasm became the privilege of being responsible for someone else’s.

Which is exactly what’s playing out on today’s college campuses. College men, Bogle writes, “are in a position of power,” where they control the intensity of relationships and determine if and when a relationship will become serious. In case you haven’t caught on yet, us liberated girls are supposed to call this “progress.”

To be sure, although it may be a form of “enlightened sexism,” the hook up culture kicks it old school when it comes to the sexual double standard. Bogle writes that the system is “fraught with pitfalls that can lead to being labeled a ‘slut.’” Hook up with too many guys in the same frat, or go too far on the first hook up, drink too much, act too crazy, dress revealing…you know the drill. It’s high school with a better fake ID. Women who went too far and hit the trip wire were “severely stigmatized” by men. Liberating indeed.

Now, just to be clear, I’m all for the freedom to hook up. But let’s face it: despite our desire to give women the freedom to plunder the bar scene and flex their sexual appetites, it would appear a whole lot of them are pretty happy playing by old school rules, thank you very much. Incidentally, one of the women smart enough to figure this out just sold her 5 billionth book, or something like that.

Does that make me a right-winger? Can I still be a feminist and say that I’m against this brand of sexual freedom?  I fear feminism has been backed into a corner here. It’s become antifeminist to want a guy to buy you dinner and hold the door for you. Yet – picture me ducking behind bullet proof glass as I type this — wasn’t there something about that framework that made more space for a young woman’s feelings and needs?

What, and who, are we losing to the new sexual freedom? I realize a guy buying you dinner is not the only alternative to the hook up culture (and I, like Bogle, am not discussing the lives of GLTBQ students here). Still, the question bears asking. Is this progress? Or did feminism get really drunk, go home with the wrong person, wake up in a strange bed and gasp, “Oh, God?”

Worth noting is one of Bogle’s more alarming findings:  young women inaccurately perceive how often and how far their peers are going to hook up. Bogle reports that, despite a 2001 study setting the virginity rate among college students between 25 and 39 percent, the beliefs that “everyone’s doing it” and “I’m the only virgin” are powerful influences on the sexual choices of young women.

Girls are no stranger to hook up culture, as my Teen Vogue readers demonstrate. So here’s my fear: if they get too comfortable deferring to “kind of” and “sort of” relationships, when do they learn to act on desire and advocate for themselves sexually? Will they import these patterns of repressing thoughts and feelings into the more formal dating arrangements that follow after college? Will young women feel pressure not to challenge hook up culture because it appears uncool, unfeminine or antifeminist? (hint, hint: college women, please comment and let me know if I’m off here.)

This book opened my eyes to the need to begin teaching girls to pull back the curtain on the all-powerful hook up culture and deconstruct its terms and conditions. I, for one, am hard at work on lesson plans.

UPDATE: In Which I Get Taken On and Schooled in Mostly Awesome Ways – Don’t miss Salon Broadsheet’s inimitable Kate Harding responding critically to my piece. Nona Willis Aronowitz offers an honest and compelling perspective on the importance of learning hard lessons about sex. I want to make a billboard out of Feministing Community’s Maya Dusenberry’s poetic take on what a feminist’s responsibility is today (it’s the last paragraph).  Amanda Marcotte sends up a searing rebuke. For another challenge, check out blogger Jaclyn Friedman’s post on a recent study that says casual sex does not damage young men or women psychologically. Finally, blogger Per rips me a new one here.

117 Responses to “Is Hooking Up Good for Girls?”

  • nycmom says:

    Just one more point. Kate Harding’s piece in Salon seemed to be talking mostly about hook-up culture in college and beyond. Fine. But what about the trickle down of hook-up culture to high school and middle school? I have a hard time believing that 12, 13, 14 . . . even 16-year-old girls are operating as narrators of their own sexual destiny when they engage in hooking up.

  • mccn says:

    I am curious as to the assumption that girls are “giving it up on guys’ terms” which seems to me (on my own assumption that it’s unfounded; if I’m wrong, and there are supportive data, I’d change my thought) to be full of sexist assumptions about how girls work and function.

    I’m a girl myself, and sometimes I have wanted just casual sex. Sometimes I’ve been content to keep it that way. But sometimes, my feelings have changed over time. What I want going into a relationship isn’t always what I want as it progresses – so I’m not sure that girls are “hooking up” because they’re repressing feelings – you could equally assume they hook up with a buncha people initially, develop feelings for a few, and then write to you asking where to go from there.

    Relationship models are changing fast, and we do need help learning how to deal with them. But boys want sex and girls want love sounds too tired and trite to really be entirely what’s going on here.

    • Rachel Simmons says:

      You make an excellent point here about evolving feelings. And yes, it is trite to suggest that girls want love and boys want sex. I didn’t mean to imply it, I was focusing on those people who write to me at TV and who Bogle writes about in her work — but I completely see how I came off that way and really appreciate the critical response! Thanks for your comment and voice here.

  • Maddie says:

    I loved your blog Rachel! I agree with a lot of the commenters that the negative effects aren’t limited to women, but otherwise agree with everything you’re saying. I’m not in college, and I don’t have enough experience with casual hook-ups to really know, but from talking to the few friends that I have that do hook-up on a regular basis, I definitely buy that it makes people settle for unsatisfactory relationships and not speak up about their feelings. I don’t think hooking up is a problem. People can definitely have healthy and positive “no-strings-attached” relationships, I guess I see the problem coming up when that’s the accepted status-quo; when speaking up against it, or even not wanting to partake is “uncool”.

    The part that I really related to, was the pressure that teenagers feel to be comfortable experimenting with their s-e-xuality and the mentality that “everybody’s doing it”. Whenever I tell people that I’ve never hooked up with a guy, I get this suprised “WHAT? NEVER? WHY?!” response. It’s embarrassing. I feel like there’s an expected and acceptable age for people to have their first kiss, first hookup, and lose their virginity. And if you’re not on track, there’s something wrong (you’re a prude, undesirable, etc.) I don’t know if that’s new, or even if hook up culture makes it worse, but I think it contributes to the problem of people not paying attention to their own desires and comfort level and accepting unhealthy relationships.
    Anyway, that’s my two cents. Great post! I’m digging the debate that’s going on here.

    • Rachel Simmons says:

      Hey Maddie, thanks for commenting here and for your honesty! You know, I had the same experience in high school, actually — the feeling of enormous pressure to hook up and keep up with others. It was crazy to read in Bogle’s book how powerful and inaccurate the pressure is. Unlike you, I didn’t have the courage to wait, so I pushed myself into sexual situations because I thought it would help me keep up with other girls (which I always find ironic…it was never about guys but making sure other girls knew I was as “cool” and as appropriately feminine as they were). Thanks for emphasizing this angle, and I really applaud your ability to know yourself and act on what you want.

  • Danielle says:

    What I’m completely missing in this article is the idea that perhaps girls can initiate hook-ups, and can be just as satisfied with a ‘friends with benefits’ sort of situation as guys. I’m in that situation myself, I was the one who initiated it, and I’m keeping a close eye on how my feelings and his feelings seem to develop; I feel that if either of us gets too serious whilst the other one doesn’t, the status of the relationship should be questioned and possibly broken up. So what if guys don’t like the question “so where do we stand?” – that question is essential to establishing a casual relationship where both parties know what they’re doing and what they can expect.

    Instead of discouraging girls from hook-ups, I think it’s far more important to encourage them to be vocal and honest about their feelings. That way, they don’t start expecting things from a casual relationship they’re never going to get, and the guy isn’t left with vague hints and wrong assumptions. Of course the responsibility of this shouldn’t solely rest on girls, and it would be great if guys in a casual relationship paid attention to the feelings of both parties as well – but you can’t go ahead and trust them without taking the same initiative yourself. If someone else doesn’t put the cards on the table girls, you have to do it yourself. But don’t get caught in a bad relationship because you didn’t say anything. Stand up for your desires AND your feelings.

    • So are you available to coach young women, because you sound so totally healthy about using your voice and advocating for your needs? :) Seriously — and I agree with you that it’s much more about getting young women feeling authorized to use their voices. As many people have noted here, it’s not just men who are in the driver’s seat at all. Thanks for your voice here.

  • nycmom says:

    I was with a group of mothers with kids in middle school last year and I was stunned by the way that the mothers who had older boys who were in high schol talked (with a combination of pride and bewilderment) about their sons “hooking up” with girls at parties and how it seemed not to bother their sons that they would make out with a girl and then 10 minutes later, she would be making out with one of their friends. I kept thinking about the girls in their story and how they felt about being passed around from boy to boy.

    • Wow, that is really scary. The party line is that most parents plug their ears about their adolescents’ sex lives. What you describe is the opposite. Although most commenters here are young women, I do wonder what parents are thinking. Thanks for your comment!

  • Jenn says:

    The growing presence of hook-up culture in America is undeniable, but I’ve often wondered if it’s just a phenomenon occurring solely in America (as part of college campus lifestyle). If we don’t see such an upswing in this behaviour in European countries, what lessons can be drawn. And I do think that the impact of hooking up instead of dating could potentially wreak more havoc on the lives and psyche of teenagers and young adults than their mid twenty and thirty year olds. What types of relationships will young adults be likely to form and maintain in adulthood if they’ve gone through adolescents settling for or only partaking in hook-ups. It seems like they may be losing essential skills for relationship building, confidence, assertiveness etc.

    • That is what I’m getting at, Jenn — and I want to take back something I wrote earlier to another commenter (that I’m just as worried about people in their 20s and 30s as I am about kids). I’m MORE worried about teens. I think you’re right that what you learn as a teen about relationships is formative. Thanks so much for commenting.

  • THIS POST IS FROM SEXUALITY EDUCATOR LOGAN LEVKOFF BUT WAS BLOCKED BY WORDPRESS:

    As a s-e-x-uality educator and strong supporter of women and girls, I am absolutely on board with Rachel’s post. I believe that girls are entitled to s-e-x-ual freedom, s-e-x-ual expression, and s-e-x-ual experimentation. It should be on their own terms and never at the behest of someone else. Yet the “hook up culture” isn’t on their terms; it’s not really on anyone’s terms. Don’t get me wrong. Sure, relationships can be based purely on s-e-x. Girls and boys are both capable in engaging in those types of relationships. But there are many cases where s-e-x comes first and someone (male or female) crosses their fingers in the hopes that their hook up evolves into a more meaningful, committed relationship. So the question is: if these encounters are not what people want, why do they have such a hard time speaking up? Why is it that talking about emotional intimacy and needs and desires is far more anxiety producing than getting naked and engaging in physically intimate behaviors? This has never made sense to me. I teach thousands of young women and men every year and I can assure you that many (of all genders) express dismay with this “culture.” Is it anti-s-e-x? No. Is it anti-feminist? No. Let’s be clear. If you can’t talk about your needs (physical, emotional, etc.), what’s the chance that your “hook up” is going to be physically or emotionally fulfilling? If we can’t speak up, what’s the chance that someone is going to demand protection – or pleasure – especially when he/she can’t even have a conversation about where (or where not) this pairing is going to go? This system benefits no one. Girls (and boys) buy in, but based on my experience, many of them would rather opt out. But they can’t. Because they want emotional and physical connection with someone else. They want to be attractive and loved by someone other than their parents. I get it. (That’s the one thing that makes perfect sense to me.) Yet that’s not really what anyone is getting. They’re getting s-e-x (not necessarily good s-e-x) without the connection that some (I said some) want. In the end, I hope that girls are speaking up for what they want. But I am not convinced that “the hook up culture” is the vehicle for success in that area.

    Logan Levkoff, Ph.D.
    Sexologist, Sexuality Educator, & Author
    http://www.loganlevkoff.com
    @LoganLevkoff

    • Hi Logan! I completely agree with your comment and especially with what you said about communication. “If you can’t talk about your needs (physical, emotional, etc.), what’s the chance that your “hook up” is going to be physically or emotionally fulfilling? When I talk to young women and men, many of them expess to me that they don’t know how to talk about their needs, wants, and desires in a direct way. There seems to be a ton of confusion surrounding it and I do think it is one of the reasons why the issue of sexual consent is such a gray area. Of course, the alcohol-culture that is the foundation of the hook up culture is probably the biggest factor in all of this.

  • Hi Rachel! I like what you have written about this volatile subject matter. Your blog creates a forum for pro-active dialogues to take place and that is just what is needed surrounding this topic. I have been documenting and researching the Hook Up Culture for over 3 years now.The startling facts and fall out from the “no-strings attached drunken sex model” can not be ignored or denied, no matter what politically correct opinions or social agendas people are coming from. I explore many of the issues in my documentary, Spitting Game: The College Hook Up Culture. It is a student driven, comprehensive overview of the risk, reasons, and realities students face within the hook up culture.

    • Thanks, Denice, for this comment – can’t wait to see your film and hopefully blog about it!

      • Hi Rachel! I realized that my other comments where related more to college levels–word press wasn’t digging some of the “strong” language I used. :-) So, thanks for posting THIS comment. One thing I wanted to bring to everyone’s attention about the hook up culture (as it is described by students) is that alcohol is not only the foundation, but it is the corner-stone of this culture. So, when we discuss the issues at hand within the hook up culture we need to be aware of how heavily alcohol consumption factors into all of this. Good communication rarely happens when alcohol is involved.

    • I love reading all the varied and informed comments about the “Hook Up Culture” I agree that the lack of direct communication is a key factor here. I also agree that knowing what you want and don’t want in any type of relationship, but especially in a sexual relationship is crucial. I am in sync with Dr. Logan Levkoff’s comments. My documentary covers the college hook up culture specificaly, but I have a 35 minute version taken from my feature that I bring to high school campuses. In creating my documentary, it was my intention to create “safe-space” for pro-active dialogues to take place. I am always impressed with the level of discussion I am fortunate enough to engage in with students at the high school level. They really want to know what is going on with sexual consent and relationships. I always have a long line of students waiting to talk to me after my screenings.I get the sense that they have not had too many adults that they feel safe talking to about this subject matter. It is my hope that I have created that space for them. Beyond that it is my mission to bring awareness and start real conversations about the pitfalls of the hook up culture and how we can empower young women and men toward choosing healthier relationships–that don’t rely on ALCOHOL for their social lubricant. http://www.collegehookupculture.com

  • Jess Moults says:

    There is a big hook up culture in todays world and amongst young people especially it is becoming more and more socially acceptable. I could probably name 4 or 5 hook up sites off the top of my head that both my male and female friends are signed up to. They are not just looking for sex, they are all looking for long lasting relationships but at the same time they are human and have human urges. These sites serve as a stop gap for sex until they find Mr or Mrs Right. I also think over the next 30 years it will become soo socially acceptable even sites like http://www.shagg.me will be able to advertise on billboards in broad daylight.

  • carol traynor says:

    Questioning hook up culture, and finding that it can hurt many women is not anti-feminist or right wing. The same way that having casual sex doesn’t automatically make you a feminist or liberated.

  • [...] the original: Is Hooking Up Good for Girls? « Rachel Simmons Share and [...]

  • Carmen Rios says:

    I really enjoyed this post. As Nancy said above, I’m a blogger for THE LINE and I’m really interested in thinking about hookup culture- an element of my life and the lives all around me at American U- from an academic standpoint and trying to dissect it. Nobody can really agree on it, it seems: who started it and why? Why do women do it if it sucks?

    Something I’ve settled on is the idea that exploration is really fun, but the missing piece is respect and communication. I know, from experience, from stories, from common sense, that the missing piece is real conversation. People who hook up talk to each other, but many times don’t know each other well enough to be comfortable actually talking about what’s going on. If we started out by respecting the power of consent, it could lead to a powerful concept of the power of mutuality- and discussions would be sprouting everywhere about hookups where people (huzzah!) did not find themselves confused by two completely different sets of wants and desires.

    Here’s to talking. Thanks so much for your voice.

    Best,
    Carmen

    http://whereisyourline.org
    http://oneyounglady.webs.com
    http://the-activista.tumblr.com

    • Carmen, yes, yes and yes! I think that is the missing piece indeed. Which is why, maybe, people look terrified when Nancy asks them to consider having sex sober with the lights on. Please stay in touch about your work. I look forward to reading your blog! Thanks again for commenting.

  • Shelby says:

    First, I agree with many of the comments that the hookup culture does not always have to be negative and that there are many women out there who are comfortable, happy, and fulfilled by a more casual relationship. However, as a current college senior who spent all of high school and the first half of college ruled by male-dominated casual relationships much like the ones you described in the article, I am SO GLAD that someone is speaking out reminding girls that it doesn’t have to be that way. It took me six years to figure out that what I wanted out of a relationship was more traditional, and it was my peers and my perception of the current culture that made me believe that a more traditional relationship was outdated or simply implausible to expect in today’s society. I am proud of the women who know what they want from a relationship and aren’t afraid to ask for it — whether it’s more traditional or less so. I appreciate you reminding those of us who are or were in unhealthy hook-up situations that there is another alternative and that, at the very least, a girl should think about what’s right for her before she acts.

    • Shelby, thank you so much for your comment. I really appreciate the support of a “younger” person — God, am I that old? — because there seems to be a pretty powerful generational divide here in the comments. Again, it’s that thing of feminism getting backed into a corner: why can’t someone want a traditional arrangement without getting called out for it? It’s great to have your voice here — please comment again!

  • Khalid says:

    Bravo. Great article. As much as I enjoy the spoils of the confused feminist willing to give it up for nothing in return, I’m shocked and saddened at how often this is the case. Having a strong relationship with my mother and sister, I recognize and appreciate the love and appreciate that a woman (and all people) deserve. BUT, I would have to agree that too many women and girls jump in sexually first in the guise of having power and control while in many cases their hearts and biology require more than just the hook up. As a man, we just want to populate the world with our seeds. Generalization? Yes. But the average speaks volumes. Women need to demand and expect more from us.

    Women have forgeten how much we’re willing to do and how far we’re willing to go for them. I tell my close women friends: Keep it until he’s ready to fight dragons and conquer worlds to get a little taste. Give it up to soon and easy – and you’ll be labelled.

    God. I feel like I’m a double agent working for the wrong side – sorry dudes.

    • Thanks for this comment! It’s so great having your perspective here. I’ve been really educated here about what guys are dealing with at the hands of women “in the driver’s seat,” so to speak. Does that resonate for you?

  • Rachel Simmons says:

    THIS COMMENT IS FROM NANCY SCHWARTZMAN – IT WAS BLOCKED BY WORD PRESS AND IS BEING POSTED BY ME

    Hmm… this is such a rich and fraught topic! Thanks for bringing it up. Yes, this article is hetero-focused, and yes it does emphasize the negative aspects of hook up culture, but in no way do I find it judgmental about youth and sexuality, instead it reflects a quandary that most young people are in.

    I tour college campuses with my film, THE LINE, which explores the line of consent and navigating sexual boundaries. Again and again I hear how dissatisfied most students are with their “sex lives” (if they can call it that). Young men & women, both. I’m scratching my head trying to figure out how having so much sexual contact and so few rules can be this unsatisfying, not fun, and not good? Yesterday at Stanford, I challenged the students to try having sex while sober & with the lights on. They actually looked terrified. This doesn’t mean that now and then students/straight/queer/men/women/teens don’t have a good night of hooking up – but hooking up as the *only* option? Not ideal for anyone, it seems.

    This sentiment is echoed on our blog by young people living in the culture. One of my wonderful intern/bloggers Carmen Rios wrote a post from the trenches called: “I Was the Grrrl Du Jour” an excerpt:

    THE LINE is about building a world where people are free to be sexual beings without being used or mistreated. Hookup culture disempowers even its bravest soldiers with “dude, I’m gettin’ some tonight;” even when women play the game, we’re expected to obey someone else’s rules. I’m disappointed because I deserve better than exploring my sexuality within a system that silences its worth, and in the future I’m not going to be stuck playing by disrespectful guidelines I didn’t author.

    I challenge all of us dreamers and educators to imagine a different frame-work, one that empowers and encourages young women’s sexual exploration and autonomy (Abstinence? No thanks. “Twilight”? No thanks), and enables young men to expand their notion of sex past gratification -now, and drunk, please.

    What does a better culture look like and how do we get there?
    A good start is listening to what young people have to say as they work to figure it out.

    http://www.whereisyourline.org
    http://twitter.com/thelinecampaign
    http://twitter.com/fancynancynyc

    • Nancy, thank you so much for this post — that is some challenge: having sex sober and with the lights on. Would love to watch you speak. I agree that the bigger point is about people’s “sex lives” in general, and I thank you for pointing that out. I got pretty fixated on the hook up because I was really into Bogle’s book. One thing you and i need to shoot the breeze about is the link between sexual consent and some of the lessons girls learn from each other in frenemy and bully situations. We’ll tawlk. Thanks, girl!

  • Blaine says:

    I understand how it seems that girls are losing all control and sexually liberated progress when succumbing to this “hook up” culture. Yes, it has become the norm and hookups aren’t ideal, mature relationships. But I don’t see it as dangerous, constricting, or antifeminist. You probably receive the majority if not all of your Teen Vogue letters from girls, but I think if guys were given the same forum, they would have similar concerns and questions. I personally was in what you call a “sort of” relationship for the majority of last semester, and I know that I was the one in the driver’s seat, determining when we would hang out and setting the limits of the hookup, as is the case for many girls I know. And it was enjoyable and exactly what I was looking for! I understand that this isn’t the case every time, but I think some credit needs to be given all college kids to learn to set their own boundaries, just as they must in many other realms while getting adjusted to the complete newness of college life. Hookups can be fun; they can be low-stress, and less work than a comprehensive relationship. I think people our age, especially girls, need a little less criticism and a bit more support in exploring sexuality and authenticity.

    • Blaine, thank you for this awesome comment. I totally overshot in my argument and really didn’t think about girls who may be in the driver’s seat. Thanks for keeping me in check. Such a good point about people needing to learn to set their own boundaries, too. You know how I feel about the “criticism” thing — I’m not criticizing, I’m responding to something with concern. As I said to Lauren in my comment below, and in the post, I’m all for hooking up; what I’m not for is research that finds women largely not in control of the terms of sexual engagement. It’s great to know there are exceptions, and I’ve duly noted it.

  • Steph Herold says:

    Rach! I have to admit I’m disappointed after reading this article. I sense a lot of judgment of young women’s sexuality and decisions. “Hook up culture” is a figment of the paranoid, conservative imagination, the older folks who are freaked out at the possibility that young people are having unorthodox, consensual, s-e-x outside the confines of a hetero monogamous relationship.

    I’d argue that the emails you’re receiving from girls through Teen Vogue are a bad sample to pick from. The women and girls who have good, healthy s-e-x experiences most likely would not write to you about their experiences, especially when female sexuality is often shamed instead of celebrated.

    How about talking to women and girls who enjoy their freedom of expression? Or the men/boys who feel hurt when they want a relationship with the girl they’re hooking up with, but she doesn’t? The sexist double standard that the female is always the one pining for commitment is inexcusable. I can’t believe it’s perpetrated here!

    I also am shocked by the heterosexual privilege of this article. I expected more from you.

    Sorry for having to spell out s-e-x : censorship abounds!

  • Lauren Herold says:

    As a feminist and a current college student, I’m really disappointed by this piece. It reproduces sexist assumptions about gender roles and power in relationships, generalizes about an entire generation, takes the idea of “hook up culture” for granted, and completely ignores the experiences of non-heterosexual and non-gender-conforming individuals.

    I agree that there are people who don’t enjoy casual hook ups. That’s fine, and great that they understand their desires and limits. But there ARE people who hook up and enjoy it! Why is that so hard to believe? Additionally, why is it socially acceptable and healthy for 20 and 30 somethings to hook up and but emotionally damaging and dangerous for high school and college students? It seems like ageism and fear of teenage sexuality are at play here.

    It sounds like underneath the moral panic about hook-up culture is a concern that women who ARE uncomfortable with hooking up don’t feel like they can discuss their emotions with their friends and partners. To me, that is the real issue. Let’s focus on encouraging people to explore their sexuality and desires and to find healthy ways of articulating these feelings, as opposed to making assumptions about what is good or bad for them.

    • Hey Lauren,
      First off, thanks for your thought-provoking comment. I think I could have been more careful about stipulating that i was speaking about a sector of the population, not “all girls.” My bad. Certainly there are many girls and young women who enjoy hooking up, and I — full disclosure — used to be one of them, back in the day. However, my point about feminism backing us into a corner is demonstrated in your comments: I should be able to talk about women’s powerlessness in a sexual culture without being told that I’m reproducing sexist assumptions. Therein, for me, lies a real dilemma that I am wrestling with in feminism. As for ageism…I’m just as concerned about women in their 20s and 30s as I am college students. I’m focusing here on young women as identified in bogle’s research and in my own sample, however skewed, of Teen Vogue readers. I could not agree with you more that the bottom line is we must get people to authentically connect with and explore their sexuality, and give them permission to find healthy ways of articulating their feelings. Later, chica.

  • J says:

    Guys…in control…of the dating culture? Are you kidding me? What planet do you live on? Not when I was in college (5 years ago) and not since. But then again, I guess I’m an outlier as far as your data set goes. I was never looking for just sex and what I’ve found over and over are women who ARE just looking for sex.

    have fun with that.

  • Susan Walsh says:

    I am delighted to see Teen Vogue’s relationship columnist lay it on the line about hookup culture. A little over a year ago I started blogging about this very issue. I had no idea where it would take me, and I have certainly run afoul of the feminist establishment. What I’ve found though, is a real community of girls AND GUYS who are pretty miserable with the status quo. Come by and check it out, I think I’ve got some lesson plans you might like!

    Susan Walsh
    http://www.HookingUpSmart.com

    • I am looking forward to checking out your website over the weekend, Susan – thanks for commenting and for your support. The generational divide here is pretty fascinating, don’t you think?

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