Liberal feminist: Hookup culture hurts women, and we hate it. So why do we join in anyway?

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PLAYING THE GAME

Most women don’t enjoy hookup culture—so why do we force ourselves to participate?

May 17, 2016

At Middlebury College, I lived a double life.

On the surface, I was successful. I was surrounded by diverse, intellectual friends. I led a popular student website and was active in the arts and athletics. I loved learning and made Phi Beta Kappa my junior year. I’m also a white, straight, cisgendered female. If you’re thinking, “Please. Your privileged ass has nothing to complain about,” you’re right.

But my internal life was characterized by paralyzing anxiety and depression. I judged myself harshly, to the point of disgust. I drove myself to excessive exercising and near-anorexia. I felt this way because of men—or so I thought.

While there was a major gulf between my public self and my private one, the one thing that remained consistent were my politics. I told myself that I was a feminist, despite subjecting myself to unfulfilling, emotionally damaging sexual experiences. And I believed it, too.

***

I had a puppy-love relationship with my high school boyfriend, the kind you see in movies. Losing my virginity was a respectful and patient experience. Entering college, I wasn’t scarred or inexperienced. I was confident I’d find Matt 2.0. He’d be poetic, invested, understand female sexual anatomy and have the perfect amount of facial scruff.

Almost immediately, I buried this dream deep within my new plastic dorm drawers. From dance floors to bedrooms, everyone was hooking up—myself included.

The popular media most frequently characterizes hookup culture as a series of emotionless one-night stands. At Middlebury, such casual hookups definitely occur.

Far more frequent, however, were pseudo-relationships, the mutant children of meaningless sex and loving partnerships. Two students consistently hook up with one another—and typically, only each other—for weeks, months, even years. Yet per unspoken social code, neither party is permitted emotional involvement, commitment, or vulnerability. To call them exclusive would be “clingy,” or even “crazy.”

 I soon came to believe that real relationships were impossible at Midd. I convinced myself I didn’t want one anyway. I soon came to believe that real relationships were impossible at Midd. I convinced myself I didn’t want one anyway. It wasn’t just the social pressure that drove me to buy into the commitment-free hookup lifestyle, but my own identity as a feminist.

The idea that sexual liberation is fundamental to female agency dominates progressive media. True feminists, I believed, not only wanted but also thrived on emotionless, non-committal sexual engagements. Hanna Rosin epitomizes this perspective in her article for The Atlantic, “Boys on the Side”:

“To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of a hookup culture. And to a surprising degree, it is women—not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role as an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.”

Kate Taylor, a New York Times reporter, makes a similar claim in the 2013 article “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too.” She opens her story with the tale of a University of Pennsylvania woman who approaches non-committal sex as a “cost-benefit” analysis with “low risk and low investment cost.”

 True feminists, I believed, not only wanted but also thrived on emotionless, non-committal sexual engagements. While various academic studies tout the damaging effects of hookup culture, I came across them much more infrequently. Besides, the alternative seemed to me to be abstinence—an equally unfulfilling option. I decided it was time to ditch my antiquated desire for monogamy. As Taylor’s article suggested, I would “play the game, too.”

***

For years I joked about my “confident Leah” persona, the one I’d tap into with every new crush. I’d send the first text to a cute guy—a frequent taboo at my school—feeling invigorated by being the initiator. And when guys reciprocated my interest, my insecurities were at least temporarily dissolved.

The winter of my junior year, I asked Ben, a quiet, smart philosophy major with bright blue eyes, to a wine and cheese party. We saw each other for a few months. On weekends I’d text him around 10 pm, usually somewhat drunk. We’d meet at one of our dorm rooms, debate philosophy and Fleet Foxes lyrics, talk about our families and aspirations, and then have sex until he came. Give or take some weeknight Netflix-watching or walks in town, I cycled through this routine with at least five guys by senior year.

 A few hookups in, I’d begin to obsess, primarily about the ambiguity of it all. After I began having sex with these guys, the power balance always tipped. A few hookups in, I’d begin to obsess, primarily about theambiguity of it all. My friends and I would analyze incessantly: Does he like me? Do you like him? He hasn’t texted in a day. Read this text. I’m so confused. He said he didn’t want anything, but keeps asking to hang out.

When Ben fell asleep, I’d pretend to doze off as well. During the night, I’d pull the covers or brush his toes, craving an arm around my waist. I’d analyze snippets of our conversation. Sometimes I’d leave an earring on his bedside table when I left, before he woke up. A reason to come back.

With time, inevitably, came attachment. And with attachment came shame, anxiety, and emptiness. My girlfriends and I were top students, scientists, artists, and leaders. We could advocate for anything—except for our own bodies. We won accolades from our professors, but the men we were sleeping with wouldn’t even eat breakfast with us the next morning. What’s worse, we really thought of the situation in those terms: “He didn’t ask to grab breakfast, so I walked home.”

 My girlfriends and I were top students, scientists, artists, and leaders. We could advocate for anything—except for our own bodies. We were desperate to know what it felt like to be wanted; desperate for a chance at intimacy. Desperate for a hand held in daylight, for public affirmation of desire typically expressed only after too many drinks. Desperate to try commitment, thendecide if it wasn’t working, rather than being prematurely cut off from it.

I wished that I could be like the guys, who seemed not to care at all. Months after things had ended between us, Ben said, “I didn’t think of you as a human being while we were hooking up.” Ironically, once we stopped hooking up, we became friends, and he actually developed romantic feelings for me.

If this was sexual liberation, it was hard to understand how it was helping women. But I was pretty sure my friends and I weren’t closeted conservatives who wanted to go back to an era of sockhops and going steady.

I decided to devote my senior thesis to answering the question of whether Middlebury women really were playing the game—and if anyone was actually enjoying it.

***

After interviewing 75 male and female students and analyzing over 300 online surveys, the solidarity was undeniable: 100% of female interviewees and three-quarters of female survey respondents stated a clear preference for committed relationships. (My research focus was on the experiences of heterosexual women, although of course many non-heterosexual relationships happen at Midd as well.) Only 8% of about 25 female respondents who said they were presently in pseudo-relationships reported being “happy” with their situation.

 Months after things had ended between us, Ben said, “I didn’t think of you as a human being while we were hooking up.” The women I interviewed were eager to build connections, intimacy and trust with their sexual partners. Instead, almost all of them found themselves going along with hookups that induced overwhelming self-doubt, emotional instability and loneliness.

Kelsey reported trying “traditional” hookup culture after a relationship ended, sleeping with various guys as liberated experimentation. “I had this façade of wanting to hookup with people,” she explained, “but I don’t think that was ever the entire motive … And the fact that most of these guys wouldn’t even make eye contact with me after having sex or would run away from me at a party is one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever felt.”

Juliet recalled that, after hooking up with the same guy for three weeks, she heard he’d slept with someone else. She’d convinced herself that they were “just having fun,” but she was surprised at her own reaction.

 “The fact that most of these guys wouldn’t even make eye contact with me after having sex or would run away from me at a party is one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever felt.” “The funny part is, and maybe it was the sex that did it, but I actually cared,” she said. “I felt like he had meant something to me but how could he? We had only really known each other for a few weeks … He wasn’t exactly taking me out on dates or walking me through the park during the day or night for that matter, like I did with boys in high school.”

Three years later, the experience still stung. “I told my friends I forgot, but I just didn’t, I couldn’t and I can’t explain why. I wish I were the kind of girl that could forget,” said Juliet.

Sophie, a senior, recalled the sheer frustration she’d felt when friends sent photos of the guy she’d been seeing for weeks at the bar with another girl. (He’d told Sophie he was finishing an essay that night.)

“People see ‘exclusive’ and ‘casual’ as being mutually exclusive, and I don’t think that they are,” Sophie said. “That’s what I was trying to convey to him [after the bar incident], but he couldn’t agree to the whole exclusivity part. But I’m just not interested in having a sexually or consistently intimate relation with someone if it’s not going to be committed, and that stems from wanting to be confident and validated and not used, it’s so little to ask.”

***

My research gave me a sense of solace. Most Middlebury women were “playing the game,” yet almost none of us enjoyed it. I went on to publish my thesis online, and stories from students around the country came pouring in. It was clear we were far from alone.

 The truth is that, for many women, there’s nothing liberating about emotionless, non-committal sex. The truth is that, for many women, there’s nothing liberating about emotionless, non-committal sex. The young women I spoke with were taking part in hookup culture because they thought that was what guys wanted, or because they hoped a casual encounter would be a stepping stone to commitment. In doing this, we actually deny ourselves agency and bolster male dominance, all while convincing ourselves we’re acting like progressive feminists. But engaging in hookup culture while wholeheartedly craving love and stability was perhaps the leastfeminist action I, and hundreds of my peers, could take.

Men’s experiences with hookup culture are equally complex. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of males I interviewed and surveyed alsoideally preferred committed relationships. But they felt strong social pressure to have casual sex. Culturally, men have been socially primed to believe they ought to “drive” hookup culture, and that a crucial part of the college experience is sleeping with many women and then discussing these “escapades” with their male friends. So despite what men might truly want, pervasive hookup culture prompts them to predicate their public identity as heterosexual men on the number and physical attractiveness of the women they’ve slept with. Needless to say, the detrimental effects of this performance pressure are countless and severe.

 Engaging in hookup culture while craving love and stability was perhaps the least feminist action we could take. Yet a year later, I think there’s a missing piece in my work on hookup culture. As writers likePeggy Orenstein have noted, while college students are having a lot of sex, I believe most of us—men and women—know basically nothing about it. I’m not talking about contraception or STDs. I’m talking about female pleasure, and women’s sexual relationships with ourselves.

I lost my virginity at 16. But I never had an orgasm until senior year of college, when my boyfriend and I became exclusive. It wasn’t for lack of trying: my sophomore year, I even had the campus nurse check if I had a clitoris. (A guy had ignored me after I hadn’t gotten wet the night before.)

Almost every woman I interviewed said they’d experienced sexual insecurities. We’d lie about orgasms, then blame our bodies when guys told us “the sexual connection wasn’t there.” After being in a loving relationship for over a year, I’ve realized the root of my pain in college was not the men I’d engaged with, but rather my body and mind, and my overwhelming conviction that I was sexually deficient.

In retrospect, it’s obvious that I was highly unlikely to have an orgasm with a guy who didn’t know me or care to. Even more asinine is that I beat myself up when I didn’t climax.

 To attempt to separate emotions from sex is illogical, given that emotion intensely augments pleasure. Since seeking out pleasure-centric education on women’s sexual anatomy, and taking the time to explore the nuances of my body both alone and with my partner, I’ve realized that sex is inextricably linked to emotions, trust, curiosity, and above all, self-awareness. To attempt to separate emotions from sex is not only illogical, given that emotion intensely augments pleasure, but also impossible for almost all women.

Looking back, I’m awestruck by the time and emotional energy that I, and so many of my peers, could have saved if we’d made the effort to explore our sexual selves, ask the questions we deemed “taboo,” and, critically, educate our partners in the bedroom. Given the current state of sex education in America, there’s a lot of learning that young people have to do on their own.

But if public discourse shifted to center women’s sexual pleasure as well as men’s, I wonder if hookup culture might not collapse entirely. If we taught pleasure-centric sex ed, beginning in middle school and high school and all the way through college, I can only imagine the possibilities. Young women who are only beginning to explore physical intimacy would go in armed with the knowledge that emotionless, casual sex is likely to be radically dissonant with their bodies’ desires. Men would know that it’s their responsibility to care about women’s sexual pleasure—which includes caring about their feelings. Pleasure-centric sex ed might even reduce sexual assault and encourage more students to report it, as both women and men armed with a clear understanding of how sex ought to feel would more easily distinguish between assault and “bad sex.”

As the academic year ends, summer offers students invaluable space for reflection. I’d urge all young women to seize this opportunity to seize this opportunity. As feminists, progress demands we build a relationship with our own bodies before engaging with anyone else’s. I think it’s worth it.

The names of students in this story have been changed to protect their privacy. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

This page was borrowed from-  http://qz.com/685852/hookup-culture/     Thank You for use of your material!condoms
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12 responses to “Liberal feminist: Hookup culture hurts women, and we hate it. So why do we join in anyway?

  1. This is the TRUTH about the meaningless, casual sex that feminists WRONGLY think “liberates” women!
    It is a LIE!!! It is MUCH BETTER to follow God’s Plan for sex-
    Abstinence until Marriage (to a person of the OPPOSITE SEX), then
    100% Monogamy & Faithfulness after Marriage! That is the best way, that would eliminate SO MANY problems from ever happening!!!
    But NO, People are too “intelligent” to believe in God, and follow His Word- The Bible!!!

  2. It’s amazing that the disillusioned girl writing this article is a non-Christian, and it was her people (women) who started the sexual revolution! It’s IMPOSSIBLE to make them happy and I wish Christians would stop trying to accomplish the impossible, because we inevitably trash millions of our own people in the effort to satisfy their irrational demands.

    • Thanks for stopping by, K.Q.!
      I appreciate your comment, and whole heartedly agree with you!
      Maybe someday the feminists will learn that God’s plan for them Really IS the best for them…But, I doubt it! I always pray for them!
      I have not been very active with this blog lately, because I am always at work.

      P.S. – I would love to read your take on this whole “bathroom” issue stuff that is going on now….

      • The only lifestyle that will bring young men and women true happiness, is the one defined by God himself. Sadly, this knowledge is being systematically withheld from our children, resulting in irreversible, life-long discontent and depression. And the non-Christian “experts” should be loudly repudiated for their false narrative. Someday, I plan to write a post and list ALL of the lying, non-Christian con artists who have sold Christian America down the drain with their “expert” BS. All of which, with time, has been proven to be wrong, including the “population explosion”, “salt is bad for you”, “socialism is good”, “don’t spank your kid”, “your parents are old fashioned”, “men are male chauvinist pigs”, etc., etc., etc. As far as the “bathroom” issue is concerned, this is a concerted effort undertaken by the same non-Christian radical feminists nut cases that brought us the sexual revolution, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, transgender, bi-sexuality, abortion, rampant divorce, banishment of school prayer and socialism! These sick people, their handlers, and the very sick people’s behavior they are trying to “normalize” in the average person’s mind, need mental health care, NOT notoriety. To promote a lifestyle defined by mental illness (which will destroy its untreated victim), as acceptable, is the typical irrational thinking routinely displayed by most non-Christians. Christians, on the other hand (who tend to be VERY rational beings), are obligated by God to try to sincerely help, cure and heal all of the sick, including the mentally ill, not take advantage of them for personal gain or fame! Just look what’s happening to poor Bruce Jenner! Now he wants to be a man again! If there was ever a case to prove the lunacy of those promoting these sick lifestyles as normal, Jenner is proving them to be just as crazy as he is. Christians should act on this knowledge, NOT stand by and accept it as normal or OK!
        Glad to hear from you! Work, or as in my case-family obligations, does tend to get in the way of blogging. But, then again, they should.

  3. If either you or KQ understood feminism, you would not make such sweeping generalisations. There is, for example a vast difference between liberal feminists and radical feminists.
    In terms of your blog post, I had sex with my current partner a few days after I met him. That was more than 31 years ago. I don’t think god or abstinence has anything to do with our relationship and there are plenty of divorced christians out there. Although probably not ‘true christians’ in your opinion.
    I think regarding ‘bathroom’ issues, then both of you should make yourselves aware that many non-christian radical feminist nut cases (sic) do not support men being allowed into areas traditionally reserved for women. We consider it to be a serious encroachment on our personal space, and we consider that the trans movement is undermining everything women have fought for. By women, I mean non-christian radical feminist nut cases obviously. Yes most of us agree with homosexuality, same sex marriage, bisexuality, and abortion if the woman chooses. Wider availability of free contraception is preferable. I personally don’t agree with divorce, but I can’t speak for every non-christian radical feminist nutcase.
    There are a lot of radical feminists who disagree with binding, puberty blockers, surgical mutilation and drugs for life that the trans movement is proliferating. Plenty of blogs out there that say this.
    Plus people are conflating sex and gender. Biological sex is how you are born ie a man or a woman. Not difficult, well apart from the ones that are XXY etc. Gender is a social construct that favours stereotyping people into masculine and feminine roles. For example, woman wear frilly frocks, love kids and want to be teachers or nurses. Men are tough and do manual work or intelligent work like doctors or engineers. So, then, we get men who want to wear frocks and make-up and think they are women. Uh. No. But, we have liberal feminists, note, not radical ones, who agree that they are women.
    Now, do you want to hear any more on this? 😀

    • Well, KQ understands the evils of feminism more than I do, because she has done more research on it than I have. But, I agree with her, and I stand by her, and agree with her views about the true evils of feminism. KQ is a good woman, we need more like her to sound the alarm, and rescue women away from the evils of feminism!!!

      There is not as much difference between liberal feminists and radical feminists. They are both in agreement with the same principles & goals, that is to remove God from the equation, and destroy the Christian, God Ordained role for the family,with the Manas the Provider, and the Woman as the Mother & Homemaker for the family- Husband, Wife, and Children. Women are more suited to be the Mother of children than to work in some career that will never be as fulfilling as raising the next generation of children!
      You mentioned that you had sex 3 days after meeting your “current partner” May I ask if you are married to him? That does make a big difference in a lot of ways. If one loves a person, then they should get married BEFORE they have sex! That is the way God Created us- The proper order is Love, Marriage, then sex! But we both know that feminists don’t think so, and that is a big mistake! Feminists preach that marriage is not necessary, or degrading and evil,for women, and they are wrong! God knows best, because He created us! (evolution is nothing but a science fiction fairy tale for people that can’t handle the truth that we were Created by God, and thus we all will stand before Him & give an account of our lives one day! And that is unacceptable to an atheist, so they invented evolution)
      If we all followed God’s design for sex- 100% Abstinence until marriage with someone of the OPPOSITE SEX, then 100% Faithfulness to your spouse, staying married to your opposite sex spouse for life, then ALL the Aids and other STD’s would disappear from the face of the Earth completely in 10 -15 years!

      At any rate, I will congratulate you for being married (I hope) for 31 years! That is Awesome! Do you have kids? I have been married to my wife for 28 years, with 4 kids, and I do believe that there is way too much divorce out there, especially in the Church. God is a God of Love,and He does allow divorce in cases of adultery, abuse, & abandonment. Forgiveness is also good! Not easy, but it can be done!
      But sadly, the majority of divorces are for selfish reasons!
      All the “transtesticles” are sick and in serious need of mental help! They do not need to be “accepted”, they need help! The same thing for people that think they were “born gay” Those issues are lies straight from the father of lies himself- Satan! God did not make any mistakes- You are the sex you were born as, and sexual orientation is to opposite the sex! Likes repel, opposites attract. That is the bottom line, but unfortunately there are no simple answers for them. Other than Jesus, who is The Great Healer!
      The devil knows his time is short, and he hates anybody and anything that has anything to do with God, and he is raising hell on earth to bring as many people to hell with him as he can!
      Feminism is one of satan’s grand schemes to get as many women ashe can to turn away from God,and that’s just the way it is!
      And it is working very well for him!

      • Hi SD. Thanks for your reply, I appreciate you are busy.

        In ref to pars:

        1) Feminism is not evil. It merely aims to achieve equality for women, ie the same opportunities and advantages that men gave. That’s a v short summary.

        2) Tosh. Feminism is not about eradicating your god. You may interpret it as such but that is not the aim. At all. Qv above. Radfems and libfems ARE very different. Don’t paint us all with the same brush.

        Equally, if women want to be stay-at-home wives, in slavery to their husbands, up to them. I never. Nor did I ever want children. Why should your religion determine my choices in life? It shouldn’t. I enjoyed my successful career tyvm. I would have been a bad mother.

        3) I don’t think it’s relevant whether I’m married or not. For example, if I didn’t get married in church would it be valid to you? In a register office, a civil ceremony, not in God’s eyes? What is relevant is that we are together, without religion, and have a good partnership. I think using condoms might help reduce STDs and AIDS. So teaching sex education might be more useful than preaching abstinence.

        4) Divorce, like marriage, is civil law. It’s not up to your mythical god or his interpreters to decide what is and isn’t correct. However, if people in the church have married and then divorced, why is that I wonder?
        People can’t choose how they are born – male, female. And it is silly, for want of a better word, to think they are otherwise. But biological sex and sexual orientation are very different. You think a homosexual should marry the opposite sex and wreck two lives? Crass. Live and let live.
        On trans, here is a big difference between libfems and radfems. Libfems accept them as women. Lets look at porn and prostitution. Libfems accept them as empowering. Radfems see them as exploiting women. See? There is a difference.
        The internet is doing far more than feminism to turn people from your god. And the tales from deconverts of their fear and indoctrination are horrific.
        You’ll never know it’s all a myth because when you die, it will be over. You will be dead. Fin. No afterlife, no heaven, paradise, pearly gates, everlasting soul etc.
        Make the most of your life because there is only one.

      • Thanks for stopping by, and for leaving your reply.
        Go ahead and live your life however you want to, that is your choice. But know this, it is a foolish choice!
        You are free to make whatever choices you want, but you are not free from the consequences of your choices!
        You most certainly find out the hard way that there IS a God,the very same God that you deny the existence of, because you will have an opportunity to meet Him face to face! But, I don’t think you will like the outcome of that meeting! God has said that “Every knee shall bow to Him, and every tongue will confess that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!
        You are free to scoff & mock and disbelieve all you want, but that will change nothing! It will happen!
        God is the Creator of Everything,Including Marriage, and He will decide what is correct or not. That is not up to us, we can either accept it the way it is, or reject Him. God did not leave that open for discussion!
        And a stay at home Wife & Mother is NOT in “slavery” to her husband.
        That is a lie of feminism, pure & simple. And many women, including you have bought that lie- hook, line, & sinker! Feminism has ruined more people than it has ever helped. But they spin it off as just being about “choices” or that stupid term “empowering women” Another lie, straight from the father of lies! Nobody was ever “born gay”, that is another lie.
        There are no “deconverts” from Christianity, at all. If anyone ever says that, I seriously doubt that they ever were a True Christian to begin with. There are a lot of people playing christian, and that have some knowledge about God, but they have never really decided to fully follow God with all their Heart, Mind, & Soul!

        Unless you repent of your sins, and truly follow God with everything you have, you are just playing games and lying to yourself!
        The choice is yours, and yours alone so chose wisely!
        I wish you a long & “happy” life here on Earth, because once you take your last breath here, you will instantly discover that God is Real and the Bible is 100% True and Accurate!
        Enjoy!

  4. I don’t know where to begin! This woman has complicated, and at the same time, overly simplified her views to the point of irrationality! First of all, referencing “our god” is very telling as the auto check insists God is spelled with a capital G. This move to omit the capitalization took determination, which explains her oddball views. She is an atheist, probably a non-Christian and obviously a radical feminist And she’s a perfect example of the old saying, that people who do not believe in God will believe in anything. The approval of the murder of innocent babies in-vitro; having sex with a guy you barely knew; never wanting children; splitting hairs over liberal/radical feminists; living with a guy for 31 years; laughingly believing that feminism is about equality for women when it is obvious it is instead about INEQUALITY for Christian men and then claiming to oppose transgender ideology is inexplicable. This woman’s entire life has given birth to the transgender ideology because she’s been bucking the system her entire life. She’s stood for nothing of lasting value, and as a result, whether she believes it or not, she is part of the very cowardly group of radical feminists who are directly responsible for the spawning of transgender issues. Without these co-conspirators in the destruction of Christian America, transgenders would be a mental health issue, not pawns, used by neglected children, who never grew up, and are now egocentic, maniacal cowards who seek nothing more than public notoriety for lack of parental love as children. They use others to get attention and where better to do that, then by public ally promoting the acceptance of freaky behavior. This woman needs to read my blog in order to get her head on straight. Otherwise, her life will have been lived in vain.

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