In a September 2012 Atlantic article, Hanna Rosin argues that hookup culture on college campuses has historically been viewed as “socially corrosive and ultimately toxic to women.” However, after interviewing women at a prestigious business school, she comes to conclude that hookup culture is actually an “engine of female progress – one being harnessed and driven by women themselves.”
For some reason, this article intrigued me. In the past six months, I’ve had seven hookups (defined as making out). After six of them, I felt exactly how the article suggested I should feel – empowered and liberated. I felt like I should feel guilty and maybe reel it in a bit, but, hey, I was having fun! Not only was I having fun while it was happening, but I felt GREAT about myself afterwards. I found myself dancing around alone in my room to the Pussy Cat Dolls and investing in sexy lingerie that made me feel coquettish. I found that I began to genuinely believe that I was desirable and adopt a “his loss” attitude when my come-on smirk didn’t have quite the effect I desired. The guys I chose were attractive and ambitious, and I have since become good friends with all but two. My hookups helped to develop my confidence, which in turn opened me up to even more hookup opportunities.
This seemed like a golden scenario. The Atlantic was totally right! I got to alleviate sexual frustration, develop sincere relationships without the baggage, and do whatever the hell I wanted with my time, without anyone holding me back. Then there was the seventh guy – we’ll call him Jake. He has been one of my good friends for years. I should have been honest with myself that he was never going to be just another hook up, as I had been in love with him in the past. But I was drunk off of Captain Jack and the intoxicating power that my sexuality brought me. For the first time in years, I felt like I was in control – that it was Jake who wanted ME. This is why I liked hooking up – it put me in a place of power. A place where vulnerability and sacrifice don’t – and shouldn’t – come into the equation.
I went home with him around 12:30 am. Around 2:30 am, he walked me home because I would not have sex with him. I woke up the next morning on top of the world. Not only had he so desperately wanted me, but I had also denied him something that he wanted – sex – turning the tables on him denying me what I had wanted from him for years – love. Yes, the power dynamics had definitely shifted in my favor. I had it all – stellar grades, a high-paying/powered job, amazing friends, and any guy – even JAKE – in the palm of my hand.
I had lunch scheduled with three of my best friends the next afternoon. I met them and rambled on, quasi-delusional, about how lucky we were to be young, educated, rich, and beautiful (PS – I am definitely not all of these things). At one point, one of them whipped out her phone, and flippantly said, “OMG – you will not BELIEVE these texts Jake was sending me last night.” My other friend, who had seen me leave with him, grabbed it and started reading out incredibly crude texts (along the lines of “Come over. Get naked. She pussed out.”) The texts were dated 2:47 am.
I felt like someone was forcing my head underwater. “Stop it,” I begged. In that moment, I sure as hell didn’t feel smart or sexy or empowered. I felt so, so stupid and used and weak. And I HATED him for flipping the power dynamics again in his favor – a million times over. When I called him out on booty calling one of my best friends after dropping me off, he gave a pathetic “I’m sorry” text message reply. When I expressed my anger to my friends, several replied with a “Oh, that’s Jake,” or referenced that we weren’t actually in a relationship.
So what did this teach me about hookup culture and its influence on women? Hookups can be incredibly fulfilling and empowering and are not inherently shameful. However, they must be rooted in mutual expectations and understandings. And they don’t give men (or women) the license to be knowingly hurtful. Respect should be integral in every relationship, and the absence of commitment or exclusivity does not give anyone license to act like a grade-A prick.