Lying on my freshman dorm room floor, my hallmates and I share our latest matches on Tinder. We compare our similar options, read out loud our ridiculous conversations and laugh about our feelings of loneliness. None of us had any intention of meeting up with our matches because that would be too risky and scary. This was our new game. We swiped for a few hours, received a small ego boost and would go on with our day. We were putting ourselves out there without actually having to deal with rejection or in-person consequences.
So if we weren’t meeting up with people from Tinder, where were we meeting people? It seemed like my few friends who entered college in long-term relationships kept finding new relationships (possible serial monogamy) and the rest of us had a small amount of random drunk hookups at parties each semester. We weren’t meeting anyone great and the hookups alone were always described as bad or unrememberable from either our blurry state of mind or lack of intimacy.
Ever since the beginning of college, there has been this clear message: We are in the age of hookup culture. Whether it is good or bad it is happening and typical in college students’ lives. I, and those around me, still seem to be active on apps like Tinder and Grindr. We speak casually about sex and about the fact that we have been with multiple sexual partners. But with the varied amounts of casual sex, we are still actively trying to find someone to be intimate with, passionate about and to have some kind of commitment with.
This week, in my psychology seminar on emerging adulthood, we were discussing the varied experiences young adults have with love and dating. We read this past December’s cover story of The Atlantic, where Kate Julian dives deep into what she calls the "sex recession," the current climate where people are having less sex despite increased access to birth control, education, technology, porn, masturbation and a variety of other resources. I felt so relieved to find that there was language and terminology for something myself and so many other young people are experiencing.
This hookup culture dominative narrative is not real for everyone who is supposedly participating in it. We may be having casual sex but not as often as portrayed in the media or the way we want it to seem to those in our lives. Hookup culture has positively destigmatized the use of online dating apps and sex outside of committed relationships and marriage. But who is to say this kind of sex is enjoyable?
Participating in casual one-night hookups is not always what it is cracked up to be. There are some factors that can create an unenjoyable sex experience. For instance, when both parties are drunk, they are trying to recreate what they viewed in porn or they lack the information about what the other person likes. In addition, women already have a difficult time enjoying the pleasures of sex when they are focusing on the way their body looks. In the current age of social media, where people are posting only the best possibly photoshopped images of themselves, individuals have to fight images of unattainable perfection in the bedroom. Also, this image of perfection is seen in porn, for the ways bodies are supposed to look and react. The sexual activities may look enjoyable for the porn stars in the film but in real life they are not always that way.
The definition of hooking up is vastly different for every person. It can range from little sexual activities, such as foreplay, to going all the way. I’m curious where this hookup culture is perpetuated. I think probably from a combination of social media, movies, TV, music and porn. Also, dating apps have power in reinforcing hookup culture. They make money from ads that people swipe through while using their application. So, people are swiping on these dating apps for hours and not actually meeting anyone. But they continue to use the apps because it seems like this is the only way they can find the possibility of a sexual or romantic connection in our culture. By viewing these advertisements while swiping, they are participating in mindless consumerism that keeps these applications in business.
Recently, some new dating applications like Hinge and Bumble have been created for users to get into relationships by encouraging people to meet face-to-face and get off the app. But in my experience, there are fewer people on these apps and they are still looking for casual sex without really getting to know you.
So, seeing that we are in a sex recession and having less good sex, I think we should be trying to challenge the narrative and norms of hookup culture and actually try to get to know the people we are giving pleasure too. I’m not saying you have to be monogamous, but being with someone and learning who they are and what they like will probably lead to better experiences. Don’t let the fear of rejection stop you from putting yourself out there because, whether it be online or in person, anything you experience will help you grow in real life.
Ellery Rosenzweig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org