Posted by: Ken Brown | February 20, 2008

Hooked on Sex

Mere Comments links to a long but interesting (and distressing) interview with Kathleen A. Bogle, author of the book Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus:

Q: Can traditional dating survive alongside “hooking up”? Should the two paradigms coexist, or are they merging into a single overall “script” that students follow?

A: I think traditional dating is surviving alongside of hooking up in the larger culture, but on campus hooking up has replaced dating as the primary means for students to meet and form sexual and romantic relationships. This does not mean that students never go out for dinner and a movie. The “date” still exists among college students, but it is couples who are already in an exclusive relationship who do it. In other words, the pathway to a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship where a couple might go on a date begins with hooking up. In the dating era, students would go on a date, which might lead to something sexual happening; in the hookup era, students hook up, which might lead to dating. This is a reversal of the traditional order of things. The problem is that many college men are pleased with the status quo; they can hook up and if they want to pursue an ongoing relationship they can, but they are under no obligation to do so. Women, on the other hand, get increasingly frustrated after freshman year with how often it seems that hooking up leads to “nothing.”

To put a human face on what she’s talking about, I’ll repost some excerpts from a heartbreaking article that appeared in Rolling Stone in 2006:

I’ve come to Durham, like hundreds of journalists, to report on the [lacrosse rape] scandal enveloping this campus. But in talking to women at Duke, particularly those who know or run in the same social circles as the lacrosse team, I’ve begun to see the story as not a ”he said/she said” tale, nor a story about sexual violence, but rather a story about sex itself. Not sex in its nitty-gritty, anatomical sense, but more in the collective sense: sex as a sport, as a way of life, as a source of constant self-scrutiny and self-analysis….

These women, who had won admission to one of America’s most selective universities, had grown up in an age of triumphant feminism, but as they talked about the rape case — as well as their own sex lives — there seemed to be a disconnect of sorts. Feminism, which most women saw as a throwback, a “past social inequality,” as one girl phrased it, has very little relevance to their lives. It was as if the endless discussion about sexual equality these women had been subjected to growing up had resulted in an almost abstract view of the topic.

Today’s female college students are the impressionable middle-schoolers of the late 1990s — the ones who made Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera icons of sexy, powerful young-womanhood. Now, these girls, too, can have sex — with whomever they choose and whenever they might want it, in a number of ways, without even thinking about what it all means. And they do, says a sophomore I’ll call Naomi (like several of the other women interviewed for the story, she asked that her real name not be used). “Sometimes, girls will be like, ‘I’m just horny and I want to have sex,'”….

Much to the disappointment of many students, female and male, there’s no real dating scene at Duke — true for a lot of colleges. ”I’ve never been asked out on a date in my entire life — not once,” says one stunning brunette. Nor has a guy ever bought her a drink. “I think that if anybody ever did that, I would ask him if he were on drugs,” she says. Rather, there’s the casual one-night stand, usually bolstered by heavy drinking and followed the next morning by — well, nothing, usually. “You’ll hook up with a guy, and you know that nothing will come out of it,” says Anna. The best thing you can hope for, she says, “is that you’ll get to hook up with him again.” Some girls they know have managed to score a regular hookup — meaning consistent sex — but others play the field, bouncing from one guy to the next….

The women laugh. But it’s part of an overall trend that worries professors like [director of Duke University’s women’s center Donna] Lisker. “Our undergraduate women at Duke are the best of the best,” she says. “They’re so smart, so driven, top of their class, student-government presidents, lettered in every sport.” But when it comes to their personal lives, men set the social rules. “They throw the parties, they create the expectations, they create the standards, and these women — these incredibly smart women — on some level, being accepted by their peers is so important that they put aside their own values and standards. They dumb it down.”…

“They’ve gotten this message from the media and other places that part of being a modern woman is sort of playing with your sexuality. But you get in this situation where they think at this party that they’re exercising control. They think that they’re showing these boys how it’s done by pouring grain alcohol down their throats, by dressing in a sexy way. What they don’t necessarily get,” she adds, “is that you put on that Playboy-bunny outfit and you’re stepping into a history of objectification.”



  1. […] risky than marriage, it at least maintains the connection between sex and committed relationship. Hooking up and prostitution, on the other hand, deny both primary functions of sex. If serial monogamy is like […]

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