Section: Opinion

Casual sex and ‘marriage,’ and the Middle Path between

“You’re either casually hooking up, or you’re Kenyon married” — that’s the first thing I ever heard about Kenyon’s dating culture. I thought I knew what to expect when I decided to transfer to Kenyon this fall.

As a student who had spent four semesters in college already, I thought I knew what it was like to be romantically involved with someone in college. As a native Mount Vernon resident, I thought my previous knowledge about Kenyon would give me a good idea of what my experience here would be like. And, as a 19-year-old girl whose “liberal” views horrified my conservative family, I thought I was ahead of the sex positivity game.

As it turns out, everything I thought I knew failed to prepare me for Kenyon’s hookup culture.

I transferred to Kenyon from Heidelberg University, a four-year private liberal arts college similar to Kenyon in size. The political climate at Heidelberg is fairly moderate, and the dating scene there reflects that: I had friends who were in relationships (though nowhere close to being “married”) and friends who hooked up with people from time to time. Because the school was so small and everyone knew each other, it wasn’t common to use dating apps to find partners; you were expected to just “let it happen.” Dating and hooking up wasn’t really a big deal, and no one really talked about it.

Then I arrived at Kenyon. I had never before been surrounded by so many sex-positive people who expressed their sexuality so openly. And when I say sexuality, I do not mean in the sense to whom they are attracted sexually; to put it bluntly, it’s more along on the lines of: “I have sex with who I want, when I want, and I’m not ashamed of that.” We talk about hooking up so openly here, and that is something that is still really foreign to me. Still, I’ve found that I generally like the way we approach sex.

That being said, it didn’t take me long to realize that there are only two types of sexual relationships on this campus: the very casual hookup and the serious, “gonna-get-married-someday” relationship. Where is the in-between? Is there an in-between? I’m not sure that there is.

This dichotomy has effectively begun to shape how I think about dating. I’ve found myself not even considering asking someone on a date or imagining that they might ask me on a date. Do people even go on dates at this school? And if they do, are they considered to be “married” now? I find myself looking at potential partners and automatically categorizing them as either “hookup” material or “marriage” material. Why should I have to do this?

The dichotomy frustrates me. And, for a school that proudly rejects so many binaries, it seems to be holding on to this one rather tightly. Maybe I just haven’t been at Kenyon long enough to understand what it is really like. But for now, I see the hookup culture as a paradox. If we as students are so proudly promoting sex-positivity, individuality and diversity, why are we subliminally forcing ourselves to choose between hooking up or committing to a serious relationship?

If I had to change anything about the hookup culture here, I would encourage everyone to keep an open mind and reject the dichotomy of “hooking up or Kenyon married.” We shouldn’t have to think about marriage if we want to go on a date with someone, and we shouldn’t be afraid of developing feelings for someone we agreed to just “casually” hook up with. Sexuality is fluid, and how we feel about our sex lives should be as well.

Savannah Overly ’20  is an international studies major from Mount Vernon, Ohio. You can contact her at overly1@kenyon.edu.

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