Is Hooking Up Good for Girls?

By | February 25th, 2010 | 119 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.

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

  • C.L. says:

    I’m a college student, and my experience hasn’t really been like this post describes. I’ve hooked up a couple times at parties, but I didn’t expect anything to come from it, it was just for fun. The real relationships I’ve had at college (only 2) were both people I knew (not just from parties), and we started “dating” before it got physical. (Not necessarily the whole door-holding thing, but just we were exclusively together before we ever had sex.)
    I do know some people who favor casual experiences over relationships, but I don’t know anyone (on my campus) who is dissatisfied with the “hookup culture.”
    I really hope girls out there aren’t giving in to stuff that’s uncomfortable for them just because they feel like they have to. In my experience, if you make it clear to a guy that you’re going to to take it slowly (even if you’re not exclusive yet!) there’s a lot more respect both ways, and in spite of stereotypes, he may be just fine with it. If not, dump his ass.

  • Nina says:

    I am an undergrad student and this post is exactly right on. All the women I talk to are unsatisfied that dating and sexual relationship are dictated on guys’ terms, but feel that hooking up is the only option. I also think there is a huge ammount of sexism that props this system up…girls are dealing with pressure to be the “cool girl” to be “chill” and not “freak out” or be “clingy”. What this realy means is that girls are not encouraged to speak up about what they want. Thanks for writing about this issue. I am a college-aged feminist and I think that hook up culture hurts women and provides them with fewer options, not more.

    • Haley says:

      i think you make a lot of really strong points here, esp. that girls are being pressured to not define and speak up for what they need in a relationship. I know that i didn’t speak up in my last ‘relationship’. I didn’t want to be annoying and uncool by asking for a more committed relationship, and as you said, i felt that hooking up and casually dating was our only option. anyways, i agree with your other point this is offering girls less options for relationships.

  • Rose says:

    Also, I think the assumption that not being into “hooking up” means you’re into “traditional ways of doing things” is a false dichotomy. Personally, I prefer committed relationships (though I see nothing wrong with casual sex; it’s jsut not for me), because I’m a very private person and sharing my intimate self with people I don’t care deeply about is hard for me. However, that does not mean that I want something out of the 1950s. I’m assertive about what I want from a partner. I don’t like chivalry or, really, rigid gender roles in general. And on top of that, I’m bisexual. There’s a lot of middle-ground between the two extremes you present. I think when you get down to it, most people want to feel that they’re loved, and I feel like that might be the reason so many girls end up feeling attached to their “random” partners. Assuming it means they automatically also want the guy to pay for their dates and shower them with gifts on Valentine’s Day is a huge jump to make.

  • Annie B says:

    Why exclude ‘GLTBQ’ from the debate when they are getting just as ‘shafted’. More so, maybe, as the ‘don’t dare ask for a relationship or any real respect or anything YOU want because that makes you a whiny demanding bitch no one will want’ is probably as bad – or worse – for them. Can you imagine the mockery if a MALE ( worse – a GAY male) dared suggest that he might like a little tenderness and reasureance and wasn’t ready for sex without that? And that is just one example to illuminate a spectrum.

  • Rose says:

    For me, the reason “hook-up culture” isn’t good for girls isn’t because we’re predisposed to prefer traditional, committed relationships. I know a lot of girls who love hooking up. I think the problem is more that hook-up culture, as explained by Ariel Levy in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs, ultimately becomes about fulfilling the men’s sexual desires and the women’s taking a back seat. But her book isn’t saying that casual sex is inherently “bad” nor that traditional relationships are preferable. I think there can be a model of “casual sex” that respects both partners’ desires, it just isn’t the one found on college campuses – because so many girls buy the line that succumbing to what their partner wants is “empowering,” and because they feel they can’t get someone if they choose to, say, not shave down there, or they don’t like “facials.”

  • Sarah says:

    I think one of the biggest problems is pretty well demonstrated by many comments made on this piece: people need to be “mature” and “know themselves” in order to hook up (but not to have a relationship?), people like hooking up because they’re “very sexual” and have a “big sexual appetite” (implying those who don’t hook-up don’t?), etc.

    Men have already been getting “prude-shamed” for years. We’re getting the same situation now with young women. Women are shamed into having sex that they don’t want, not necessarily because they want “relationships” and can’t get them, but because they’re worried that otherwise they won’t be seen as “sexual” or “liberated” or “empowered”.

    Add into the fact that women disproportionately suffer the risks of those STIs which transfer despite use of a condom, and the whole thing seems like a sad joke.

    • Rachel Simmons says:

      Prude-shamed….that is so fascinating and I have never heard the phrase. Thanks for this comment — it does point, as several comments do, to the impact of gender norms and expectations on sexual behavior. Needing to be “seen as” is a very dangerous reason to do anything, especially sex. Thanks for your voice here.

  • Hannah says:

    I do think that women should hold the reigns more often, so to speak. We should be empowered, and demand open communication as to the person’s intentions before having sexual activity. It should never just be just the man’s job to bring up the subject of a relationship.

  • earthling says:

    “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?”

    I don’t believe so, no. Because the man is still in control. Behaviour like this looks like courtesy but in fact it is just patronising (assuming women are poor and weak, basically). What about if you have a need for an equal relationship, where you don’t feel pressure to ‘put out’ just because you have been treated to dinner? What if you would like to hold a door open for your male date, or initiate sex with him, or indeed anything else a man is ‘supposed’ to do?

    Here’s a radical idea: instead of deciding which male-dominated relationship culture is best for us, how about we work to create our own one? Where boys and men are encouraged to say to girls and women: “Hey, what do you want? How do you feel?” and we say it back in equal measure, and thus arrive at an honest relationship where we basically treat each other like human beings.

    Wanting a relationship needn’t mean wanting to live in the 1950s.

  • Kerri says:

    From a college graduate and Feminist’s perspective:

    I believe that in order to “Hook Up” with a guy using the “No Strings Attached” factor, you have to realize that it’s just fun. The minute you put your emotions on the line, you’re in trouble.

    When I was in college, I preferred hooking up over a relationship. College was stressful enough with homework, papers and deadlines. Why stress your personal life with a relationship? In college, “Hook Ups” are a way to escape the crazy, hectic daytime nonsense of school by having some physical fun and possibly getting each other off.

    You have to be 110% comfortable with yourself first and foremost as well as being mature in order to be involved in the “No Strings Attached” activities. Maturity is a really important factor. You can’t be doing the whole “high school drama” once you involve yourself in these situations. Right off the bat, you are displaying lack of maturity. I realize, not everyone (and I mean guys and girls) can put there emotions aside for an orgasm. Therefore, don’t do anything that’s going to hurt your heart later. If you are ‘in love/like’ with the guy/girl, don’t have a one night stand with them, because you’ll regret it later. Also, don’t think once you sleep with them that you can change them and make them have this relationship. You can’t change a a person (especially a guy) if you already laid your cards out on the table and designated that the two of you were going to be “No Strings Attached” “Hook Up” Buddies.

    I hate the fact that people, particularly guys, believe that once a woman sleeps with a man she’s gonna get attached and fall for him. This is completely false and I disagree with this statement. Not all women are like that and no one should ever generalize! I know I have an extremely huge sexual appetite, but I don’t go off and plan a wedding for every guy I have slept with.

    The bottom line is this, in order to do the act of “hooking up” you have to be in the right state of mind which is emotionally and physically secure with yourself. If you know you cannot do it, that’s okay. Not everyone can (and this speaks for guys and girls).

    I have not read Bogle’s book yet, but from the passages you have post it, I’d probably throw it out the window because I completely disagree with some of the things she is stating. She’s from a different generation trying to understand and solve why the present generation is the way it is. When you are born in another generation, you’re going to have problems accepting what is going on with the present generation.

    Also, Simmons, I have to point out that you are receiving letters from teenagers (via Teen Vogue) so the ages are probably more from the 12-18 age bracket. These girls aren’t old enough to understand “Real Love”, “Real Relationships” and what the whole “No Strings Attached” factor is. This goes back to the maturity idea. They are getting involved physically because, they like the guy and want to do whatever will make them closer to them, it’s what they see in the media and because their hormones are crazy at these ages and they cannot control them or understand them.

    I believe your article should have been called: “Is Hooking Up Good for Teenage Girls?” because the letters you are receiving are from teenagers, yet you are comparing them to Bogle’s book which is based on “Hook Ups” on College Campuses. Two different age brackets and two different maturities entirely.

    • Rachel Simmons says:

      You make some excellent points here, including the fact that I should not compare girls to young women in college. True that. Still, I would disagree that teen girls are too young to understand real love or no strings attached. Ironically, that sounds a bit like the age-disconnect you are saying Bogle and possibly I am showing. I think the first part of your comment reads like a coaching manual for healthy hook ups, and I hope a lot of people read it. frankly, I think the more we articulate what an ideal or healthy situation looks like — as you do above — the more we give girls a healthy script to use as they hook up. Thanks so much for your voice here.

    • Sarah says:

      So if hooking up without being hurt requires no emotional investment, how to tread the line between being respectful yet uninvolved and dehumanizing/objectifying a hook up partner? Most people can’t tread that line well, and to some extent hook up culture seems to encourage dehumanization of sex partners and depersonalization of sex. If it involves objectification of another, even if it’s equal objectification, I don’t think it can be considered feminist, unproblematic, or even healthy.

  • Haley says:

    First of all, this was a great article for me because last semester I had my real first encounter with casual sex. I had been getting to know this guy, and I thought it was going somewhere, like an actual relationship. Turns out, that wasn’t exactly what he had in mind. After a few “dates?” , (i say dates with a question mark b/c i had no clue where we stood) we had sex, and for a month or so after that first time, we continued to have casual hang outs that always ended up in something sexual, which was okay with me but i was under the assumption (as many girls are) that we would get serious after having sex…
    But I didn’t know what he would do to make it a real relationship, did i have to bring it up? , did he specifically have to ask me to go out on a date, and to a nice restaurant, etc?
    In the end, i went off to college in another state and i never figured out if he really liked me more than a hook up or if i had just lost my virginity to a guy i have hopelessly fallen for who has no interest in making me his girlfriend. my reason for not ever addressing my feelings about the situation with him is b/c i didnt want to ruin the little thing we had and if he really had no interest in a real relationship, i didnt want to be the one falling on the floor wiht a strong attachment.

  • imayer says:

    Hey, just another vote (as a college female) that the issue at hand is the same one from the 1950s, that women don’t feel able to express what they want. As previously mentioned, plenty of women want hook-ups, just like plenty of women want dating and vice-versa (personally I’ve run into far more men who want to date than hook-up, so stereotypes be damned). But – just like 1950s girls staying home hoping the man they want will call on them, instead of asking him out themselves – lots of girls today are waiting to get what they want instead of going after it. (see Women Don’t Ask – Babcock & Laschever: unrelated to relationships, but very relevant psychological studies)
    (note: again ignoring GLBT* people for this conversation)

    • Shannon says:

      I agree with this comment. This article is putting women into a category and assuming that they are all discontent with today’s culture. No one really knows how many women fell victimized by it and how many women feel empowered by it. I for one would be very upset if I didn’t have my casual flings.

    • Jason (24, Canada) says:

      Thank you imayer!

      I too view this largely as a failure to express what one wants. The commenters who made their desires known seemed happy with the experience, while those who didn’t were unhappy. It didn’t matter if they were seeking NSA or a relationship, the common thread was voicing/acting on their expectations. Why is it such a big surprise that getting what you want is largely a function of asking for it?

      I’m not overly knowledgeable on feminism, but this type of assertiveness is essential to all aspects of life for both men and women. From salary negotiation to planning a vacation, you will get burned without this skill. It’s not just relationships. Teaching it should be a priority to any person lacking. If women happen to be disproportionately so, then this priority should also be a feminist one.

      These young men may be evil henchmen of the patriarchy, or they may simply be filling the void of female wishes with 1) their own desires or 2) cultural expectations of them if they are also lacking assertiveness. Either way, everyone stands to gain by learning to voice their needs.

  • emily says:

    I think this can definitely be a tricky subject, seeing as how we have and still do live in a patriarchy. I’ve been there -the making out with a guy at a party, and then thinking something might come of it- sort of thing. Honestly though, anyone who is just going to go ahead and hook up with someone should not. expect. anything. Why would you? If you like hooking up (safely) just for fun, then more power to you. Girls need to take control and be the ones who make the rules. Too many girls swoon over boys like they are celebs or something. Or they fantasize that he will be a white knight. Or they posses a bad boy characteristic that the girls think they can change. Girls need to start calling the shots more, they need to start measuring up the guys and seeing if the guys are good enough for THEM. Girls need to start being more aggressive in the way they deal will boys, not be so passive. What do these boys have to offer YOU? Girls need to stop chasing after loser boys and getting in cat fights with each other over stupid boys, and they need to to start acting as though the boys need to make a good impression on THEM.

  • shinobi says:

    I think I have a problem with how rigid the gender roles are in this argument.

    I’ve been in a lot of hookup relationships (I’m a woman) and for my part they were always casual. However I did find out in the course of several of them that the man I was with wanted more than that.

    It always concerned me to find out that they were not totally on board with the idea of a casual relationship either. They wanted a real committed hold the door for me and take me out to dinner thing, but they felt pressured socially and I guess by me as well to give in to what I wanted. (after all what kind of guy are you if you pass on casual NSA sex?)

    I think that the message needs to be more encouragement for everyone to be assertive and honest about their wants and needs in a relationship, be it a “hook up” or a more formal “dating” arrangement.

    But I also think that some of that comes with experience and that learning to stand up for yourself in a relationship is something you sometimes learn to do after you have a couple.

  • Sasha says:

    Perhaps your opinion is too heavily informed by the self-selective sample of girls who write to Teen Vogue.
    I am an 18 year old female student who has casual sex because I have a (pretty big) sexual appetite, not because “everyone else is doing it” or because I necessarily want to date someone. More often than not, casual sexual relationships end mutually and amicably. And if one of us ends up getting attached, it’s just as likely, if not more likely, to be him, not me.

    • Rachel Simmons says:

      Thanks for your comment….I really appreciate your voice and clearly did not account for someone like you, who is self-aware and self-advocating. And as has been pointed out several times here, I did not think about the guys who end up getting attached. Thanks for making these points.

  • Rachel says:

    On my small campus, I’ve heard more than once that there’s not much dating but a lot of hooking up. We have constant events sponsored by the college that attempt to promote dating.
    However, I came to college in a committed relationship, so I don’t consider myself a part of the hook up culture and I don’t have any evidence of it beyond word of mouth.

  • Meghan says:

    I see this with my little sister–7 years younger–unfulfilling sexual relationship after another. I had the same experience–even relationships I wanted to define as casual ended up giving the power to the dude, who acted as though he was constantly trying to fend off my emotional attachment to him.

    My advice to her, over and over again, which she is now seeking in the wake of about 7! unsuccessful encounters is this: hook-up out of your zipcode, don’t expect anything, and if you never see him again you can imagine you had something sweet rather than realize what a huge douche you had sex with. If it’s somebody you will see–take your time. Allow the douche to show himself and save yourself the embarrassment of having really undervalued yourself.

    Example–most disgusting text message ever from a guy she didn’t hook up with–about how childish she was for not hooking up with him and how she should go back to high school. To my hurt, 19 year old sister I say–you dodged a bullet. Try to dodge some more.

    • Rachel Simmons says:

      Wow, that is a most disgusting text. Your use of the word “douche” is apt. What I’d love to think more about is how masculinity pushes guys to behave in sexual contexts…I’m not talking here about the ones who are struggling like girls (mentioned by several commenters here), but the ones who perceive that emotionless sexual conquest is an affirmation of manliness. Thanks for sharing your story here.

  • Suslin says:

    I don’t think you’re giving college kids enough credit here. They know what they want, and some are more influenced by their peers than others. College is a time to try things and find out WHAT you’re after. If you don’t know you’re really after a relationship, being casual might help you learn that. If you’re in a relationship and try the whole casual thing, that might help you learn.

    Point is: nobody necessarily knows what they want right away. Everyone wants different things at different points in their life. There’s no right or wrong thing to want, but your point still holds that no one should be pressured into suppressing their desires so as to be seen as “cool”.

    • Rachel Simmons says:

      Yes….I totally did not account for the importance of experimentation and the benefit that a hook-up offers of being able to feel things out. As you already know, I’m worried about the ones who feel pressured, and the ones who don’t advocate for themselves in relationships. Thanks for your comment!

  • Marle says:

    The problem isn’t hooking up. The problem is that people who don’t want to hook up feel like they don’t have a choice. The obvious solution is to let people who don’t want to hook up not, and don’t give them shit for it, and let people who do want to hook up do, and not give them shit for it.

    • Rachel Simmons says:

      Agreed. The pressure that is felt — by men and women alike — is intense. It’s so intertwined with gender norms and expectations…seems to me education about how strict gender rules can influence sexual choices is very important here. Thanks for your comment!

  • Tanz says:

    I agree with this article entirely; it’s what I see my sister’s friends (late teens, early twenties) dealing with all the time. The problem is that there is pressure out there on young women to surpress their needs and desires in order to ‘catch their man’. Some girls want a more casual approach to things and aren’t into relationships, and that’s cool. But those who are hide it and then find themselves dissatisfied. I think we women need to make it clear that it’s OK to stand up for what you want – whether that’s a free sexual rein or a more traditional approach.

    • Rachel Simmons says:

      Exactly! What I’m realizing now is just how much the Curse of the Good Girl — that need to be “nice” and say yes rather than no — can be sexual. I think I need to go there a little more in my research. Thanks for your comment!

  • Per says:

    You can “talk about women’s powerlessness in a sexual culture without being told that [you’re] reproducing sexist assumptions.” It’s easier if you don’t, you know, reproduce sexist assumptions.

    The problem is that you’re treating “what men want” — sex — and “what women want” — relationships — as somehow obvious and natural, rather than recognizing them as the result of patriarchal conditioning. By reinforcing these stereotypes, you become part of the problem.

    I dealt with this more fully here.

    • Rachel Simmons says:

      I responded on your blog but didn’t see it come up in the comments — hope it made it through. Please let me know if it didn’t and I’ll retype. I will say here — because I’m not sure I saw this exact point on your blog — that I’m afraid we can’t chalk up women’s and men’s sexual desires entirely to conditioning. When I wrote Odd Girl Out, I made the same argument about female aggression. The only reason females use rumor spreading, relationship damage, etc. is because they’re conditioned to by a culture expecting them to be nice all that time. While this is very much true, even largely true, there are some very difficult-to-challenge signs that there may be a biological basis for these behaviors. I would imagine the same is true for sex. That doesn’t mean we can’t challenge norms or question them, obviously. But I can’t agree that it’s all about conditioning.

      • Per says:

        Your response didn’t come up on my blog, by the way.

        Referring to evidence of a biological basis for differences in attitudes to relationships, you say, “I would imagine the same is true for sex.” Your willingness to assume — in the absence of evidence — that differences between men and women are rooted in biology is troubling. The burden of proof has to be on the people who believe such a biological basis exists.

        This is especially true since I find that studies that purport to prove the roots of these differences in biological differences are often way over-interpreted. They tend to make one of two mistakes: either they prove only that women do have a higher prevalence of (insert neurotransmitter here), neglecting the possibility that this prevalence is affected by environmental differences, or, if they do find biological roots, but neglect environmental effects on the way a neurotransmitter is interpreted (the same neurotransmitter can turn into a number of actual emotional reactions, depending on set and setting — just ask anyone who’s had a bad trip).

        But even supposing there is some biological connection, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to treat it as inevitable that women want relationships and men want sex — just like evidence that some Native American people may have genetic predispositions to alcoholism doesn’t make it okay to act like all Native Americans are alcoholics (especially if you do so without mentioning the role of white oppression).

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