Hookup culture dominates the social scene of American college campuses today, including Duke. Although most people reading this are probably familiar with the term, it is defined as a culture “that accepts and encourages casual sex encounters, including one-night stands and other related activity, without necessarily including emotional bonding or long-term commitment.”
Here at Duke, I have overheard complaints about this culture and how to prevent it, but the reality is that it is a widespread instilled mindset in adolescents around the nation that physical intimacy no longer necessitates emotional intimacy. Hookup culture has integrated its way into pop culture and media and honestly, it looks like it’s here to stay for the long term. In fact, an estimated 60-80% of college students in North America have experienced a hook-up.
And though hookup culture, for Duke students, may conjure up memories of questionable nights at Shooters and late-night walks back to dorm rooms, the reality of this culture may represent something more important than we initially think.
Hookup culture, despite its prevalence in today’s society, has been conventionally portrayed as shameful and careless within the media. Romantic comedies depict the regret, irrational impulsivity, and emotional emptiness of “one-night stands.” The “walk of shame” is often portrayed as a girl, mascara smudged and hair messy walking barefoot in the dress from the night before.
While the traditional perception of hookup culture may dictate shame, this culture may actually have deeper roots in a widespread movement of progressive and changing sexual norms in our society. And though there are definite negatives surrounding hookup culture, like increased sexual health risk, one important aspect we often fail to consider is how it changes sexual norms in a way that makes them less taboo, easier to talk about, and overall more transparent.
In order to gain a more experienced perspective on the topic, I spoke to Professor Taylor Black, an Assistant Professor in Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies at Duke, who provided a valuable perspective about this culture.
He spoke about how hookup culture has always been prevalent within our society, yet in a more closeted way, especially among the queer community. Now, however, hookup culture has become more integrated in popular culture in a monetized way, like through mobile apps, movies and songs which normalize and encourage casual sexual relations between strangers.
Another point Professor Black made was how American’s purantical cultural background—which essentially dictates that sex is bad, has made it difficult to completely destigmatize sexual pleasure in our society. When I asked about his opinion on the integration of hookup culture into popular culture, he admitted that in the long run, if hookup culture helps debunk the stigma around sexual pleasure, it’s overall better for society.
Similarly, besides the traditional view of hookup culture portrayed in rom-coms, more recent mainstream media has normalized sex in a non-judgemental manner. Apps like Tinder, Grindr, and Bumble allow people to pursue, among other types of relationships, casual sexual encounters among singles in their area. Songs like “One More Night” by Maroon 5, “Hotline Bling” by Drake, and countless others depict and normalize casual sexual encounters. This saturation of hookup culture within our popular culture allows the topic of sex into a daily conversation among adolescents in ways that have been unacceptable in the past.
I also spoke with Professor Gabriel Rosenberg, an associate professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, who mentioned that although hookup culture is not synonymous with sex positivity, it is possible that the integration of hookup culture into popular culture has created new conversations around sex. He also stated that the popular media is merely a reflection of the prominent way that hookup culture structures people’s relationship about sex.
Whatever opinion one has about hookup culture, it is irrefutable that it has significantly changed the way that we think, act, and speak about sex. Sex is no longer the unmentionable term that was only discussed behind closed doors, and the decisions of individuals to have sexual encounters are often no longer vilified as they were in the past.
Normalization of sex, an effect of hookup culture, has shaped our principles to be more accepting of physical intimacy and sexual diversity. Hookup culture, on an individual level, may conjure memories of decisions fueled by impulsivity and desire. Yet on a societal level, this culture serves as an integral part of a larger sexually progressive movement of our generation that seeks to defile the cloud of shame around sex and normalize it.
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Sana Pashankar is a Trinity first-year. Her column, "small girl, big ideas", runs on alternate Fridays.