Hookup Culture is a Culture of Shame
Hookup Culture is a Culture of Shame
— Not Shame for Those Who Want Sex, but Shame for Those Who Want More
For hundreds of years, sex was taboo — especially for women. It was a scarlet letter, an antithesis to virginal purity. It was reserved for whorehouses and back rooms where urges and desires were a source of shame. Sex was scandalous. The natural human urge to jump each other’s bones was made to feel unnatural and gross (at least without a marriage license).
But, as AP English Lit students will be pleased to hear, modern society has come a long way from Hester Prynne. We take pride in the fact that we liberate men and women from traditional gender roles and old-fashioned expectations of propriety. In fact, we seem to have done a complete 180 since the days of the fated scarlet letter. And now we’re at the other extreme.
Hookup culture is an offshoot of the free love movement of the 60s. It celebrates sexual expression, sexual liberation and, of course, sex itself. It’s a space where sex comes without strings attached. Girls no longer worry about being labeled with the ultimate insult (slut). We’re in charge of our own bodies and we can do whatever we want with them. We can enjoy sex outwith the confines of marriage or serious relationships.
In many places, especially on college campuses, hookup culture is the norm. Of course, students still have serious relationships. But those relationships usually begin as simple hookups. Hookup culture is something all students encounter. Some reject it completely (and spend a lot of time being single). Some genuinely rejoice in it. But, according to statistics, most half-heartedly engage in it, without finding it very fulfilling.
Although hookup culture wears the banner of liberation, it ironically comes with a strict set of rules and expectations. For example, a hookup is just sex: no feelings. So after a hookup, both parties have to be casual about it. You’re not allowed to “catch feelings,” and if you do, you can’t express them.
Those who confuse hookups with actual romance are considered “desperate” or “clingy.” To avoid this label, it’s natural for people to go out of their way to express how little feelings they have — how little they care about the other person. (Cue phrases like “you know this was just a one time thing.”)
It often becomes a competition about who can show they care the least. When you care the least, it means you’re the most liberated, the coolest, and ultimately the “winner” in that particular scenario.
Although hookup culture encourages us to express our sexual urges, it forbids us from ever expressing feelings. Having feelings or wanting a relationship is “lame” in contrast to the sexual empowerment of hooking up. This is especially true for women. Historically, women have been viewed as wanting relationships, and men as wanting just sex. If today’s women are going to break free from that sexist mold, then they too have to want just sex.
The Texting Game
If hookup culture is a place where the winner is the party who cares the least, then that social competition is best enacted in the realm of texting. The rules are simple: You never want to text first, you never want to text back too quickly, and you never want to show you might have feelings.
Different people have different rules for how long they wait to text back. Some wait for the exact amount of time the other person waited. Some take that time and add two minutes. Some take that time and double it. The point is that we’ve all agreed on one thing: you can’t text someone back more quickly than they texted you back. We’re all aware of this game, but we’re still all willing participants.
The worst thing you can do is double text. And you never want to be the person that texted last. These are things that signal you care more than the other person. And in hookup culture, caring is taboo.
A New Set of Labels
You know that girl? The one who gets obsessed with any guy she hooks up with? The one that sends him so many texts she’s practically stalking him? That girl is a social construct. She has come to stand for any girl that wants more than just sex.
Words like “desperate” and “crazy” are thrown around the same way “slut” was ten years ago. Because that girl is the worst thing you can be. “Wanting a man” translates to “needing a man,” which then translates to being un-feminist. In hookup culture, any expression of vulnerability becomes synonymous with desperation.
What Are We Losing?
Embracing a culture of unfeeling hookups might be sexually liberating, but in other ways it’s incredibly stifling. Our generation is fearful of showing basic human emotions. We’re embarrassed of vulnerability.
We have this sense that we’ve advanced as a society. We’re proud of the fact that men and women are more liberated than ever before. We believe the days of scarlet letters are behind us. The truth is that the scarlet letter still exists. Now it belongs to those who want relationships rather than those who want sex.
Hookup culture brings its own set of societal expectations. Within this new framework, the greatest level of intimacy isn’t sex. The greatest level of intimacy is verbally expressing feelings for someone. It’s something that rarely happens, and when it does, it is often greeted with shame and disgust.
How to Avoid Falling Prey to Hookup Culture
Once we understand the theory behind hookup culture, we can stop beating ourselves up for “catching feelings.” Feelings are normal. They’re wonderful, and we shouldn’t be using rhetoric that equates them with contracting a disease.
We shouldn’t be afraid to express feelings. And we shouldn’t shame those who do express them, no matter what form that expression takes. Sharing feelings is brave, not clingy.
In many ways, hookup culture and 19th century Puritanism are two sides of the same coin. They both thrive on the scarlet letter of shame. In the past, we shamed women who had promiscuous sex. Now we shame women who want more than just sex. In that sense, we haven’t moved that far beyond societal constraints of the 19th century.
If we want to achieve true liberation, we have to do more than just destigmatize sex. We have to move away from a culture of shame.