In a recent article for Vanity Fair — which basically reads like a self-pitying search for the validation of monogamy in the modern era — the writer posits that hook up culture is an empty land filled with rapid hook ups and bad sex. While modern technology has given many of us the means to have rapid fire casual sex, sleeping with multiple people a week, eschewing emotional involvement, and veering towards female disempowerment, the fact of the matter remains: new tools of communication are merely tools that give us more methods of communication, not tools that improve the inherent quality of our communication with each other.
While I found this article to be very interesting, it presented casual sex as rife with bad hook ups and emotionlessness. While these two things can be very characteristic of casual sex, what the article fails to address is the fact that this level of exploration of one’s sexuality is something that many people go through, a phase if you will, and it helps us explore and express our sexuality while learning what we do and don’t like. Presented in this light, casual sex seems grim and hopeless, yet despite that, so many people still engage in it. This can present a rather nihilistic approach to sexuality and doesn’t examine the value of sexuality in and of itself. Likewise, this approach negates the fact that people can have meaningful relationships or activities outside of their sexual ones. People in this article are given names, jobs and physical descriptors, yet they are decontextualized from their motivations, their culture, their class, their personality. The experience of casual sex in this article is presented as the definitive experience of casual sex, yet there’s something indifferently bourgeoisie about Tinder, smart phones and bars.
People decry hook up culture and often times counter it with the polarized option of emotionally engaged monogamous sex, as though monogamous sex were the only anecdote for the vapid trappings of casual sex. Apparently, hook up culture is something we are all trying to escape from, something that is scarring us. But few people seem to offer the idea that hook up culture is something that we experience and grow from. Sure, hook up culture isn’t for everybody, and some people have to experience that first hand in order to learn it. Hook up culture can be a murky land where misogyny and lovelessness go to fester, and there is a level of pain that goes hand in hand with our supposed sexual pleasure in hook up culture. People say that women are exploited in hook up culture, but I say that happens because rather than fixing the culture and attitude of casual sex, we run away from it.
The examples given in this article, with men racking up 100 sexual partners in a year, spending $80 to fuck three girls in five days – these are unrealistic, extreme examples. Sure, they’re feasible, and it has happened, but that’s not a description of the norm. What is realistic is realizing that there are women out there who are down to have casual sex and quick hook ups with men, and even if we play the, “Oh, I never do this card” (untruthfully or truthfully), and the reason that men are able to have these experiences is because women allow them to happen. A man can have 100 different sexual partners in a year, but that means that 100 different women were willing to sleep with him, regardless of the context or the motivations within the situation. A further examination into the lifestyle and motivation of a woman who engages in this type of behavior would probably likewise reveal a myriad of factors. However, the level of female sexual exploration within the article is relegated to a group of women talking about limp dicks and bad porno style fucking.
If we examine the feminine motivation within rampant casual sex, we can see a route to female empowerment within hook up culture. A woman can choose to have anonymous casual sex for a variety of reasons, and a woman can choose to walk away from a man for just as many reasons. If we make hook up culture a safe place for women to sexually explore without the consequences or hang ups of emotional commitment, then we level the playing field for women who want to experience the breadth and depth of their sexuality. However, one of the most disappointing facets of sexual exploration is the above stated limp dicks and bad porno style fucking. For men, investment in high volume casual sex can be more rewarding when the orgasm is guaranteed. As women, when our experience of casual sex results in low incidence of sexual gratification, the response generally seems to be veering away from casual sex, which is logical, but rarely do I see the feminine demand for better sex from men within hook up culture. We can rate men with a star system in our phone contacts, too.
This article takes a myopic look at women who are engaged in hook up culture. As with any culture, there are multiple echelons within that culture. To look at women who are engaged on the primary echelon of casual sex without talking to women who have experience within this arena and have found a way to cull satisfaction and fulfillment from this lifestyle is to neglect addressing hook up culture as a whole. It is easy to make a case against hook up culture because it appeals to traditional American morality, but exploring the depth of casual sex and hook up culture beyond its stereotype as a net loss for all women can help reveal what truly works for women in their search for sexuality, interconnectivity and alternative lifestyles.
Part of sexual exploration is learning what does and doesn’t work in terms of communication and sexual style. Looking at the average ages of people interviewed in the article, they all skew in their mid 20’s, which isn’t to say that older people aren’t using Tinder or aren’t interested in hook up culture, but, rather, that maybe this is something we grow out of. The sexual panoply that is presented by the internet wasn’t completely absent in years past. So instead of railing against hook up culture, maybe we should ask ourselves: what does life after hook up culture look like? As we learn about ourselves and our sexual interests, how do we evolve away from empty, meaningless sex? Are we learning to be more emotionally engaged and emotionally present even when having non-committal sex with someone? Are we learning how to have better sex with our sexual partners? Are we becoming better friends and better people because of it? Or are we just sucking in general?
As human beings, we crave intimacy. We also crave sex. I’m not here to argue whether or not we humans are designed for monogamy or polyamory or stultifying loneliness in the long run, but, rather, we crave each other. We crave community and mutual vulnerability. But that’s all part of a learning process. Different people crave different types of relationships, and learning how to communicate our wants and needs in order to have fulfilling relationships is a lesson that we can learn from hook up culture. Presenting participators in the culture of casual sex as scarred for life is cruel, rather, they are people on a journey of sexuality and humanity. This might be an over enlightened way to buck up hook up culture, but there must be something redeeming within hook up culture apart from just fucking if so many people so readily engage in it.
The fact of the matter is, different people have different approaches to their sociosexual orientation. People range along a spectrum of restricted sociosexuality (less likely to engage in sexual relations when not in a committed relationship) or unrestricted sociosexuality (more likely to engage in sexual relations when not in a committed relationship), with traits of unrestricted sociosexuality including openness to experience, more extraverted, less agreeable, lower on honesty-humility, more erotophilic, more impulsive more likely to take risks, more likely to have an avoidant attachment style, less likely to have a secure attachment style, and score higher on the Dark Triad traits (i.e. narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy), and more active during the night. (source: Wikipedia). If we consider sociosexual orientation within the context of hook up culture, we can realize that addressing each individuals’ sociosexual orientation might explain some people’s propensity to engage in hook up culture. Validating the unrestricted sociosexual orientation and its manifestation as hook up culture helps define an inclination towards casual sex as yet another sexual orientation rather than a toxic culture that pulls people into the undertow. And, as with many sexual orientations, we see people experimenting with their sexual orientation only to discover what their true orientation is or isn’t and then going on to find sexual commune with people who possess a similar orientation.
Lastly, it’s articles like this that present the current paradigm of hook up culture as still skewed within the patriarchal dynamic that only help perpetuate that patriarchal incarnation. In the Bay Area, a long time forefront of avant garde sexual politics, it is possible to live as a woman within hook up culture and not be demonized or degraded for making well-informed sexual decisions. What we seek here is the opportunity to experience pleasure without paying the cost of hurting other people, and hook up culture is about expressing our freedom to fuck and love each other outside of the social constructs of monogamy and relationships. Online dating apps seem to have created a brave new world of fucking, but that’s because we have given this style of sexuality the ability to denigrate the quality of our experiences with other people. The fact of the matter is, some people just aren’t cut out for this lifestyle. Some people don’t like it. Some people prefer monogamy, but they get swept up in hook up culture nonetheless. Other people are going to be here, doing this, forever, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with either of those scenarios. Some people dabble and leave, unscathed, whereas others will come here and leave with a broken heart, failed relationships and STDs. Educating people on the risks of hook up culture and giving people the information that they need to realize that communicating with your partners about a variety of issues, including relationship goals, STD status and sexual needs is going to make all of this a lot easier for us.
Look, I know that hook up culture is pretty shitty. But let’s not pretend that the internet has uncovered this heretofore unknown human problem known as the pain of broken hearts and bad sex. That has always been a problem for people; the internet only amplified it in a Vanity Fair article-worthy kind of way. The inability to achieve intimacy, eschewing meaningful relationships, abandoning our sexual partners — these things have been happening forever, but we need to figure out how we’re using these new tools of communication and technology in order to improve the quality of our interactions rather than just accelerate them.
Oh, and ladies — yeah, let’s stop putting up with bad sex. Demand oral sex. If a guy doesn’t bring it in the bedroom, let him know that’s unacceptable. Do whatever you wanna do, but don’t be an asshole about it. The reason men win at casual sex is because we haven’t demanded our victory. Demand your fucking victory, girlfriend. Have great casual sex on your own terms and enjoy doing it.
Photo Credit: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “In Bed The Kiss,” 1890.