As Observer writer Miranda Wilson pointed out in her piece, “Gendered Pleasure: Failures of the Hook Up Culture,” modern journalists have proclaimed left and right that on college campuses, dating is dead; instead, the “hook-up culture” reigns. Many hold the opinion that the hook-up culture hinders gender equality. Specifically, according to Miranda, our culture of casual sex has promoted inequality in the bedroom; heterosexual women often do not orgasm during random hook-ups due to the lack of communication.
While it has certainly become normal for sex to end after the man orgasms, regardless of whether or not the woman did as well, I’m not sure the “hook-up culture” itself is the main cause. In fact, new studies reveal that millennials are not looking for more sex or more partners than previous generations. Researchers from the University of Portland compared the sexual behavior of students in 1988-1996 and 2004-2012, as recorded by the General Social Survey, finding that students today are actually having slightly less sex with fewer partners than today’s 30- and 40-somethings were in college. Additionally, college students have not abandoned dating as completely as the media suggests. A Sexual Satisfaction Survey conducted by Lifestyles revealed that while 42% of respondents said they only participated in casual hook ups, 44% answered were involved in a serious relationship.
The “hook-up culture,” it seems, may not be as all encompassing as we’ve all been led to believe, but that hasn’t stopped media outlets of all kinds from engaging in its critique. While casual hook-ups are certainly a part of the college experience, we as Tufts students duly believe press that advertises the pervasiveness of hook-up culture, because we can see what seems like the evidence in action. But in reality, the media and the behavior of our peers in dark, sweaty frat basements only show about half of what is actually going on in the college environment.
The real issue here is deeper-seeded in the culture on college campuses today than how much we’re having sex or how many people we’re hooking up with. The large-scale problem, then, is more that we millennials as a generation, feel unable to be clear about what we want. Like Miranda wrote, women don’t feel comfortable communicating either in the bedroom or in emotional relationships. But it’s not just women—it’s all of us.
So yes, casual hook-ups may be connected to a lack of sexual satisfaction for women. I see another lack of satisfaction, though: to me, the survey data above suggests that many of us, men and women alike, are simply settling for one-night stands, friends-with-benefits, or “things” because we feel overwhelmed by the figment of the highly sexualized college campus. This settling, in and out of the bedroom, can only be corrected by increased communication in both realms.Header photo by Misako Ono.