Dating

Hookup Culture: Do We Respect Ourselves?

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I’ll never forget the day in middle school when my Mom said, “We need to talk.” She had heard about a “rainbow party” in which girls went down on multiple guys, kind of like an assembly line, each wearing a different lipstick color so as to create a rainbow effect. At the time, that sort of thing was so far off my radar that the whole situation was pretty dismissible. As an adult, however, I’ve learned that scenario was hardly unique. Not even close.

The sexual revolution has given the world a lot of good things. I love that birth control exists, that the LGBTQ community is gaining more traction towards equality, and that people can talk about sex more openly in general. The idea that women can be independent and are no longer reliable on a husband for either financial security or sexual satisfaction has given way to an ever expanding idea of what this new freedom should mean. What started as a rally cry for sexual equality and women’s rights has become an expectation that women not only can, but should be able to experience sex with a sense of detachment. This has become the new standard for empowerment. But at what point does a healthy dose of free-spiritedness creep into the realm of self-objectification?

Hookup Culture: Do We Respect Ourselves?

The idea of women using their sexuality to gain power is nothing new, and indeed, participating in something like a rainbow party could very well make a young girl feel powerful. After all, she has a roomful of guys in an extremely vulnerable position, a position in which she could do just about anything. It might feel good to know that she could walk away, and it might feel just as good to satisfy him, knowing that she is the cause. While hooking up, there’s a lot of reason for both men and women to feel powerful, not least of which is the myriad of chemicals sex makes the body release. Indeed, it’s often not the actual act of hooking up that gives young women pause. It’s what follows.

Not all sex is empowering. There’s a line between what’s liberated and empowering, what’s self-objectification and when you’re just being used…

Say you do participate in one of these parties or hook up casually, or whatever your equivalent is. It goes well, and you enjoy it. Okay. How about the next day? Are you expecting a text or a phone call? Did he even ask for your number in the first place? How about the next time you see that person? Are you expecting him to engage you in conversation? Say…thank you? Ask if you want to do it again sometime? Or maybe you’re hoping he’ll ask you on an actual date since you had such a good time together? The specifics of your personal expectations aren’t that important. It’s whether or not they’re reached—and how that makes you feel either way—that will tell you a lot about how empowering this or that experience actually was for you.

The American Psychological Association looked at exactly these kinds of expectations in a study they did on hookup culture. While 65% of men and women reported feeling good during a hookup, this number dropped to only 27% post-hookup, with another 40% feeling regretful, disappointed or uncomfortable. They also found that while there was a gender difference (63% of men and 83% of women), more than half of all young adults surveyed preferred a traditional romantic relationship over an uncommitted sexual one. Furthermore, there was no gender difference in reported motives for a hookup, which included not only physical gratification (89%), but also emotional gratification (54%), and the possibility of starting a relationship (51%). It seems that when it comes to casual sex, both men and women bring a host of interests to the table–interests that challenge the idea that a hookup is truly just a hookup.

Hookup Culture: Do We Respect Ourselves?

I want to be clear — I’m not suggesting that casual sex is inherently harmful. I’m saying that not all sex is empowering. There’s a line between what’s liberated and empowering, what’s self-objectification and when you’re just being used. The trick is being able to see that line, as the distinction is getting lost in the shuffle.

How does that happen? How can an experience be empowering one moment and a potential letdown the next? How can women be both empowered and objectified by wielding their sexuality as power?

Enter Jean-Paul Sartre. This famous Frenchman and philosopher once posed the concept that people experience themselves as split between the reality of their situation and how they choose to view their situation. Simply put, this means that while we may recognize our situation for what it is, we might experience it as something more to our liking, such as when a young girl at a rainbow party decides to experience a situation of clear objectification (and I do realize this is a very extreme example), as one of power.

If you’d like a more modern perspective, the same study by APA found that more often than not, casual sex produces a pluralistic ignorance response in participants. That’s a fancy way of saying that even though they recognized that they were actually uncomfortable with what was happening, they ignored that feeling and did it anyway. Being able to shift perspectives is a vital tool, but it can be harmful if it’s used to make oneself blind to reality. Call me crazy, but I tend to think that if a situation calls for mental gymnastics so you can feel okay in it, then it’s highly unlikely that you’re in an empowering situation.

Hookup Culture: Do We Respect Ourselves?

When it comes to hooking up, do we respect ourselves? I’d say it depends on the woman, and on the particulars of the hookup. It goes without saying that when it comes to hooking up, women are willing participants, not victims. Yet the transitory nature of hookups, not to mention their general lack of any intimacy beyond the physical, puts both women and men in a vulnerable position. Pregnancy and STDs are obvious risks, but what about how these experiences impact self-esteem and feelings about one’s sexuality? Surely sex, like any human experience, can be empowering. Like any human experience, the devil is in the details.

To me, empowerment means knowing what you want — and trusting that you are good enough for it. It means believing that you are worthy and capable of attaining the desires for yourself and your life. The desires that you’ve tucked away during less empowered moments. The kind that you don’t like to share because it’s really hard to admit that you’re wishing for them in the first place. It’s the element of choice that’s empowering. The knowledge that you do have options and that you don’t have to submit to the status quo either way.

So yes—if keeping it casual and hooking up with no strings attached makes you happy, then those activities may indeed be empowering for you. But if you want something more, be honest with yourself. Acknowledging what you really want and deciding that you are worthy of it is truly empowering. And guess what? You’ll be about 5,000 times more likely to get it.

Note: This article does not discuss the potential for rape or pregnancy in these hookup situations, nor did we discuss the high chances of getting a STD. These are very real possibilities with potentially lifelong consequences, and should always be considered.

Raised in California and North Carolina, Jen is both an actress and a writer. She loves writing fiction, especially for young adults, and exercising her non-fiction muscles through Urbanette and her chocolate blog: Chocofiles. Jen also loves adventures, yoga, live music and spontaneous dance parties.

56 Comments

  1. Sarah Uibel

    I found it too easy to fall into this trap when I was younger. Seems completely crazy to me now.

  2. Jae Medina

    There are so many pros and cones of casual sex, and everybody has different views, so we can’t tell people what’s wrong or right. If one can get away with it without getting harmed, catching STDs or feelings, good for them! Nobody’s business what you do in your own private time, right?

  3. Felicia Stewart

    Casual sex is not all bad, as long as there’s mutual attraction and respect. For safety reasons better not to be drunk or high, on the other hand. Because you don’t want to be filmed, murdered, raped or robbed.

  4. Matilda Parker

    No. A big no!! Think of the consequences! Some guys like to take a picture of their latest conquest and post it on the internet, so be sure that you know what he’s doing with his phone in the morning, while you’re still sleeping, otherwise this one night stand can cost you. Pictures on cell phones, the internet, etc…can haunt you for years to come. Imagine what your future husband or children would say.

  5. Kimberly Vigil

    I’m thrilled that the hookup culture is thriving on college campuses, and that women see this as empowering. The most empowered woman is not the one who is hooking up, but the one who is in a stable relationship.

  6. Melissa Princeton

    There are risks. There are enough people out there with STDs and I don’t want to be another. And condom’s aren’t a guarantee of safety. So say you skated by without a STD, but what about your self-esteem? Will you feel more alone or better about yourself? No. One-night stands are a temporary fix for inner emptiness. They can serve as an escape. While it’s happening, you feel satisfied. The aftermath of a one-night stand is like “coming down,” and that is where the guilt and shame come into play.

  7. Molly Twain

    One-night stands aren’t safe! First and foremost, you should consider your own safety. A one night stand, whether it’s with somebody you know or somebody that you’ve never met before, is putting you in a vulnerable position with a man that, at best, you don’t know very well. Would you risk your safety and your future? Your life? Are you willing to gamble with your safety? He might look nice or be really good looking, but he also might be a murderer.

  8. Ayla Pennington

    I understand what you’re saying, and actually I do realise that men are still overpowering the world. Just because a woman decides that she wants a one night stand doesn’t mean she’s lowering herself, women are allowed to have fun too…You know they still teach people about equal rights at schools, and the best thing is that women fight for that one opportunity to shine, that one opportunity to rise above all others. Women are still the core to the goodness of their partners.

  9. Amelia Beckons

    I’ve done it before and luckily come away with no feelings either way. But then I have done it and it’s caused a lot of bad feeling. I guess it’s all about how you feel about that person originally. If they are not a stranger I can imagine it would actually be more difficult as you would have to see them again and as you’ve found, they get with someone else and you can’t mention it.

  10. Sasha Rosswell

    I have an opinion of not liking one night stands due to my personal experiences of them not being fullfilling for me but i certainly dont think there is really anything wrong with the odd one night stand as long as no one gets hurt. We all have our needs. I just think they are not for everyone thats why a post like this gets such strong opinions. Take care.

  11. Jennifer McSween

    Men and women are exactly similar. We all have feelings, we all have hobbies, we all have jobs etc. The only different thing between us is the way we portray ourselves. The next man I see is no better than me, and I’m no better than him.

    I’d say do what makes you happy, and make sure you stay safe, no matter who the one night stand is.

  12. Grace Stirling

    I don’t know if it is empowering when it causes drama and hurt for so many people who do it.

  13. Sabrina Grattidge

    Just now women have more independence and power than ever, and as women, we should preserve that power by not giving it back to men in the form of a free pass to try it on. I’m one of the weird on the fence people, in alot of ways im a feminist but on the other hand, i have alot of tradition values too. Like taking your husband name, cooking for him, doing his washing etc. I’m neither one nor the other.

  14. Diana Hewitt

    I personally don’t think theres anything wrong with one night stands to a certain extent. i had a fair few before i met my husband. I’d never had a one night stand with a stranger though. it was mostly with bloke friends, where one thing led to another. There was no emotional baggage etc tied to it.
    These men i still speak to etc and are good friends. We’re all single/consenting adults. theres nothing degrading etc about sex. its a fact of life. I can though see where people can get hurt etc but its whether you want to take that risk or not.

  15. Roberta Bennett

    Women for centuries have been expected to give sex to men, and now we have freedom of choice and the power to say no, select women go and waste away that power by having one night stands, so once again we have sleezy, sexist, forward men. I can’t stand it. They ruin it for the nice women.

    • Lynn Hayes

      Sleazy men are responsible for their own behaviour, not everything in the world has to bewomen’s fault you know! 😉

      • Roberta Bennett

        oh believe me i know that. but guys are like dogs they have to be trained to know whats socially acceptable. women are the only ones who can influence them.

  16. Frances Seifert

    In my opinion, one night stands are perfectly ok if we are able to enjoy it without any “side-effects” such as emotional suffering, feeling of guilt, starting new emotions in one of the people involved which could lead to distress, spoiling the friendship, possible complications in our effort to be successful in finding a new long-term partner if we prefer long term/committed relationships etc. If both people know that it is just a one night stand and they agree with it, then I think it is not degrading to anyone and it can be a nice experience without anything bad or “immoral”. Just gotta make sure that no negative side-effects get started.

  17. Amanda Roberts

    i personally think one night stands are revolting and degrading to women kind. and the women who have one nights stands make guys think its ok to make sleezy passes at the nice women.Which i for one,don’t appreciate

  18. Emma Blackwood

    I’m not into doing that. I respect the people who do, but it’s just not my style. I’ve only ever been with two people and while in a serious relationship with them (my first was my first boyfriend of 2 years and my second, my current boyfriend and we’ve been together for 4 and a half years). So I just think my feelings would get the better of me and I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Plus, I don’t plan on being single ever again. lol.

  19. Catherine White

    Never have, never will. When I was single, there was always that point of “your place or mine?” in which I realized, I really don’t know this guy at all…and that stopped me cold every time. I think it was enough to know that if I’d wanted to, I could have.

  20. Pearl Nguyen

    I recently “dropped” a guy who made it clear to me that what we had was a FWB relationship — for over two years! Yes, I let it continue that long. No, it wasn’t because I had low self-esteem or couldn’t find anyone else. I really truly liked him. In fact, I fell in love with him and it got very emotional. BIG MISTAKE — because the only person that benefited from the whole thing was him. He was very caring, kind and did a lot of things for me. I would even say at times he was jealous when other men approached me. Feelings get in the way of a FWB relationship. He was an amazing guy, genuine person, and the sex was incredible. I don’t feel gross or disgusted it happened. But now in my life, I just need (and deserve!) more, and he certainly isn’t ready. I guess timing is everything!

  21. Leslie Williams

    or me, it’s not even that I can’t have sex without detachment (and I certainly can in theory), but why would I want to? For me, sex alludes to a certain measure of trust. Why would I just want a random man to get with me?

  22. Sibel Jenkinson

    It’s simply more satisfying for me when I have an emotional attachment. More fun sexually, more comfortable, easier, hotter… and there’s no emptiness when it’s over. It feels healthy to have sex with a partner and unhealthy to have sex with someone random. This is just how it feels to me – I’m not saying it’s unhealthy for everyone.

  23. Delilah Peyton

    OK I’m going to be totally bias on this one and I admit it! We are perfectly capable of detaching sex from feelings. All you have to do . is allow yourself to think like a man. Not my thing, but hey who am I to judge! ✌

  24. Kaitlyn Barrett

    I’ve never had a man lose interest in a relationship with me as a result of having sex too early. I’ve also never had a man develop an urge to have a relationship with me as a result of me holding out.

    With that being said, if someone is only interested in relationships and knows they will regret if they have sex with a person and a relationship doesn’t form ,then I do believe that person should wait in order to protect themselves.

  25. Andrea Mitchell

    It will be interesting to see how this changes in the next decade, as the “hook up culture” generation matures into adulthood. There probably is a biological component to these differences, but a lot of this is about social conditioning. As social norms about women’s seriality continue to loosen, maybe women’s feelings about casual sex will also change.

  26. Sydney Nowak

    Personally, I have never been able to separate sex from feelings. And when I’ve had a one night stand with someone I just met or didn’t know very well, it was awful! I never woke up the next day saying…”wow, that was the best night ever.” That’s probably why I’ve only had a couple in my entire life. It leaves me feeling unfulfilled and disgusted with myself.

  27. Betty O'Leary

    Sure meaningless no string attached sex, but I always think of the future and the consequences of my every act. I don’t believe that it’s possible to find a nice, morally-reliable, kind, stable and loving partner, after this sort of life style. So I have never had a one night stand.

  28. Esther Earl Harris

    If we are treated with such an unconcerned manner then casual sex is not a sense of freedom and fun for us women, but is degrading.

  29. Cornelia Green

    it is important that people of all sexes make sure that they are treated with respect during sex, and walk away from any situation that is uncomfortable.

  30. Celine Carter

    Sex is sex. I don’t believe it has anything to do with empowerment, unless you’re a total fetishist who’s into femdom and shag men with strap ons and all that, which also is poitnless to me.

    Sex is amazing when it’s done right and done for the good reasons like mutual interest. Why ruin with psychological issues and perversion?

  31. Lana Urie

    Very insightful article, and I agree with most part!

    I used to be like that. It’s not empowering at all. It’s absolutely make believe, you just fool yourself thinking it is, to make yourself feel better.

    That life style makes you a puppet. You meekly string along with possible partner because you genuinely believe you have nothing of value to add to a relationship. You’re not taken seriously anymore by the people that matter to you. You could end up just being an object or an accessory because your opinions offer no value or objections. You even lose friends, and you embarrass your family. Even when you quit random hookups, and start a proper relationship, your past haunts your relationship.

    My advice is, make up your mind and prepare yourself to become a new person. If it takes losing a few people who don’t respect you, so be it. Anyone who truly cares about you would be happy to see the new you. You may not realize this, but self respect will make everyone else take you more seriously. You’ll feel more important and mentally stronger, which will eventually bring you better men’s admiration and respect.

  32. Colleen Frasier

    Yeah.. Not my scene. I wouldn’t go that way because of all sorts of risks from rape to stds, to unwanted pregnancy. But each to their own. Some people enjoy that lifestyle, and I know some, who are really nice and cool people. So no judgement here. But for the sake of their safety, I shared this article on my Facebook, hope they see it.

  33. Helena Stevens

    Great topic, and an amazing article. Absolutely on point and very informative!

    Even people with high self respect can start to lose it without even realizing it. It always starts small at some point of time. And that’s when you’d start to lose more of your self respect and most probably soceity’s respect too!

  34. Monica CONOVER

    Living like that can make a lady lonely, empty and bitter in her 60s and 70s. I have seen it many times. I believe that this is definitely bad for girls and young women. Too many health, safety, emotional and psychological risks involved, like what if the girl/woman gets pregnant….and has no idea who the father is? I believe the right thing to do is not to go with the flow. 🙂

  35. Dana Rosatti

    Women can and always will indulge in sex with casual acquaintances/strangers. Surely men and women have equal access to sex. And sex is a natural need. It’s an instinct. I can’t connect it with selfrespect or selfesteem, as long as the sex that’s being had is not degrading for either of the partners.

  36. Lela House

    Hookups are usually more spontaneous, less emotionally-charged, and often experienced by people who don’t know their partner extremely well.

  37. Hazel Collins

    Completely and utterly true. And well written. A lot of women i know said that casual hookups relieve them of the pressure that comes with trying to balance their career or educational path with their committed, time-consuming relationships. For me, casual hookups actually benefit women. It gives them the opportunity to utterly focus on their career goals without having to sacrifice having their sexual needs met. Thank you for sharing this.

  38. Carolyn Donovan

    For so long, men are accused of irresponsibly using women for sex. That women are oppressed and taken advantage of. If a young woman engage in hookups, then she’s encouraging “irresponsible sexual behavior” of men. I’m not encouraging hookups because it will make women be viewed as lesser, cannot be progressive as men.

  39. Melissa Smith

    I have always believed that sex is the most intimate sharing of oneself with another human being. Sex without love and respect misuses the mind, body and soul. To me, sex is significant, wonderful, powerful, consequential and serious. It’s something that should be cherished and honored and not cheaply treated. So yeah, I’m against hookups…

  40. Sarah Evanston

    Great article! To me, what’s empowering is knowing and understanding who you are and what you want, it’s more exciting. Relationship is a goal that’s hard to earn. And only having respect can make it possible.

  41. Helen Dark

    Hookup culture. Everybody’s doing it. There are a lot of individuals of all sexes who choose to engage in hookup culture on a regular basis. Patriarchal views that look down on women who participate in hook ups are hurting us. They are just another vestige of a long-gone time discrimination and injustice.

    xoxo,
    Helen

  42. Courtney Watson

    Laura Stepp, author of “Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both” viewed hooking up as an activity that places women at risk of low self-esteem, depression, alcoholism and eating disorders. As for me, I value self-respect and I don’t encourage hookups. I might sound very traditional but it’s really what I think.

  43. Completely 100% true!! Looking at relationships I have witnessed, including my own, the most successful were undeniably people who held each other with great respect. This is as true of business partnerships, family and friends as it is of lovers and even parents with their children. When you come from a place of respect you do not give ultimatums or make set in stone demands, you negotiate with consideration for your partners and your own needs and feelings.

  44. I personally don’t think that women who are regularly hooking up will fondly look back on the experience(s). I believe the component of societal peer pressure, no matter how direct or indirect it might be, causes young women to jump on board without even thinking what it means. Open communication with mature adults is very important!

  45. Courtney Floxen

    I don’t think we can’t say that hookup culture is strictly bad or good.

  46. Danielle Wilson

    Love is wonderful but respect is the glue that can grow lasting, connected and deeply intimate relationships; relationships that not only allow us passion but also give us companionship, understanding and support to make it through the challenges of life. Respect is crucial to lasting romance, to good partnerships, to good business and to build community.

  47. Andrea Schuener

    I have friends engaging themselves in hookups and yeah, most of the time, I’m thinking about doing it. Peer pressure I guess. But I’m really hesitant because of STD concerns. If one day I decide to engage, I’m sure it won’t be empowering, it’s more of I’ll have the feeling that “I’m in…”

  48. Helen Franklin

    Hookup culture is just a byproduct of sexual freedom. Those who are worried about pregnancy and diseases, use condoms and birth control. I think hookup culture works more for men than it does for women. We should teach children about their responsibility to themselves, so if they do choose to have hook ups, they will know about the risks and how to lessen them. Freedom comes at the price of complete safety.

  49. Kimberly Thompson

    Thank you for the tips. A lot of things that I didn’t get makes sense after reading this. Love your work, Jennifer.

  50. Hannah Mayers

    I’m honestly wondering if the availability and easy accessibility of porn materials has an influence on young women’s vision of sex. Happiness, satisfaction and empowerment is an elusive pursuit. “Know thyself,” old Greeks have said, it has never been truer than now for young women who find happiness in casual sex.

  51. Gabby Williams

    I don’t view hookups as empowering. While these young women are playing around with sex, they are deprived of discovering relationships. Sex is easy but relationships are hard. They are both necessities of man. Unfortunately, hookups make the other one impossible.

  52. Christina Brown

    The hook-up culture is actually perpetuating female progress. What you want with your life, stop judging others for making choices for themselves. Stop worrying about what others think, because it’s your life, and you should be free to live it as you see fit. If men are allowed to do as they please, then women should have the same rights. When I’m in my 20’s i’m finding myself and i’m always thinking how can i make progress with my career and stop obsessing about finding someone and have kids.

  53. You discussed a serious issue… But you have written a very informative article. I have the same view as yours, Jen, “empowerment means knowing what you want — and trusting that you are good enough for it.”

  54. Hookups make sex more appealing and “tempting” without strings attached. It’s growing social acceptability is alarming. A number of women I’ve talked to, who have engaged themselves in this activity, expected something “after.” Sadly, they were not empowered.

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