Casual sex has been an area of contention between feminists for generations. Remember the sexual liberation movement of the 1960s-70s? It completely re-imagined the potential for female sexuality; women became empowered to see sex as a source of pleasure and not only a means of reproduction. Feminists reframed sex to be a pathway to female fulfillment and self-actualization. With the possibility of female pleasure in sex without social stigma, and ultimately the enjoyment of more casual sex, women could embrace the single girl lifestyle of Helen Gurley Brown’s Cosmopolitan and didn’t feel the overwhelming pressure to marry young.
Vintage Helen Gurley Brown
But some feminists weren’t so upbeat about sexual liberation: many saw a potential for female exploitation. When women (and people of all genders) were encouraged to have casual sexual relationships, some felt disrespected and unsatisfied, yearning for a deeper emotional bond. With the increased drive for and availability of sexual experiences, physical appearance became paramount: Brown encouraged women to always look their best in order to attract lovers, and Hugh Hefner’s Playboy published objectifying photo spreads. Not so great, right?
A recent article by Kate Taylor of The New York Times examines casual sex fifty years later, and a look at college hook-up culture provides some insight. College affords women the opportunity to sculpt their futures, to begin to determine what their deepest desires for their lives are. As Taylor notes, with less pressure put on finding husbands, college ladies can focus on their future careers.
The New York Times Reporter Kate Taylor
Many modern collegiate women, like a woman Taylor identifies only with the letter “A.,” feel that because of their focus on academics, they “can’t have a meaningful romantic relationship, because [they are] always busy.” So how do these busy gals satisfy healthy sexual urges? A. has a hook-up buddy, a man with whom she gets together after school for the sole purpose of having sex. A. sees her casual relationship as an expression of her feminism, her personal path to empowerment, and for many women, it’s exactly that.
Women today are encouraged establish their careers before falling in love and committing to one person, and many women interviewed at Princeton University felt embarrassed to admit dreams of building a life with a lover. Gals in serious relationships were often judged as “unambitious” (ahem, not true).
Arguably, it is now the norm and not the exception to experiment and to enjoy casual sex in college, but it’s important to recognize that “hooking up” is not for everyone. One woman, identified in the article as M., felt alienated socially because of her virginity. She found that her desire for emotional sex within a serious relationship was unrealistic, and she adapted to the culture of her campus, ultimately having casual sex.
Hook-up culture has the potential to leave women (and men and genderqueer) feeling disrespected, heartbroken, and even abused. Taylor reports that with college hook-ups, alcohol is often involved, and many women feel that without drinking, sexual encounters would be less than pleasurable. In retrospect, a woman named Haley felt that one of her “hook-ups” was actually a rape and not a consensual act: she was unconscious for parts of it. Hugely upsetting!
Sociologist Paula England of New York University conducted a study and found that women are generally happier with their sex lives in serious relationships than they are with casual hook-ups and that men tend to place more attention on satisfying a woman they know more intimately and to whom they are committed.
So what’s a college girl to do with modern hook-up culture? Whether we seek hook-up buddies, life partners, or anyone in between, it’s important to always feel safe and respected. During casual or serious sexual activity, everybody’s body deserves to be treated with the utmost care and respect. The normalcy of hooking up doesn’t mean that you’re naive or wrong if you want sex that will leave you hopelessly, irrevocably attached. I think college hook-up culture has the potential to make people feel that way, but guess what? We college gals have power over our sexual experiences and desires, whatever they might be.
The amazing thing about college today is that there are so many ways for a lady to enjoy her sexuality. Embrace hook-up culture if it gives you pleasure, and avoid it if it doesn’t. Either way, never feel ashamed of what you want; who we choose to have sex with (or to make love to, or to hook up with) is one of the most personal choices one can make, and no choice should be judged from the outside. We all have our own unique paths to tread when it comes to growing up and discovering our sexuality, and as long as we respect and value one another, that's a magical thing.
What do you think about hook-up culture? Is it wonderfully liberating, terribly degrading, or somewhere in between? We’re eager to hear your thoughts in the comments section!
Thanks to The New York Times
Photos via Glamour, Santi Visalli/Getty Images, Business Insider,