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In Defence of Hook-up Culture

Ayaat Yassin-Kassab discusses how we might come closer to a ‘reformed hook-up culture’ whereby we safeguard our feelings alongside embracing new experiences…

The hook-up scene is exciting. There’s the perpetual possibility of meeting someone new, whether you’re at a club or a pub. There’s sex with freedom from commitment. There’s the checking for texts, the late-night booty calls, the sad post-orgasm feelings. Do you get them a birthday present? Do you tell them you love them, just without strings attached…? The reality is hook-up culture is in a dismal place. Something that should be useful, formative, and fun now implies the inability to develop meaningful connections. But can sexual relationships be nurtured in the same way as emotional ones, and is there potential for an evolved hook-up culture; a reformed approach to casual yet meaningful dating?

Whether it’s a one-time thing or a friends-with-benefits scenario, a lot of the downside comes from the apparent inability to express feelings. Being physically vulnerable without being allowed to feel emotionally vulnerable is confusing. Feeling attached but unworthy of the other person’s affection, feeling jealous, feeling used, and then not communicating any of it because you’re not ‘close like that’, is inevitably restrictive. Equally, if you yourself aren’t that emotionally invested, then there is pressure to maintain decency: texting them enough, asking them about their day when you’re really more preoccupied with your own. In a hook-up scenario, you’re either too devoted or not devoted enough.

There is a gender disparity, too. Hook-up culture does not benefit women in the same way that it does men. On a physical level, women typically find it harder to orgasm, so if hooking-up is all about sex, they glean less pleasure. On a societal level, there is an emphasis on female virginity and ‘purity’ that makes the social stakes a lot higher. While men can boast a high body count, women are seldom allowed that same luxury. There emerges a vicious cycle whereby, however subconsciously, women who are attracted to men are aware of the fact that they are given value according to their level of attractiveness, and work to meet these standards. It makes sense – we all want to be attractive to the people we are attracted to – but in a world that oversexualises women while simultaneously subjecting them to sexual stigma, they have to be cautious. Many women then feel like they must either settle for hook-up culture in order to enjoy sex, or be in a committed and exclusive relationship. Now, that’s a big jump.

That’s not to say that men always enjoy and always benefit from casual sex : they don’t. They too are victims of mistreatment, oversexualisation, and feelings of emptiness or unfulfillment. It’s a sex culture that degrades and dismays, and it needs to change for the benefit of all those that participate in it.

However, it’s not too late. We speak about hook-ups as though they’re discardable by definition, we are wary of ‘catching feelings’ or being ‘in too deep’, but it seems we need to embrace our passion in order to revive the art of having casual sex. The potential for complex emotions should encourage us to explore them, not stray from them. This raises the question: can we nurture sexual relationships while still maintaining a sense of freedom?

For starters, we need to take casualness down from the pedestal. You don’t have to be in an officially binding relationship in order to search for meaning in sex. To fully participate in a purposeful reimagining of hook-up culture, you need to be aware of your boundaries, willing to meet people you may not necessarily like, and able to healthily end things. Not being in a relationship doesn’t excuse being an indecent person.

In the case that attachments form, we need to be more mindful that such an attachment has  the potential to improve the sexual relationship, and not be so quick to either end it out of fear, or get to work wife-ing them up. Confidence and security are necessities. You cannot rely on your hook-up for validation and also maintain a sense of stability as the terms of your relationship fluctuate and adapt. In order for hook-up culture to become meaningful and interesting, it must become messier. As the potential for worthwhile connections increases, so does the potential for hurt and rejection. And of course heartbreak is a natural part of life, but you shouldn’t invite it into your life unless you know it will not knock your sense of self-esteem.

So, this reformed hook-up culture relies on maturity, willingness to explore different types of relationships, and ability to shape romantic connections that don’t necessarily conform to a convention. Openness to multiple connections at one time is also very welcomed. The emotional intellect to speak about and experience a range of emotions will change everything. But a crucial component of this new age of sex is a sexual partner that’s equally as mature as you. You cannot do all of the work and will have to find someone who is like minded and who understands your intentions.

Whether it’s the before or the after, hook-up culture is not for everyone, and doing it well is difficult to achieve, but it’s certainly possible. The empty cycle of one-night-stand to one-night-stand is not fulfilling; it leads to bad feeling and bad sex. So, why continue? It’s time to raise our standards and maintain them.

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