As I’ve written before, I’m not in any way opposed to casual sex. Still, I think there are real problems with hookup culture. The Duke “sex list” that I wrote about yesterday gives some clues to what’s wrong with it.
First, too often the sex is just not very good for women. Karen Owen, the list’s author, raves about one guy – Subject 12 – who made sure she came first. This speaks volumes about what was likely lacking in her other encounters. But it’s not just her. I’ve heard innumerable stories from students who hooked up with (or refused) guys who were basically out to get serviced. Even if the guy is interested in mutual pleasure (and I think the majority of men are), he’s going to have to make a serious effort to get it right with a new partner if it’s only going to be a one night stand. He’s up against the orgasm gap, which is especially pronounced in younger women, as I wrote last spring.
Second, most of her hookups are drunken. She’s astonished when she discovers that sober sex can be pretty great. On “Subject 7″:
My second hookup with Subject 7 was an entirely new experience for me: a 100% sober booty call.
She enjoys it enough that they do it again. And again.
I don’t see anything wrong with having sex tipsy, some of the time. I’m not talking about the sort of inebriation that can result in sexual assault charges, just enjoying a drink or two – or at least having a pre-existing agreement, as a couple, that you’ll get drunk together and get naked. It’s hard to forge such an agreement if there’s no communication outside of bars and bedrooms, and it’s even harder in a one-night stand.
At any rate, it’s sort of sad if sober sex is a novelty. Here, too, I see a lot of students stuck in the same rut. Everyone relies on liquid courage. As long as that’s your only mode of interaction, you’re going to miss out on a lot of fun. (Maybe that’s where a Powerpoint presentation is useful – in jogging one’s memory?)
Owen also seems to view sex as being about conquest to a degree that feels highly transactional to me. The “subjects” are always described in terms of their alpha status. Lacrosse/baseball/soccer player. Good looking. Aggressive. While Owen also talks about who manages to be entertaining, these various status markers overshadow their personalities in most instances. Again, this is unsurprising. Because of its emphasis on surface traits, hookup culture is far better suited to assessing (and advertising!) status markers than it is to promoting mutually joyful, rewarding sex.
I do think it’s possible to have casual sex that’s not transactional. The obvious prerequisite for this is respect, an ability to see your potential partner as a full-fledged human being, and a sincere interest in your partner’s pleasure as well as your own. This is easier to achieve if you’re at least acquaintances before you begin.
It’s telling that Owen’s best sex was, apparently, also the least transactional, with the aforementioned Subject 12. He’d floated under her radar because he’d been in a relationship. Also, he evidently wasn’t her physical type, because the few times he’d been out to the bars she hadn’t noticed him. Significantly, they didn’t meet in a bar; they were hanging out with friends.
There’s some real sweetness in this story. Yes, they were hungover in the morning, but they hadn’t been sloshed, and they had no regrets by daylight – just more helpings of what they’d had the night before. What if hookup sex routinely ended this way? Well, most likely, there’d be a lot more hookups that segue into other sorts of relationships. For sure, there’d be fewer people just using their partner to get off, and a lot more having good, real sex.
Owen’s out in the “real world” now, beyond the comfy nest of Duke, and lying low while the hubbub over her list dies down. But for all of my students, male and female alike – I hope they’re having fun this weekend. I hope they’re being safe. And I hope, for those who do hook up, a “Subject 12″ experience, brimming with mutual lust, good humor, and a sense of truly being appreciated.