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The End of Hook-Up Culture?


Young women are growing tired of the culture that was supposed to liberate them. That, at least, is what Raisa Bruner, a Yale senior, and many of her female cohorts think.

They call themselves “SWUGS”, or senior washed up girls—women who, faced with a “hook-up culture” that leaves them feeling empty, have become apathetic about their personal lives.

Bruner writes in the Yale Daily News:

It’s confusing to be a young woman right now—especially if you buy into the traditional narrative of American womanhood. Are we supposed to “Lean In” with Sheryl Sandberg or resign ourselves to the fact that “Women Still Can’t Have It All,” per Anne-Marie Slaughter? Even The New York Times is heralding “The End of Courtship,” in a piece my concerned mother emailed to me. I think she wanted me to tell her the Times was wrong — but I realized I couldn’t.

In a survey I conducted of over 100 Yale students, almost all of the single respondents, ambition be damned, said they were currently seeking a relationship involving dating, commitment or, at the very least, monogamous sex. Basically, the types of relationships which just don’t seem to exist for those of us who are senior ladies, outside of the already-coupled.

Bruner writes that as freshmen, the hook-up culture was still perceived as an opportunity for sexual freedom, and thus strength. But as time went on, she and her peers realized that they wanted more. They adopted the SWUG-life out of exasperation with the “decline of female sexual empowerment,” she says.

Bruner might be on to something. In her new book, The End of Sex, Donna Freitas writes that many students find casual sexual experiences to be dehumanizing. Though the majority of undergraduates at many schools participate in hook-up culture, nearly half of them felt uncomfortable with the concept, Freitas found. According to Bruner, only 33 percent of the women she surveyed felt empowered by their sexual choices.

So it seems that young women today are caught between what our society says casual sex should be and what many of them feel that it is. But times may yet change. Over the generations, there has always been an alternation of “hook-up cultures” followed by periods of more restrained sexual behavior. In England there was Shakespearean and Tudor bawdiness, then the Puritans, then the rowdy Restoration, and then again the more decorous era of Addison and Steele.

Maybe the pendulum will swing back one of these days. One thing we know for sure is that rising generations like to make their own choices rather than having their parents impose a lifestyle on them. Perhaps “sexual empowerment” will mean very different things for these young women and their daughters than it did for their mothers. If so, campus life will change. Young women have much more power over young men than they sometimes realize, and women working together can change the social climate. Courtship may yet make a comeback.

[Heart photo courtesy Shutterstock]

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  • Stacy Garvey

    I’d bet that some young men are almost as uncomfortable with hook-ups as the young women interviewed. Not all men are only after sex and some do seek relationships. I understand young folks have always been young folks but there is something so very sad about what sex has become.

    • ojfl

      I am not so sure about college aged men Stacy. At that age men are still a tad immature and are not exactly looking for a long term commitment. But their opinion will change to follow the lead of these ladies. It also has to do with upbringing. I was immature but because of my mother I knew to respect women and understand that regardless of what culture told us, men and women viewed sex differently. This kind of opinion by this young lady only confirms mother was right, as usual.

    • Thomas Richards

      I’m still an approximately youngish man, and I can assure you that while what I had at university was hook-ups, what I wanted was a relationship. I found (invariably drunken) casual sex, while generally fun at the time, not worth the subsequent feelings of indefinable awkward malaise it engendered in me. So I stopped doing it. Not, admittedly, while I was still at university. But even then I would have taken a relationship with someone I actually liked like a shot.

      I don’t know many men my age or younger who fully share my antipathy to casual sex (though there are others). But I certainly think the vast majority – at any age – would take a good relationship in preference even if they do enjoy casual sex. Only sociopaths don’t want love.

  • Jim Luebke

    Because this time, everything will be different!

  • Anthony

    Welcome back to the fight WigWag.

  • Daniel Kennelly

    I think Berger’s right that the tide won’t be reversed in any sort of time frame worth speculating about. But I also think that the tide has receded somewhat. The “SWUGs” are far from the first evidence I’ve seen of the exhaustion of, and exasperation with, the sexual revolution. It’s just that this new restraint comes not as a result of restraint enforced by a quasi-official American Christianity or by tightly-knit communities but as one among many “lifestyle” options, chosen on its own perceived merits. That (i.e. religion or lifestyle as a chosen thing rather than as a given thing) is the real change that won’t be reversed anytime soon. The rise and now partial ebbing of sexual libertinism flow from that change, rather than the other way around.

  • Jim Luebke

    The realities of human experience — male, female, and reproduction — haven’t significantly changed for the last two thousand years, no matter what anyone likes to pretend. So, optimal relations between men, women, and the children we have together haven’t changed that much either, though we’re falling farther short these days.

    It’s good to see that at least some people are starting to grow up. Though considering the continuing reproductive failure of European society over several decades, it’s doubtful whether a society can get back on track without abandoning the “choice of lifestyle” approach and returning to normative expectations of the traditional family.

  • Independent Patriot

    I find the irony here amazing. While young women are talking about relationships and the idea that sex is not animalistic but part and parcel of the human-love-relationship, we still think that it is OK to teach youngmen to whore around. It is time to also teach our sons that hook-up culture is not OK. That is dehumanizing to them as well as to the women they sleep with. That sex is part of the whole human being and when taken separate from their entirety, it destroys a part of themselves. I taught that to my sons and they follow this moral code. It wasn’t hard to do. Why do we give such short-shrift to the morality of our youngmen?

    • Jim Luebke

      Many of us do teach our sons that the hookup culture is not OK.

      If young women don’t agree, our sons will never believe us.

  • bigfire

    The hookup culture have been a god send for the pickup artist by providing them with a fertile field of willing participants. They’re thanking the feminists for every one of their pick ups.

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