In Defense Of the Hook-Up Culture


Circa 2009

It's 4 a.m. and my hot pink phone is chirping. I groan, knowing exactly what that particular noise indicates. I usually sleep through calls and texts, but I always wake up when this guy contacts me. It's the reason I sometimes go to bed fully dressed, earrings, bracelet, necklace and all. I want to be prepared to hang out at a moment's notice, because these spontaneous encounters make for good stories and put me in a giddy mood ... for a day, at least.

"What are you up [to]?" the message reads. 

Well, I think to myself, I was sleeping. I may be a college junior, but I have to go to bed at a decent hour every once in a while.

Of course, that's not how I respond. There's no point informing him how rude, disrespectful, and degrading this is. We're both aware, but it's not what he wants to hear, and calling him out as I've done before will scare him away, because to this person, I'm not worth fighting for. I'm convenient. 

"Nothing. You?" is what I sent back, which results in a request to "come by" his residence four miles away, "even if it's just for a few minutes." I glance out my window and smirk, unsure of how safe it would be to brave the road right now. Drunk drivers are surely out and about, the stoplights won't be working well, there are a ton of weirdos lurking through the city, and most of all, I'm exhausted. Oh yeah, I also have a British Literature lecture to attend in four hours.

The sun is peaking through the purple southern Arizona sky. I look off into the distance and see my Honda Accord parked nicely (for once) in front of a row of palm trees. Though a rowdy college student housing complex, NorthPointe is totally quiet and free of activity. Nobody, not even a stumbling sorority girl doing the walk of shame, can be seen outside. Yet that's where I want to be, walking to my vehicle, because even though the fellow texting me makes me feel awful 80% of the time, I live for cheap thrills and the constant mystery surrounding what we could be or become. 

Four years later...

Stories like the one above, which I'll admit I'm not exactly proud to share, are destroying sex and intimacy for millennials, argues Donna Freitus, author of The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy. The hook-up culture, which many Gen Y members know all about for better or worse, creates "bad sex, boring sex, drunken sex you don't remember, sex you couldn't care less about, sex where desire is absent, sex that you have just because everyone else is too or that just happens," according to Freitus. 

As we've seen on shows like HBO's Girls and perhaps in our own lives, hook-ups can leave young people feeling unsatisfied, unloved, and used. These aren't ideal experiences to have, but they aren't enough to destroy a person, even a vulnerable 20-something with a slew of post-grad/college student (read: first world) problems and immense uncertainty, and that's why Freitus' analysis of the hook-up culture is over-the-top and underestimates the resilience of young people. 

Through thousands of interviews with college students, Freitus found that 41% felt "sadness" and "despair" about their hook-ups, which she attests brings about "quick, ostensibly meaningless sexual intimacy." That may be the case, but why not chat with them a few years after they've finished college, have full-time jobs, and aren't so new to the hook-up scene? Had someone asked me how I felt about the hook-up scene in 2009, I probably would have said it was fun but had definite downsides. Now I recognize its potential destructiveness, but I also know the hook-up culture doesn't have to define me as a person. The life of a motivated, hard-working, bright-eyed millennial is rich and intriguing, and stupid dating choices aren't enough to ruin an otherwise fulfilling existence.

Why are millennials being defined by sexuality, and what's the harm in learning what we like and don't like? If anything, the hook-up culture showed me and my friends that we have to be careful, both physically and emotionally. People who engage in the hook-up culture have to be mindful of STDs, but they also need to learn their boundaries. I haven't cried over a member of the opposite sex in years because every guy I've interacted with since graduating college has been better than the last, and I can now laugh about some of the duds I spent time with (and hooked up with) in my student days. If you like the hook-up culture, it'll always make room for you. If it's not for you, you're free to look elsewhere for something lasting, whether through online dating, blind dates, social groups, friends, the possibilities are endless. The reality is that you have options, and you don't deserve to be judged for which one(s) you select.

The hook-up culture, which Hanna Rosin aptly points out is actually kind of awesome for ambitious young workaholics, gives millennials the chance to figure out what they want out of long-term partners or romantic prospects in general. I realized a long time ago I deserve more than just a late night afterthought text, but I also learned that I kind of liked the drama of not knowing what was going to happen with the person I was seeing. Like me, you may fall somewhere in the middle, and you can learn that from failed or successful hook-up experiences.

There's also the fact that some millennials simply don't want relationships or care for traditional dates. I'm told I'm supposed to want a guy who showers me with exaggerated compliments without even knowing me, but that's not what I want at this time. As Rosin will tell you, I, like many 20-somethings, am busy. I'd rather throw myself into my career headfirst than focus on a relationship, engagement, or marriage, and that's perfectly acceptable for a 24-year-old.

As I mention earlier in my post, millennials who regularly hook up with strangers should understand they're at a higher risk of contracting STDs, but in terms of emotions, they can absolutely overcome unfavorable outcomes of the hook-up culture. It's not the end of the world to be disappointed by an attractive stranger you met at a bar a couple of months ago, because that small, insignificant interaction doesn't make you who you are.