Urban Dictionary defines the term “hook-up” in two main ways: 1) verb – to engage in any type of sexual activity or 2) noun: a) purposely ambiguous, equivocal word to describe almost any sexual action, usually used to exaggerate or minimize what exactly happened. A hook-up can range from a make-out session to full out sex. b) person you hook up with.
As a member of Generation Y or the Millennials or whatever the hell those of us between the ages of 18 to 32 are supposed to be called these days, it seems that “hooking up” has always existed—we’ve just put a name on the activity (or activities, as the case may be). Both women and men have used sex in all its iterations for pure pleasure, business, and everything in between.
With the recent publication of Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men, talk of “hook-up culture” has resurfaced with a vengeance. (Although one can argue it has never truly disappeared since its emergence in last 10 to 15 years.) And as always, we have polarized this topic: on one hand, there are those who feel the hook-up culture has “liberated” women and has few or no negative consequences and on the other, we hear the voices of those proclaiming its immorality and inevitable danger. (As if hooking up were analogous to tightrope-walking without a net.)
This kind of extremism is what’s really dangerous. We’re either sluts or we’re prudes. We’re either looking for a quick fuck or the love of our lives. There’s no room for any thoughtful discussion about what we, as twenty and thirty-somethings actually want, as individuals.
Instead of shoving us into easily defined boxes, wouldn’t it make more sense to acknowledge that we’re just trying to figure out what works for us?
As a gay woman, I’ve run the gamut of relationships and relationship-type things. While I sometimes wished navigating matters of the heart (and sex drive) were easier, I do appreciate the value of trial and error. I’ve had monogamous long-term relationships (including a live-in partner), on again/off again relationships, friends with benefits, one-nights stands, and yes, actual dates.
Admittedly, the act of dating is a recent phenomenon. After the end of my last long-term relationship, I decided it was a good idea to wade back into the water slowly, toes first.
My point is that while there’s all this fuss about what the hook-up culture does or does not do to straight women, no one seems to wonder about what it means for gay women.
First of all, I wonder if we truly have one (and in the same sense that straight people do)? And if so, is it detrimental, empowering, or irrelevant?
In the article, “Hook-Up Culture: Setting a New Research Agenda,” authors Caroline Heldman and Lisa Wade point out that “most studies of hook-up culture remain resolutely non-intersectional, leading to a flattened understanding of the factors that influence the entrenchment of hook-up culture.” Furthermore, they assert, “We know very little about how sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, class, religious affiliation, disability, and other variables influence, and interact to influence (attitudes towards) hooking up among individuals and the shape of sexual cultures at institutions” (Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 2010). Granted this article was written two years ago, but I’ve yet to find any new information or insight. So as far as we can tell, the hook-up culture is out there but the effects for us gays are virtually unknown.
A few weeks ago, a conservative pundit wrote a blog post on what he called the “culture of death,” a.k.a. the hook-up culture. He writes, “It is a culture of spiritual death. I see one of my primary jobs as a father as raising my sons and my daughter to hate this culture, and to resist it, mostly by learning to love what is good, true, and beautiful. Nothing—nothing—about the hook-up culture is good, true, or beautiful.”
Far be it for me to criticize one man’s ideals about what he’d like to see in the world for his children, but advocating hate for a segment of the population? Doesn’t that seem a tad melodramatic? And if there is a real problem with this so-called “culture of death,” is hatred going to fix it? I doubt it.
Looking around my own community of girls who like/love/have sex with girls, I don’t see such a bleak landscape. I think the solution to the possible harm (direct or indirect) that the hook-up culture may have is simple: communication. And yes, honesty—most importantly with yourself. If you can’t admit to yourself what you want, how can you possibly admit it to someone you’ve just met? Or someone with whom you’ve become emotionally invested?
Whatever academia or the world at large has to say, the best thing any of us can do is try. We have to learn—again, trial and error. Sometimes you have to get burned by the fire before you can know your limitations. Sometimes you have to know when to walk away before you fall down the rabbit hole of no return. And sometimes, you have to just trust yourself—and your partner du jour.
One could say these couple of decades are the post-formative years. We’re finally adjusting our skins and it feels good. Some of us are walking down the aisle, some of us are against marriage and always will be (some will change their minds), some of us are sleeping around, some are content to meet strangers online for coffee or drinks, and some of us are somewhere in between all that—and we don’t need a definition.