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Patricia Vanderbilt

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The Hook-up Generation

Posted: 02/27/2012 4:11 pm

I'm apparently part of the "hook-up generation." In pop culture, the media and even sociology studies, there's an ongoing discussion about college students' preference for casual sex and the effect of hooking up on our ability to form personal relationships.

At Whitman, the so-called hook-up culture is an established norm -- to shorten an already short story, romantic entanglements at this school tend to start with alcohol and grinding in a dimly lit basement... and end with some juicy new gossip to share at brunch the next morning. One-night stands. Nothing particularly creative or unusual about the way they happen at Whitman.

The flip side of the hook-up culture is rarely discussed. When short-term flings are the expected mode of sexual interaction, we tend to regard other, more slow-paced forms of romance as abnormal. A girl asking a guy out? Weird -- not because of gendered social norms, but because going out on dates before hooking up is weird. If a student met someone he is attracted to at the dining hall, talked to her through lunch and thought that he might want to spend more time with her, he probably wouldn't ask for her number. More likely? He'd hope to catch sight of her at a frat party that coming weekend.

This Whitman-style romance is fulfilling for many, but it leaves out those who are uncomfortable with the idea of sexual encounters coming in single installments. Hook-up culture creates a strange binary: on the one hand, students are having casual sex. On the other hand, students are having no sex at all. With the exception of an occasional long-term relationship, there is virtually nothing in-between.

I've talked primarily to women about their unwanted sex-less lives, but I suspect that there are many men who can also relate. When these students came to college, they were excited about the opportunity to meet people and have their first adult relationship. But due to the whims of fate and Whitman's gender ratio (nearly 60% female), it didn't happen. They went to parties, drank cheap beer from red cups and occasionally made out with someone on the dance floor. And that's where things usually stopped, because the thought of their first sexual experience being with someone to whom they had barely spoken made them balk.

Why -- if many aren't comfortable with casual hook-ups -- are we unable to say to that cute girl at the library, "Nice shoes. Wanna talk?" Somewhere, we seem to have lost our ability to indicate romantic interest in a person without the help of PBR. We resort to non-verbal communication.

We're also image-conscious and self-absorbed. It's hard not to be; we showcase our amazing lives via Facebook and judge our peers by the way that they present themselves online. We're also taught in class to analyze every word. As a result, we are terrified of sounding pretentious, ethnocentric, heteronormative, orientalist or anything else that is insensitive, not politically correct or just plain stupid. It's a wonder that we find anything to talk about at all.

The hook-up is an attractive option when we consider these anxieties. We don't have to prove our intelligence our our sense of humor. There's something safe about this anonymity (though at a school of 1,596, nothing is really anonymous). Most would say that casual sex is pleasurable; some call it liberating. But those in Kelly Clarkson's camp who do not hook-up will probably not have much of an opportunity to take it slow either.