Honestly I find nothing more tiresome than oldsters (not to over-stereotype, but it does seem to be a certain brand of baby boomer — ahem, Laura Sessions Stepp), who warn young women not to give away the milk for free. They often seem appalled that younger women have sexual agency. It shouldn’t be all that surprising that research shows that hooking up after meeting someone by chance at a bar or a party is just another way to meet someone. Sometimes you meet a dud and sometimes you meet someone worthwhile. It’s also worth remembering that this is related to the study a while back from the University of Minnesota that showed casual sex wasn’t emotionally damaging.
Granted, there are several problems with this study: They only examined 642 heterosexual adults. As we all know, LGBT folks have experiences with hooking up (and not hooking up) too. One of the researchers, sociologist Anthony Paik, was also quoted in the press release reinforcing some pretty heinous stereotypes about hooking up: “The study suggests that rewarding relationships are possible for those who delay sex. But it’s also possible for true love to emerge if things start off with a more ‘Sex and the City’ approach, when people spot each other across the room, become sexually involved and then build a relationship.”
Hear that, ladies? You can be like Samantha from “Sex and the City” and still get that ultimate relationship!
But for all the stereotypes about women getting warned of the dangers of hooking up, I’d argue that it’s actually the reverse that’s the danger. It’s not sexual freedom and casual hookups that are disastrous for women. After all, as Jaclyn Friedman found hooking up to be liberating. What is disastrous for young women is that they’re raised with cookie cutter expectations about what their sex lives will look like.
The rules young women encounter about their sex and dating lives are near endless. A young woman are supposed to lose their virginity to someone she loves (unlike when a boy loses his virginity in movies, which, as Jessica Wakeman over at The Frisky pointed out, is just an epic quest to get laid). If she doesn’t, she’s damaged goods or a slut. (I could go on about this virginity point, but instead will just refer you to Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth.) Women are also supposed to withhold sex when it comes to someone they really care about. A woman is supposed to be into boys and only boys. A woman is supposed to want marriage and children — in that order. The thing is, a young woman is never handed a list of these rules, but she still picks it up along the way.
It is the very existence of this amorphous laundry list of sexual expectations that leads some young women into thinking that sex equals love. Therefore if she engages in sex outside of love than she is a slut. Or if she lets herself believe that perhaps sex will lead to love and she’ll withhold sex only become emotionally invested before she knows if the relationship works sexually.
The good thing is that I think this narrative is slowly changing. People these days (at least most normal, rational people I meet) are starting to view hooking up as a natural part of their general sexual experiences. This changing attitude about hooking up is sort of what Kathleen A. Bogle tried to document when she wrote her sociological book Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus (which I reviewed for Bitch when it came out). Still, Bogle but she still managed to slip in many stereotypes about what women and men should do. She asserted that “Men’s greater control has lead to sexual exploitation of women in both the dating and the hooking-up eras” and that hooking up can lead to “postponing adulthood.” She also discovered that many young adults of the college-going variety sometimes revisit a more traditional form of dating once they become Grown Ups with Real Jobs.
Now that’s not to say that women don’t suffer emotionally sometimes because of a bad hook up. Sometimes they do. (I’d almost argue that encountering an asshole or two in the realm of hooking up is necessary for young women so they can improve their bullshit detectors later on.) It’s also true that men suffer emotionally sometimes — a side of the hook-up equation that almost never gets discussed. Of course, I should also note that hooking up isn’t without risk. Increasing the number of one’s sexual partners also increases the exposure and risk of STIs and pregnancy. And hooking up isn’t for everyone. But. Many people still manage to emotionally and physically survive hooking up relatively unscathed.
We need to not fear the fact that people are sometimes taking on sexual agency when they decide they want sex — and sometimes just sex. Instead maybe we should start to realize that people’s sexual experiences are diverse and that sometimes hooking up is included in that.