Hookup culture, one of meaningless and casual sex, has increasingly become the new norm. The popularity of terms like “friends with benefits” and “one-night stand” has proved how true this is. Young adults, particularly college students, have declared these no-strings-attached encounters as fun, exciting and empowering, which they can be. However, an argument can be made that these noncommittal relationships may be harmful and even anti-feminist.
Proponents of hookup culture argue that women participating in strictly physical relationships with men are taking ownership of their bodies and defying the patriarchy, which, in many cases, can be true. Yet, in sexual encounters, men still have much of the power. Hooking up is often cultivated within male-dominated spaces. This comes in the form of fraternity parties where gender ratios apply. A gender ratio is put in place to ensure there is a higher number of women than men at these events. These ratios are commonly set around 1:3, meaning that for every man present, there are typically three women.
The reason for such a rule is solely for the benefit of the male fraternity members at the expense of the women. Ratios ensure that the men have the power, because they have options of who they may sleep with that night. Women, however, are left at the mercy of these men and the misogynistic society they continue to endure.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of hookup culture is how blurry the line between casual sex and assault can become. Lisa Wade, a professor of sociology at Tulane University, told Elite Daily in 2016 just how true this can be, especially when “everyone expects everyone to be having casual sex.” This may lead to the assumption that all women are willing and ready to engage in this culture, despite many having reservations. Thus, many of these women are prone to unwanted attention, which often leads to assault.
As Wade points out, hookup culture “camouflages sexual predation” and blurs the line of consent. Furthermore, the issue of sexual assault cannot be discussed without mentioning the prevelance of date rape drugs, especially on college campuses. A date rape drug, such as Rohypnol, is used by slipping it into someone’s drink, making them confused and disoriented. Unfortunately, because men are encouraged to compete with each other regarding sex and hookups, the use of coercion and manipulation, including drugs, continues to be all too common. Hookup culture still promotes this behavior, so students must ensure that they are engaging in social situations in safe ways.
Fortunately, there are resources available for students to ensure their safety. Here at The University of Alabama, the Women and Gender Research Center advocates for the protection and well-being of all students. The center also offers free and voluntary individual and group therapy, promising confidentiality.
The WGRC provides counseling for those struggling following an instance of sexual harassment or assault. Outside of university resources, women can stay safe through the use of preventive measures. This may include sharing their location with a friend and enacting the buddy system.
A more active safety device available to women is the “Smart Straw.” The straw was designed by three high school students in Miami and is used to detect any drugs typically used for rape. The straw will turn blue if any of these drugs are identified. Such an invention can protect women against nonconsensual intercourse that filters through hookup culture. These sorts of innovations are crucial to keeping students safe; their only flaw is how few people seem to know about them. As college students, we must spread the word.
The current functionality of hookup culture, one that is dripping in sexism, places women’s needs and pleasure as less important than those of their male partner. In a study conducted by New York University sociologist Paula England, found that out of the 24,000 college women studied, only 40% experienced an orgasm during casual sex. Out of the men who were studied, 80% reached orgasm. According to a New York Times article surrounding this study, men place less emphasis on the sexual needs of their partners during a no-strings-attached hookup.
While it may feel taboo to mention female sexuality in the conversation about hookup culture, this is exactly why college students need to address it. The stigma will only go away when we become comfortable with having respectful, safe and truthful discussions on sexuality.
Eric Goodcase, a professor of human sexuality at The University of Alabama, elaborates on this theory. He explains, “Male sexual pleasure is often prioritized in male-female sexual relationships due to how the genders are socialized around sexuality in our society. This has led to an orgasm gap that exists between males and females, and this gap is even larger in casual sex relationships.”
While much of hookup culture is still shrouded in misogyny, there are still arguments to be made for its benefits and empowerment. An article by Elite Daily explains these positive effects, one of which is freedom. The article explains that “hook-up culture gives women the option to delay marriage, kids and other time-consuming responsibilities to focus on their personal goals.” Hookup culture allows women to receive sexual and physical pleasure without the tediousness of a committed and intimate relationship.
Additionally, supporters of female sexual liberation in the form of hookup culture argue that by taking back the power and equalizing the role women play in sex, feminism in the following generations will continue to grow and strengthen. “The status quo of sex and the role women play have changed drastically over the years and will continue to,” says the Elite Daily article.
Even with many empowering aspects to hookup culture, the practice needs reform, as it can be more hurtful to women than liberating. According to The New Statesman, many studies have found that men are less likely than women to experience emotional distress, regret and low self-esteem following a casual hookup.
A study conducted by Middlebury College in Vermont found that 75% of survey respondents expressed a preference for a committed relationship, while only 8% of respondents reported being happy in a mutual “friends with benefits” agreement. Dedicated relationships can improve one’s emotional and sexual wellbeing.
“On average, sexual satisfaction improves over the course of a long-term relationship as individuals communicate better and learn more about the other’s likes/dislikes,” Goodcase said.
Hookup culture is a prominent aspect of not only college life, but the dating scene post- graduation as well. While these types of agreements and relationships are articulated to equalize men and women in terms of sex, they may actually appear to have the opposite effect.
While women should have the freedom to do as they please with their bodies without judgement, we must acknowledge the ever-present misogyny and assault that continues to permeate itself into spaces like hookup culture. Hookup culture has proved that while it may be liberating for some women, the power that men hold and the sexism they promote within strictly physical relationships continue to damage women.
Hookup culture doesn’t need to be written off entirely yet, however. Ultimately, what matters most is each individual woman’s experience with hookup culture and their well-being. Some may see it as a source of empowerment, while others see it as a danger, and there is room for both views. Going forward, we can create a culture that is more beneficial to both genders by increasing our own awareness of the gaps that the existing culture displays and taking action to minimize them. Through the promotion of safety, equality, humanization and education, we can cultivate a new culture.
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