The history of hookup culture
Casual dating is common in high school. For those who participate in casual dating culture — one with no shortage of teen angst — these highly emotional, and sometimes disastrous, relationships have become something of a rite of passage.
In this way, high school dating is often more about sexual experimentation; a kind of trial and error that leads individuals to adopt the mindset that breakups are inevitable once college comes around.
But when students embark on their journeys toward higher education, the casualness of high school dating is exacerbated and translated into a phenomenon known as “hookup culture”.
On Wednesday night, the university’s kNOw MORE campaign hosted author Lisa Wade to discuss this idea of hookup culture with students and faculty members.
A well-known sociologist and essayist, Wade has written for a number of well-known publications including the Washington Post, Guardian and TIME. Earlier this year, however, Wade released “American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus,” an investigative book centered around the sexual lives of college students across the country.
Having conducted a significant amount of research on human sexuality, Wade narrowed the focus of her work and began looking at college hookup culture specifically. She wanted to understand the dynamic between relationship statuses, casual sexual encounters and the mindsets behind them.
The information Wade collected allowed her to define hookup culture as having “sex for sex sake — not having any particular like of the person you’re hooking up with.” Additionally, she concluded that an overwhelming number of students, usually those who have been drinking, feel pressured to hookup with whoever is closest to them.
Wade found that these hookups occur under six general, unwritten rules, which are all rooted in the idea that the sexual acts are meaningless and void of emotional attachment. She says that this repeated practice of being emotionally distant has resulted in a general inability to express intimate feelings.
While not everyone chooses to engage in hookup culture, Wade says it is undoubtedly damaging and a likely cause of stress, possibly making it difficult to handle relationships.
Here at the university, students and faculty have taken significant steps in trying to promote healthy relationships and sexuality. Last year, the kNOw MORE campaign was officially launched, aiming to sexually educate students by providing them with a safe space to talk about sex. With this, students are meant to get over general discomforts they may have, which is the first step in laying the foundation for a healthy relationship, says Adam Foley, the associate director for diversity and inclusion.
Foley oversees much of the kNOw MORE campaign and works closely with its student ambassadors. He says that there is a “direct link between having a sense of what a healthy relationship looks like and decreases in sexual misconduct. Wade’s book fit in nicely with this in terms of capturing one piece of what sexuality looks like on campus, speaking to student’s cultural reality.”
Wade explained that at the heart of her book are a series of 101 student journal reflections, written by individuals with varied and diverse backgrounds. These entries provided Wade with direct, honest insight into how students really feel about the relaxation and informalization of sexual culture.
While older generations tend to attribute hookup culture to an overall loosening of millennial morals, Wade claims that “hooking up” is “a behavior, a script, a culture” that has always existed. However, she adds that, “What’s new began in the 1990s and is the notion that you should be hooking up, that it’s the way to do college correctly.”
This mentality, Wade claims, would not have begun nor endured if it weren’t for the critical role that higher education has played in its creation of a hyper-sexualized culture.
Wade traces the inevitability of hookup culture back to the emergence of college fraternity life in 1825.
“[Fraternities were] all about having a really fun, exciting, kind of risky time in college,” she says.
These institutions and their male members were given the power to decide what the exciting “sexual college life” would look like. And when alcohol companies began promoting their products to the younger, college demographic in the second half of the 20th century, hookup culture was given all it needed to thrive.
What Wade found and emphasizes in her book is that it’s not the act of “hooking up” that has been a source of mental and emotional stress on college students. Rather, it is the hookup environment as it leads people to believe that if they’re not regularly and casually having sex, they must be doing college wrong.
College sex culture does not have to be harmful for either party, Wade and Foley say. In fact, less than 25 percent of students genuinely enjoy hookup culture, according to Wade.
This majority of students have the power to pave other sexual cultures that are currently marginalized, such as the LGBTQ community and even traditional dating.
As long as individuals are clear and honest about what they want from their partners, Wade says, it is completely possible that students can build a sexual culture full of clear communication and pleasure.
In order for this to happen, Wade says, “You all need to start using your voices — you need to be clear and honest about what you want.” She knows that this may be terrifying but reiterates that students need to take risks, ignoring their fears of coming across as “desperate or weird.”