By Marie Frankson
We’ve all heard the saying, “He won’t buy the cow if he’s getting the milk for free,” but it seems like college-age students of both genders are more interested in getting the milk than buying the cow. Once upon a time, men went to college to become businessmen of some sort and women went to college to find a husband, but now we’re living in a time where women are increasingly entering the workforce. In college, people in their late teens and early twenties are hardly interested in finding a spouse, and is that such a bad thing? I keep hearing about how the “hook-up culture” of our generation is hurting us because we don’t know what dating really is or what it’s like to be exclusive. However, I’ve also heard that we should “sow our wild oats” while we’re young. Which begs me to ask the question: does hook-up culture help or hurt us when it comes to dating?
Many people believe that casual sex is rampant on college campuses, but that is not true. According to an August 2013 article in the Pacific Standard magazine, the median number of hook-ups for a graduating senior is seven—this includes instances in which there was intercourse and times when two people made-out fully clothed. The typical college student acquires two new sexual partners or less during college. The majority of students, around 70 to 75% in fact, prefer to have monogamous relationships and use hooking up as a means to an end, the “end” being a monogamous relationship. In this case, hooking up can be beneficial when it comes to dating. Jeff, a 24-year-old male from New York, said that he has only been in monogamous relationships but that he can see one benefit of hooking up: “Playing the field can be a good thing because it not only lets you meet people, it can also show you what your [emotional and physical] needs are.” Conversely, a benefit of the hook-up culture may be impermanence — it is, after all, easier to end a friends-with-benefits situation than a long-term relationship.
Hooking up has more benefits than just casual sex. Hooking up, as already stated, can lead to a monogamous relationship for some. However, hooking up can become an equalizer — it allows us, men and women alike, to pick and choose when we want to have relationships and when we want to focus on other things such as academics, jobs/careers, and figuring out who we are.
People are engaging in hook-up culture because they don’t want a “real” relationship for one reason or another. The average age for first marriages among both men and women is 26-years-old in this country; I don’t personally know too many people who are in college and planning weddings, not undergraduates anyway, but I do know plenty of people who are in friends-with-benefits relationships or long-term relationships, and I know that every individual is different as well as every couple or quasi-couple, and everyone needs different things at different points in time. As Jeff was quoted as saying, hook-up culture can help people find out what those needs are.
Nearly every article I had read about the hook-up culture tears it apart because they claim that hook-up culture strips relationships, whether they are of a sexual nature or not, of intimacy. After all, the point of dating is to get close to someone in order to form an intimate bond that may lead to marriage. Can you do that in a hook-up culture? Paula England, a sociologist at New York University, has been collecting data from an online survey about hook-ups since 2005. Out of a sample size of about 20,000, England concluded that 66% of women and about an equal amount of men said they wanted their most recent hook-up to turn into something more. So, even in the age of casual sex, intimacy is still alive and well.
Another benefit of the hook-up culture is the possibility for making communication easier. Communicating your wants in bed (or out of bed if you are your partner have not had intercourse yet) can be pretty embarrassing. However, hooking up with people and experimenting can give you the confidence to speak up about what you want. Opening the lines of communication in any kind of relationship is beneficial because communication is key — if you don’t tell your partner what you want then you won’t get it, and vice versa, because neither of you are mind-readers.
I have done an extensive amount of research for this article, having read pieces by Hanna Rosin, who has written articles in The Atlantic and Slate, and others trying to find out the benefits of hook-up culture, and although I was able to discover some benefits through my research, I was able to discover a lot more from people I know.
Christina, a 24-year-old woman who studied at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, had this to say about hook-up culture and its benefits: “Hook-up culture exists whether a woman chooses to partake or not. This then yields a single choice: feel used by it or use it to build your own self-confidence. In this world of hook-up culture, I make it perfectly clear to anyone who makes a pass that I don’t have sex —OFF the table. I make this clear from the very beginning so that they have the bare minimum of sunk costs if they choose to turn tail and chase other fare. I am not trying to catch them, but trying to ensure that the ones I catch are worthy of my time and attention, and that they acknowledge, by their choice to pursue me above others, that they would rather NOT have sex with me than have sex with someone else. For sex-crazed nerdy college guys, this is a big deal. I had no shortage of interested guys, which allowed me to believe what I always knew to be true, but was dissuaded from believing in high school: I am a catch. Men see me as smart, attractive, funny, interesting, etc., as opposed to the view I felt was had of me in high school: She’s a nerdy weirdo and I don’t know quite what other stereotype to put her in so I’d better just ignore her. So, once I was convinced that men saw my value, I had the gall to push the envelope and see just HOW much more these guys wanted to be with me instead of having sex with other people. I would purposefully come up with scenarios that would push the guys out of their comfort zones. The more success I had, the farther I decided to push the next one. It got to the point where I realized that if I put my mind to it, I really could get away with absolutely anything I wanted, making them extremely and unnecessarily uncomfortable, and they would still want more. After I knew I could “win” any challenge I set for myself, I didn’t need to “play” anymore, because what’s the point if you know you’re going to win? I felt I had mastered the game. At this point, I had the confidence needed to take charge of my love life for the rest of my life. I don’t sit around and wait for a guy to make a move. If I want him, I go get him. To some men, that’s a turn off because they feel that as the man they need to make all the moves and their ego can’t take the hit of being hit on, although it seems as though it should be an ego boost. Oh well, men are strange. Others take this opportunity to lie about wanting a relationship when all they really want is a hook-up. If they would just tell me that in the first place, they’d probably get what they want a lot faster! When one gets tricked, it always sucks, but it sucks a lot less when one has the confidence earned from previous experiences to say, ‘Oh well, on to the next one!’ Pardon the mixed metaphor, but once one realizes that there are always more fish in the pond, they don’t cry as much over spilt milk. In some cases, however, this ballsy approach really does work, and I’ve honed it to work extremely well for me. A man who is scared off or turned off by my upfront nature is not a man I want to spend time with anyway, so I waste a lot less time on them using this approach (minimize sunk costs). The men whom I DO snare with this tactic tend to be more shy and respectful of women and would not have dared to hit on me for either of those reasons, sometimes both. This was the case with my current boyfriend, with whom I just celebrated our one year anniversary. He despises how men make clearly unwanted advances on women all the time, and feels sorry for the women this happens to often. He was clearly interested in me, but would not have made a move until it was PAINFULLY clear what my intentions were. He had ZERO interest in making an unwanted advance, so he had to have ABSOLUTELY NO DOUBT that I wanted him, and yet he ‘doesn’t do hook-ups’ and is rather shy, so I had to employ an ever-increasing, stealthy, tactical approach to express my interest without scaring him away or pushing him too hard, but still closing the deal the second time I saw him, because I knew that if I didn’t, I would probably never see him again or at least be friend-zoned, because he lives in New Jersey and is 10 years older than me. Due to my confidence gained via the hook-up culture in college, I was able to take control of the situation and not fear failure. I knew he had something special and would work well with me long-term if I could just get over this first hurdle. If this approach didn’t work, it would have showed that we would have had problems down the road anyway. My point is that I gained the confidence to not just show my interest, but make my advance, step by step, over the course of 10 hours at a mutual friend’s New Year’s party. I saw my opportunity and I took it instead of waiting for an advance from him, which would never come. I did NOT miss out on this AMAZING man, because of the experience I earned from hooking-up in college.”
When it comes to answering the question “Does hook-up culture help or hurt us when it comes to dating?”
One must look at the evidence, and to themselves. As Christina said, everyone is a part of this hook-up culture in some way, and we can either be used by it or use it to our advantage; however, we have to know what we want when entering into the situation. According to a study conducted by Michigan State University, only about 10% of hook-ups or friends-with-benefits situations culminate into a long-term romantic relationship; but on a positive note, one major worry about friends-with-benefits situations is that the friendship will end in a wrecked friendship, but only 26% of those situations end in a wrecked friendship, which means that 74% of friendships remain intact after the situation ends. For those who may, say, have romantic feelings for their friend and want to become friends-with-benefits in hopes that it may turn into a long-term relationship like romantic comedies would lead us to believe happen all the time, the best option would be to just tell your friend how you feel and to see how they feel. Communicate to let your needs be met. However, if you and your friend are just looking to get a certain need met until something better comes along, then by all means sow those wild oats. You can decide whether hook-up culture helps or hurts you when it comes to dating based on what your needs are at a given time. There is no definitive “yes, it hurts” or “yes, it helps” answer to this question. One thing is certain, though; that there are at least some benefits to what previous generations claim has been harming young adults’ abilities to date.