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The farce of Duke’s hook-up culture

Would you believe me if I told you that the “hook-up” culture we all believe to be so present at Duke is actually a farce?

I understand if you have a hard time believing me at first—all it would take to find evidence suggesting otherwise is a quick trip to Shooters or a skim of the infamous Rolling Stones article “Sex and Scandal at Duke”. Janet Reitman wrote in this article of a Duke with “sex as a sport, as a way of life, as a source of constant self-scrutiny and self-analysis.” But how true is that claim, really?

Believe it or not, dating actually does occur on this campus. According to the Duke Social Relationships Project, a four-year study from 2007-2011, close to a quarter of students were dating someone locally, either on campus or nearby, with an additional 12 percent in long distance relationships. The study also showed that— of the two-thirds of Duke students not in committed romantic relationships— only a little over 50 percent had hooked up with someone in the previous six months. Furthermore, the 2014 Duke Inquiries on Social Relationships Study showed that 75 percent of respondents wanted to be in romantic relationships.

It seems Duke’s “hook-up culture” is more smokescreen than anything. Yet somehow, that smoke has managed to find its way under the cracks of our doors, filling our rooms with a smoldering scent that leads us to believe any potential for real dating on this campus has gone up in flames. We act accordingly, despite the fact that this perceived norm does not accurately reflect reality.

Rolling Stone’s Reitman quotes a female student saying, “People assume that there are two very distinct elements in a relationship, one emotional and one sexual, and they pretend like there are clean lines between them." Hook-up culture is portrayed as “random” to downplay the emotional aspects of sex. It is often more about the accomplishment of having scored a partner than connecting with them or receiving any sort of emotional benefit from the interaction. Behaviorally, it is as if we flipped the spectrum of intimacy. Have you ever thought about how strange it is that in the context of hookup culture, holding hands has become a stronger expression of affection than sex?

Let me be clear: If casual sex is really what you want, all the more power to you, particularly for women. We live in a society that takes far too much liberty dictating gender roles and constricting women’s choices. I do not think women are encouraged to explore their sexuality enough. I have appreciated efforts like One Sexy Week bringing in speaker “I Love Female Orgasm” and Me Too Monologues including hilarious pieces on vibrators and “tickling your taco” in their production over the years. I want to make it clear that this article is not anti-hooking up, it’s anti-hooking up for the wrong reasons.

I have witnessed a rather peculiar trend during my time at Duke—a noteworthy number of women appear eager to engage in hook-up culture as underclassmen and become jaded as upperclassmen. It is as if they were so set on trying to figure out the social culture and how to fit into it that they didn’t pause to think about whether or not it was something they wanted to conform to in the first place. And they end up feeling unfulfilled.

The 2014 Me Too Monologue “Feed My Libido” embodies this issue. The author writes about engaging in her first “casual sex” experience. After having lost her virginity in the “ideal way” to a long-term boyfriend, she felt it was now time for her to “play it like one of the guys” since that’s what she had been led to believe an “empowered woman” would do. The author writes, “But this didn’t feel the way it was supposed to feel. This didn’t feel casual or carefree—it felt like a big fat mistake... I [had] let him objectify me and I [had] let myself think I wanted it that way.” She soon comes to realize that the definitions of “fun” and “empowered” she was pursuing were not ones she had come to by her own terms. What she actually wanted was different from what the dominant narrative of hook-up culture told her she was supposed to want.

I feel as though those of us begrudgingly caught up in the hook-up culture often act the way we do because we have been socialized to think of it as “just the way things are”, in a very all-or-nothing way. Either I engage in the hook-up culture and get some sense of romance and emotional connection, or I reject it and get nothing at all. And quite frankly, it doesn’t have to be this way. Don’t be fooled by the smokescreen—there is no fire.

Cara Peterson is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Thursday. Follow her tumblr and her twitter @the20_something.