When sociologist Lisa Wade came to talk about her book American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus last Monday evening, I honestly expected to have more issue with what she had to say. I expected her research to scorn hookup culture on college campuses — which, in the end, it did — but instead of being wrapped up in archaic morals, social norms and gender roles, Wade’s critique surprised me. I thought it was thoughtful, non-judgmental and comprehensive in addressing the abundant nuances that construct a sexual culture within the college campus’s distinct social environment.
Wade began her lecture by talking through the tangled history of sexuality in America. This included information about the evolution of higher education, in which the emergence of fraternities compelled college to be a “fun” place where people should be drinking and having sex, and about the incomplete feminist revolution. She then explained how the convergence of these histories has produced the hookup culture that exists on many college campuses today. Hookup culture, Wade argued, finds at its foundation an artificial binary between “careless” and “careful” sex. Careful sex is the kind, tender, mutually beneficial, romantic sex you have while in a relationship. Careless sex, as the name would suggest, is the exact opposite: It is competitive, unattached, apathetic and often accompanied by a hazy cloud of alcohol. In a sense, it is supposed to be meaningless. This careless sex, Dr. Wade argued, is the kind of sex the contemporary college hookup culture promotes.
As positively as I view sexual expression and interpersonal sexual relationships, I can’t help but agree with Wade. I see that people on this campus — myself and my friends included — are often left after a hookup with disconcerting questions: “Could there have been more? Should there have been?”
I know this isn’t how everyone feels. For some people, this type of sex is just what they want and need. But, as Wade explained, the approximately 15 percent of college students who genuinely enjoy everything about hookup culture are generally those who are more socially advantaged — often, white, male, able-bodied and straight — and therefore find themselves at the top of the “erotic hierarchy.” That leaves a lot of unnecessary work and sexual disappointment for the rest of us.
The solution to the issues highlighted by Wade is not to cease casual sex altogether. Rather, I agree with Wade, in that the way we hook up should change. I believe that people are intrinsically meant to care about one another, and that this instinct should always translate into what goes on in the bedroom, whether or not you’re in a relationship. In fact, it takes more work to pretend you are uninterested and detached from the people with whom you hook up. Ultimately, it is natural and mutually beneficial to emotionally invest in your sexual partners. Being kind to both yourself and your partner when you’re hooking up doesn’t have to mean you’re “Kenyon married.” I think it just makes us all feel a little more human.
Emmerson Mirus ’21 is a Spanish and sociology major from Madison, Wis. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.