Ask almost any single woman under the age of 25; sex, love, and intimacy are in dire straits. If you’re unfamiliar with the term hook-up culture, I’ll catch you up to speed. The sexual liberation movement that began in the 1960s has decayed into a culturally hedonistic emphasis on causal sex, one-night stands, and non-monogamous situational relationships — the so-called Situationship, where one gets to enjoy all the benefits of a monogamous relationship without the commitment.
Hook-up culture has previously thrived in the confines of freshman-year co-ed dormitories and the indulgent collegiate underbelly that is Greek life, but as the general moral standard of society begins to wane and apps like Tinder and Hinge dominate the dating scene, most young Americans are active participants — including, yours truly. While there are evident and well-researched benefits and shortcomings of hook-up culture, there has been little emphasis on the deliberate objectivization and self-induced exploitation of women who participate in it.
Adolescents naturally crave intimacy. We’re at our reproductive peak biologically, and to implore any Gen Z to go celibate for gender equality is nonsensical. However, it’s essential to establish that men and women view sex and monogamy very differently at the hormonal level. Young men especially find it psychologically much easier to maintain intimate relationships with multiple people at any given time. Set the emotional discrepancies aside, women who capitalize on hook-up culture are still quietly ostracized and demeaned for promiscuity, despite their actions mirroring their male counterparts.
Hook-up culture, a consequence of a movement dedicated to sexual liberation, has morphed into one of the few remaining patriarchal structures where women ultimately compromise their desires for the benefit of men, even if this sacrifice is a subconscious act. Women have been sold a system that allegedly increases our agency; however, in practice, hooking up suffocates the potential for romance and fulfillment of biological feminine desires. I asked ten of my closest female friends if they resented the current dating landscape, posing the question, If you could go back to a time before hook-up culture, would you? All except for one said yes, with one friend responding that “establishing a genuine connection with someone these days is borderline impossible.”
I’m not arguing that it’s time to go back to Victorian courtship; I’m thankful that I have the option to explore different partners and determine what I want in my love life. However, I do feel that hook-up culture has given men the easy way out of commitment and true intimacy. Lisa Wade, associate professor of gender studies at Tulane University, said it best in an interview for The Cut last winter:
“Hooking up itself isn’t harmful, but students’ sexual experiences are playing out in a context of social prejudices like racism and sexism, the hypercompetitive individualism of late-stage capitalism (which breeds a toxic erotic marketplace), the commodification of sexuality (where bodies are commodities and sex is something you can have, give, or take), and ignorance and naïveté (an alarming lack of sex and relationship education).”
This intense degree of sexual liberation has removed any gravity to sexual encounters, inherently draining them of any potential for love and mutual respect. Women have become consumables.
Wade’s conclusions on the consequences of hook-up culture transformed my perceptions of sex and intimacy. In a culture obsessed with self-care, individualism, and gender equality, we should show a similar commitment to valuing the sanctity of the body and the feminine psyche.
If we as young women genuinely want to empower ourselves in a capitalistic system, we have to start placing more value on our capital. It’s time to bring some meaning back to sex. As soon as we change the way we participate in a system that is not serving us, men will be forced to reform back to a sexual culture that promotes intimacy and compromise of desires. This shift doesn’t have to come in the form of a Dworkinan ‘sex boycott’; there is a middle ground where women maintain free choice of sexual partners but are granted the respect of commitment as a term of consent. So, next time you get one of those super romantic “You up?” texts, exercise the immense power you possess as a woman and leave him on read.