Like many a young generation before them, the millennial generation often faces unsubstantiated criticism from their elders: they’re addicted to their smartphones, they’re entitled, they’re overly sensitive, they have too much casual sex. That final allegation is one that Lisa Wade, Professor of Sociology at Occidental College in southern California, tackles in her new book American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus. Wade, who teaches the sociology of sexuality and solicited student contributions for her book, takes a nuanced, non-judgmental look at what’s up with the current college student population and sex.
In an interview with Bitch Magazine, Wade spoke of “hookup culture” on campuses, explaining that it’s more complicated than the moralistic criticisms often leveled in the media. While she writes in American Hookup that “Students are less happy and healthy than in previous generations,” she explains that this has more to do with expectations and attitudes surrounding casual sex than the act itself. She says,
I scoured the journals written by the 101 students who contributed to the book—more than a million words—and I found [the word “fun”] everywhere. Students spent a lot of time worrying about whether they were having enough fun, if they were fun people, and if the fun they were having was the “right” kind of fun: raucous, drunken, sexy, and just a tad perilous. Hooking up is the pinnacle of this. […] That’s the ideal, anyway. In practice, sex without care is tricky to pull off.
Because everyone knows sex is meaningful, so establishing that any particular interaction is meaningless is a difficult interpersonal task. So, students actually have a pretty elaborate and arguably brutal set of rules for how to perform meaninglessness. Those rules work, often all too well.
She goes on to note that though studies have found that men and women don’t really differ in their attitudes toward hookup culture, “Women are more likely than men to be labeled as slutty or desperate, they’re more likely to encounter degradation or coercion, and they’re less likely to be given an orgasm,” which results in different behaviors. Check out the full Bitch interview for more about Wade’s book and her fascinating findings.