Et tu, NPR? Moral panic hits public radio

Back in the good old days when no one – we swear! – had pre-marital sex.
I’m used to seeing moral panic “hook up” stories on Good Morning America (Is Oral Sex the New Goodnight Kiss?!) and Newsweek, but NPR?!

Sex Without Intimacy: No Dating, No Relationships
The hookup — that meeting and mating ritual that started among high school and college students — is becoming a trend among young people who have entered the workaday world. For the many who are delaying the responsibilities of marriage and child-rearing, hooking up has virtually replaced dating.

Here we go. Shit, there’s even the obligatory Sex and the City reference! The radio segment takes a more complex perspective, of course, than your run-of-the-mill sex scare stories. But I was still disappointed to see the myth that young folks only just started having pre-marital funtime perpetuated by NPR.
As I’ve written before, 95% of Americans have premarital sex, and this has been true for decades. Even for women who were born in the 1940s, nine out of ten had sex before marriage. This is not something new, it doesn’t come from the internet or texting (sorry, sexting!). What was also irritating is this thinly-veiled fear that young people are waiting too long to get married (the article is accompanied by marriage rate graphs) – yet another anti-feminist talking point.
But what struck me the most about the article that accompanied the radio segment was the poll they had at the end:

Talk about removing nuance from sexuality! As if “hooking up” was some sort of monolith. I imagine people’s sexual experiences run the gamut from “fun” to “degrading” to – gasp! - feelings not easily explained by an online poll.
Related posts: Moral panic visualized
Girls aren’t “going wild” after all
Spitting Game: A film about “hook up” culture
What’s wrong with casual sex?

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    Posted June 10, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Why can’t they accept that humans are animals and that we are NOT monogamous by default. We all want, need, and crave sex. Sex is a biological need that we all must fulfill.
    Of course hook-ups are common– and healthy, in my opinion.

  2. i_muse
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    is the poll for 20 somethings or can anyone of any age respond?

  3. Peter
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    While you admit that this wasn’t your “run-of-the-mill sex scare story,” I fear that your post is a now run-of-the-mill reaction to any such story, however nuanced. Call it the Feministing “sex-scare-story scare story.”
    The NPR transcript that I read never once said or implied that “young folks only just started having pre-marital” sex. Can you substantiate your claim?
    Instead, the story states that such sexual practices had changed — specifically as sex is or is not connected to “relationships” and dating. It’s major claim is that more casual, quasi-sexual encounters (“hooking up”) — long a staple of younger sets — are moving up the age ladder.
    Whether that claim is true is another story, and the NPR tale was light on evidence. In fact, it seems like a somewhat stale non-story.
    More to the point of my criticism, though, the story noted a number of ways in which its own terms were difficult to define and historically fluid. “Hooking up,” NPR notes, could mean most anything — “whatever happens.” “Dating,” itself, is shown to be a rather recent invention — originally seen as a “decline” from more formal courtship.
    And most importantly, even the critics of “hooking up” are quoted as admitting that young women are “feeling good and empowered” by the compartmentalization of their sexual life and their relationship strategies. In fact, the story’s last word is as sex-positive as I can imagine NPR ever getting:

    “Sex is fun, [says Wilkerson,] and a lot of people would argue that it is a physical need. It’s a healthy activity.

    I think that pretty much covers it.
    So why does Feministing look this apparently gift horse so squarely in the mouth? Why the sex-panic panic?
    Is there nothing the MSM can say about changes in sex and dating habits that you would not find objectionable? Or at least willing to debate on its actual merits?
    Again, I’m not saying the story was very good (or very bad). I am saying that your picture of it was entirely misleading… and wondering why you ran blindly in that direction.
    Best, Peter

  4. katemoore
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Didn’t we just have a post about people who were asexual? Did all of them suddenly change their minds in the past couple of days and start wanting, craving, and needing sex?
    And I hate to belabor this point, but not everybody fucking has sex during their lifetime. So quit it with the “biological need” bullshit because NOT EVERYONE is going to get to fulfill it. Sex isn’t not like eating or sleeping, because you don’t need someone else to allow you to eat or sleep. They are not comparable.

  5. Jessica
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Peter, I don’t think my characterization was misleading at all. From my POV, the story – while, as I admitted, more nuanced than most on teen sexuality – was framed by the moral panic myth of hooking up.
    The story clearly discussed hooking up and “sex without intimacy” as a recent development – just check out their slideshow on the evolution of dating. Or this: “What used to be a mate-seeking ritual has shifted to hookups: sexual encounters with no strings attached.” That narrative is present throughout the entire piece.
    I think that if anyone could debunk the kind of myths that surround hook up culture – it would be NPR. But I was sorely disappointed in this piece.

  6. Lynne C.
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    I am glad someone mentioned this. In all actuallity, sex is NOT a necessity. People can and do live fulfilled lives without it, and acting as if they have some sort of disorder is tantamount to saying that homosexuals or bisexuals have a disorder. We need to maintain some consistency, and everyone’s libido is different.

  7. RedHeadJenn
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    “For the many who are delaying the responsibilities of marriage and child-rearing, hooking up has virtually replaced dating.”
    What is this “responsibility of marriage and child-rearing?” If one chooses not to do either of those things, are they somehow shirking their responsibilities? While I know this was not the main point of the NPR piece or Jessica’s post about it, it does seem like a statement of this sort often accompanies this type of story.
    That’s right everyone, marriage and parenting are compulsory facets of being a responsible adult, and by putting those two things off, individuals are not “growing up.” Why is it not OK to choose *NOT* to do either of those two things? Bah!

  8. Lynne C.
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    That being said, I agree with Jessica. Politicians, and some writers like to act as if times were so different, or better long ago. This is a fallacious way of thinking. People have been having sex outside of wedlock for decades now, or for as long as we existed. Put shortly, it didn’t “just start happening”.
    With the advent of birth control, having sex outside of wedlock (that sounds oh so sinful, doesn’t it) has been made safer, and more controllable as well; but with certain curriculum for sex education, many teens simply don’t learn of the availability, and/or proper use of these resources. This is dangerous. It is the willful ignorance of the nature of humanity that keeps it both oppressed, and stunted.

  9. Athenia
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Hooking up has not replaced dating. People *shock* still go out to dinner and go to movies. WTF?
    In the past, people had to date to have sex, now people date to have relationships. So, if one wants to date, that means they want to have a relationship.

    Posted June 10, 2009 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    whoa, there’s no need for you to be so rude. I hadn’t thought of asexuality, no.

  11. raoulJraoul
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    I’m old enough to have been a teen before hookups existed. Except not. We just called it ‘making out’, ‘fooling around’ or ‘doing it’ in roughly increasing degrees of sexual activity.
    I’m glad that the word dating (and boyfriend/girlfriend has become more specific. I remember friends refering to someone new as boyfriend/girlfriend and I’d think “You’ve only known them for 2 weeks. They’re just the person you’re currently fucking.” While I would sometimes end up making convoluted reference like “the person I’m seeing” because I didn’t have the words for soemthing casual.

  12. lost_calendar
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Well marriage is certainly not a responsibility of anyone. But I would argue that there is an imperative to create the next generation. If not an individual one then surely societal.
    Countries with low fertility rates are in for a whole lot of trouble because, without an adequate younger generation, the welfare state which is essential for looking after young people becomes economically unsustainable. This is already happening in Italy and other Southern European countries.
    So while nobody should say that it is irresponsible for an individual to avoid procreation, I don’t think we should avoid discussion about cultural changes which may lower fertility rates – and one of these is people having children later in life.

  13. katemoore
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    Sorry about that. In retrospect that was too harsh. I just get really, really irritated by things like this.

  14. MiriamCT1
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    oooh! but we do love our TEEN SEX PANICS!!!
    so much fun! those wild kids and their nasty bits!
    for crying out loud.

  15. Javalover
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    While I agree with your article for the most part I believe the 95% of people having premarital sex is little high. I don’t know where you came up with that statistic. And like another poster pointed out, we aren’t all crazed sex addicts.

  16. Jessica
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t come up with it, the Guttmacher Institute did. (And I don’t think you have to be a “sex addict” to have premarital sex…)

  17. Lisa
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    There is no such thing as the Good Old Days™.

  18. Peter
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Well stated, Jessica. And I admit that I didn’t even glance at the slide show, which is about as dunderheaded as one could imagine. Really? “Grease” and “summer lovin’”?
    With these images, the frame certainly did have a sex-panic edge.
    Nonetheless, nowhere in the story proper are there any claims about rising rates of premarital sex rates among young people. Nowhere are there claims about a more pure, more chaste past.
    This is an article about the place — or lack thereof — of sex in that odd social construct, “dating.” An article about declines in concerns about “relationships” when it comes to physical intimacy, however loosely defined.
    Yes, the article does say that things were different in the 1950s and before, but only to this extent: premarital sex used to be more firmly entrenched in socially sanctioned process of dating and courtship. Dating used to lead to sex; now, for more young adults, sex (“hooking up”) sometimes leads to dating. And the casualness of hooking up is just as often described in this article as a relationship that emerges from friendship!!
    I understand your skittishness about the frame, but wouldn’t you agree that most of these statements about sex and dating — now and in the past — are generally true (if unsurprising)?
    And, true or not, wouldn’t you applaud these trends if they were occurring? Wouldn’t you support the disengagement (no pun intended) of sex from courtship rituals?

  19. Peter
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    According one analysis of data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, “97% of those who had ever had sex [by age 44] had done so premaritally at some point.” This figure does not include the 1.3% of the total respondents who reported never having been married or having sex. That bring these figures almost exactly in line with those of the Guttmacher report.

  20. sarahkz
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Hmm…when I read the article “moral panic” is not what I got out of it. I found this article to be very nonthreatening in the way it talks about the loss of dating culture today. A topic I have gabbed with many a friend about. And it is a shame really. In college I sought a nice, romantic relationship but instead it seemed that there was more pressure sex and the detached, hookup relationship…so I passed. Eventually I lost interest and happily live the asexual lifestyle. Perhaps things will change later in life, with a chance for dating (although the progressive, gender equal dating model please) and finding a special companionship… although this article suggests the hookup culture norm is spreading to the adult world thanks to technology.
    Am I just too old-fashioned to want to get to know a person, develop a friendship, fall in love and THEN have sex?
    And I DO wonder if my generation and younger will lack an ability to commit to deep, intimate relationships…but perhaps it’s just being pushed to an older age, perhaps american culture is becoming even more individualistic, or perhaps something is happening in feminism. Is it good, is it bad, is it both?
    I don’t have anything against the hookup culture and I can see how under the right circumstances it can be a great experience. But I don’t think it is for everyone even though popular culture makes it seem like it ought to be the norm. Also, as this article lightly touches on, I think it can sometimes tie into this faux feminism that exists today, where women think equality means acting more like men and playing it there way, but are unfulfilled or worse broken-hearted when despite their efforts he is not interested in pursuing emotional intimacy. (The article calls it a distorted view of liberation). And I’m sure there are men who are looking for something with a little more depth, but their buddies (and popular culture) deem the hookup as superior. I mean, look at all this guy movies who praise the hot prostitute but make the married guy’s wife a nag and marriage to be the end of all freedom. I feel like there is a lot of misogyny involved in male hookup culture.
    We should be encouraging males (and females) to be the emotional creatures they are! Why the fear of intimacy?
    Where is the love?

  21. lazy_Damocles
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m an Australian and maybe that makes me out of place for commenting here, I don’t know, but I was in the US on University Exchange a few years back and when I discovered that many of my US class mates were married or getting married, well sorry, but that just freaked me out! :p
    Its only now that a few years down the track that even the most religious of my former classmates at Uni back here in Oz are getting hitched, for most people though its something they’ll put off at least until their late 20s early 30s and then only after living with someone for a few years. I know my parents and my friends parents (even some of our grandparents) would look at us like idiots if we married someone we hadn’t lived with for at least a few years, even though that was the position they had been in when they got married.

  22. valencia_o
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Why, NPR, why?
    God, the one source I could depend on.

  23. philfemgal
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    What do you mean where is the love? and the emotion and why the fear of intimacy? Who is afraid of intimacy? Why would you think that because people enjoy casual sex that they will therefore be unable to or uninterested to engage in committed long-term love relationships?
    Of course, not everyone is interested in or will ever be interested in romantic love relationships and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I see no reason–other than the completely unsubstantiated implication in the NPR article–that people who engage in casual sex are less able to form loving relationships should they choose to do that.
    I think it’s fine that you want to get to know a person before having sex and it sucks that it sounds like other people did not feel similarly enough such that you could have a satisfactory dating experience. Personally I don’t feel similarly for myself. I thoroughly enjoyed hooking up in college and early graduate school. I had no regrets and I have no idea why one would think I was scared of intimacy or was not emotional. I was a person who never dated/had a bf/gf in grade school, middle school, high school. It just didn’t happen. I just didn’t click with anyone in an emotional/romantic way. Same thing in college. I had many emotionally intimate relationships–just not ones that were also sexual/romantic. And I had some sex–just not with the same people I had the emotionally intimate relationships with.
    My long-term, committed, going-to-get-married-if-we-can-move-to-a-state-where-it’s-legal relationship with my current partner blossomed out of a hook up. We met through friends and a few days later at a party got drunk and had sex that night. Then we did it again the next night. She was moving to town a few months later, but in the mean time she was across the country. Had we not had sex we probably would have had no contact in the intervening months. But since we’d hooked up, we ended up chatting online. Which led to us realizing we had a lot in common and we clicked (and we already knew we had good sex). And viola, a relationship was born.
    Similarly I know a couple from college who is now married. When I knew them in college I understood their relationship to be just a friends with benefits type thing. (I actually hooked up with them together once with a few other curious friends.) But I guess friends with benefits developed into something more for them.
    I’m not advocating hook ups as the best way to get into a long term relationship. I wasn’t *looking* for a long-term relationship in the first place. I just don’t understand the suggestion that long-term/emotionally vested relationships are the only kind of context in which sex is okay or that people who engage in sex outside of those contexts are emotionally cold, intimacy fearing, and unable or afraid to love. Huh?

  24. ShelbyWoo
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    Sarahk, you are free to indulge in whatever types of relationships you’d like – I trust you know what’s best for you. How about you return the favor and trust that other women can do the same?
    To wit: Stop being so concerned that some poor girl will get her heartbroken by one of those sex-obsessed boys! (it happens sometimes, even in, no, especially in “emotionally intimate” relationships and men get their hearts broken too). Stop worrying that a woman that chooses to multiple casual sexual encounters “will lack an ability to commit to deep, intimate relationships” (how incredibly insulting). Stop stereotyping women that choose to have casual sexual encounters as “acting more like men.”
    In short, keep your judgments of other women’s relationships to yourself; we don’t need them, thank you very much, we perfectly capable of determining what makes us happy and fulfilled on our own (just like you!)- we are also perfectly capable of handling it if it doesn’t work out the way we planned. Stop worrying and start trusting women.

  25. raq
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    Hmm.. if kissing counts as ‘hooking up’, then the Archie universe circa 1950 epitomizes the ‘hooking up’ culture. . .

  26. UnsexualHeathen
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    I agree with everything you said (albeit from the male side of the experience; I do agree that there is rampant misogyny that tends to silence alternative viewpoints on the issue – but I’m not gonna go all MRA here) and am not surprised at the hostility in the replies. I certainly don’t think it’s fair to make conclusions about emotional detachment based on whether one is inclined to engage in hookups, but (in my admittedly biased reading) your post didn’t make the accusations some seem to see there.
    I truly don’t have a problem with people hooking up, whether it leads to a romantic relationship or not. It’s the backlash – like the replies to sarahkz’s comment – that makes me feel at odds with others with whom I would likely find common ground on political and feminist issues (if I didn’t generally agree with, or come to agree with after being provoked to look at issues from new angles, I wouldn’t be here). As the first commenter later admitted, there was no thought of asexuality in the reply “We all want, need, and crave sex. Sex is a biological need that we all must fulfill.” As sarahkz says, it seems like this attitude is slowly becoming – or has become – a social norm. And that, I think, is where there’s some hostility (katemoore’s frustration voiced my own first reaction).
    I don’t identify as asexual, but I do feel more closely aligned with those who have no sexual inclination than those who feel it as an important need in their lives. Again, I don’t think less of the latter group, but it certainly seems that less-sexual individuals are constantly under a barrage of messages – popular culture has plenty of hooking up, the media makes it seem like the only way college students interact with the opposite sex, and many feminists (I fear I’ll get some negative replies for this, but I’ve come this far speaking my mind…) seem to ignore, if not resent, the idea that sex isn’t essential to everyone’s lives – saying that they are abnormal.
    I hate how long I’ve gone on, but after reading sarahkz’s comment and being amazed at how much it echoed my own feelings and experiences, I felt compelled to register and reply simply because it often feels (rightly or wrongly; I truly am not trying to place blame on anyone, but express a frustration that I assume is shared) very isolating in the feminist blogosphere for those of us who feel this way.

  27. sara
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    No, they’re not saying it’s anyone’s responsibility to get married or have kids. But I don’t think anyone disputes that choosing to get married or have kids are things that bring additional responsibilities into one’s life. The point is that people are waiting until later to take on those additional responsibilities–not that people who don’t take them on are somehow shirking their duty.

  28. Athenia
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I agree with you. I feel people who have no problems with hook up culture think that everyone who is hooking up is being sexually assertive, being in charge of their sexually etc. That’s not always the case and I think feminists need to awknowledge that.
    For me personally, I feel hook up culture looks at me as a woman who is sexually available and that sexuality isn’t different from some homogenous standard. And to me, that’s not very feminist.

  29. Chickensh*tEagle
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    – Is oral sex the new goodnight kiss?
    Doesn’t have to be. No law against kissing goodnight after the oral sex, right?

  30. Interior_League
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Sex is natural, sex is good. Not everybody does it, but everybody should.
    Though not necessarily in a public men’s room.

  31. Interior_League
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I prefer “Ye good olde tymes.” It’s less about “values” and more about root beer, penny candy, barbershop quartets, great big radios, all that old timey shit.

  32. allegra
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Ha ha. I like the “pointless” choice on the poll. Pointless? That doesn’t even make sense. I would generally think that sex of any kind has some kind of point or people wouldn’t be doing it. Pointless because … it won’t lead to your goal of immediate marriage? Because … it doesn’t help you get to know someone? Awesome.

  33. Interior_League
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    NPR hook up:
    My steamy evening with
    Mara Liasson

  34. allegra
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    And I DO wonder if my generation and younger will lack an ability to commit to deep, intimate relationships…
    Once again, our previous generation that was supposedly not hooking up has a frickin’ 50 PERCENT DIVORCE RATE. Talk about “inability to commit to deep relationships.” And we have few statistics about how “happy” marriages have ever been throughout history, or even what having a “deep relationship” means in the first place. In making statements like the one you make here, we need the historical perspective that Jessica advocates. Historically, it was unheard of in many places to marry for this thing called love (not only for women, but also for men). This is one of the first times and places in the world where we have this concept of choosing your marriage partner all on your own based on your personal intuitions and preferences. So I’m not really sure what world we’re speaking of here where most everybody was involved in deep, fulfilling relationships simply because they didn’t have sex right away.

  35. Interior_League
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I had pointless sex
    with my nihilist girlfriend.
    Well, pointless for her.

  36. Athenia
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    “In short, keep your judgments of other women’s relationships to yourself; we don’t need them, thank you very much…”
    Way to be hostile to another woman’s needs and experiences.

  37. alixana
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Doesn’t the simple act of CALLING it “hookup culture” signal that there’s some moral panic going on? This isn’t a neutral descriptor, it’s a value judgment. The poll alone should tell you what’s going on here. Look at those words. There’s really no option for, “It just is what it is.”
    Singling out this time period and saying there’s something different going on is A) ringing an alarm and B) inaccurate for the sake of sensationalism.
    Commenters in this thread alone have already pointed out that what’s going on now isn’t REALLY different than it has been at any point in time, whether you go back 20 years or 200. Commenters have also pointed out that this perceived golden good old days hasn’t exactly produced “the love” and emotional attachment that you’re looking around for. Perhaps this delaying of responsibility and seeking of “fun” that the article discusses is actually a reaction to our parents’ generation’s shittastic divorce rate.

  38. philfemgal
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure anyone here is defending the hook-up *culture*. Similarly, I would not defend the *culture* of marriage either. There are plenty of people who engage in sex as hook-ups and within marriage who are being exploited, who are being treated like objects, and who are pressured into doing things they don’t actually want to do because they think they are supposed to. And in some ways the culture of marriage makes this possible.
    But the fact that the culture of marriage (e.g. the way that society expects everyone to do it, the way that gay people aren’t allowed to do it, they way that there are still massive gendered expectations associated with being a bride/wife or a groom/husband, the way that sex is still assumed by many people to be something that spouses owe to one another by virtue of having said their vows, etc.) is entirely screwed up, doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with married people or that the act of marrying/being married is itself a bad or worrisome thing.
    I think we can all realize that hook up culture suffers from some similar problems. Some people get treated like objects, society has gendered expectations, hook up culture as it is discussed in the NPR article and to some extent even in this thread appears to include no one but straight people, etc. But just like in the case of marriage culture, that doesn’t make hooking up a bad thing or mean that there is something wrong with people who do hook up.
    Of course it should be concerning to feminists that women (and men) in all sorts of contexts are treated like objects or are pressured to do things they don’t want to do. So yes let’s try to change the *culture* of marriage and hooking up. But note that this doesn’t mean telling people not to do these things.
    I always think it would be interesting in these discussions to take a serious look at lesbian/bisexual woman hook up culture. I’ve never seen the worries about men taking advantage of women, or women being treated like objects, or being pressured into doing things they don’t want to do applied to woman-woman hookups. And for sure, no one (except perhaps complete homophobes) thinks that lesbian hookups cause lesbians to have trouble forming long-term emotionally intimate relationships (note the U-Haul jokes). This suggests that it’s not casual sex that’s a problem. It is the particular culture of heterosexual hook up culture, with all of the usual gender trappings of marriage culture and all the rest that is the problem.

  39. Interior_League
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Oh, her cold distance!
    “At least believe I love you!”
    “I believe in nil!”

  40. Interior_League
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    It ended badly:
    “I faked it every time!”
    “Why fake anything?”

  41. Interior_League
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    She went to L.A.,
    And got in with a bad crowd.
    They cut off her toe.

  42. sara
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Jessica. I understand why you find this sort of article annoying, but I do feel like by countering it with the Guttmacher Institute stat about how 95% percent of people have had premarital sex, you’re sort of falling into the same trap as the people you’re arguing against. They focus on marriage as the defining quality for whether sexual activity is moral or not, and lump all sex outside of marriage together in a “bad” category.
    But–for all its faults, and I agree this is a lousy article–the article’s not really arguing that having sex outside of marriage is the problem. They seem more interested in whether people are having their premarital sex in or outside of romantic relationships. And I feel like in taking the focus on your response directly to the premarital sex stats, you fall into the same trap–you’re just arguing that it’s all good, rather than bad as the abstinence only folks do.
    In reality, there’s a lot more in common between a young married couple having sex and a boyfriend and girlfriend who’ve been dating 3 years and live together having sex, than there is between that boyfriend and girlfriend and two people who met each other tonight in a bar having sex. And there are all kinds of things in between. And people can fall at different points on that continuum in terms of what they feel is desirable for themselves and in terms of their views about what is moral behavior.
    This article’s sensational tone certainly misses the mark, but I don’t know that simply reiterating what we already know–that most people have premarital sex–really moves the ball forward in terms of a respectful conversation about the different types of premarital sex that people may have or want to have.

  43. Interior_League
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    News flash! He proposed!
    Andrews – Lodge? Oh no, Archie!
    Terrible mistake!

  44. gatanegra
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this post. I heard the story the other day while driving and spent the next 20 minutes ranting to my partner for many of the reasons already mentioned. I also began to wonder if there wasn’t some sort of deep capitalist conspiracy underneath it all — hey, they’re not dating anymore, that means we can’t get them to buy things like before (I know that’s not the case…but, still). Actually, what really bothered me was that static assumptions about proper gender roles weren’t challenged at all — men should still pay for dates, this hook-up behavior is women becoming like men, etc. etc.
    I find it harder and harder to listen to NPR. In fact, this particular story condenses many of the reasons why and it’s not just the sex panic aspect of it, but the baby boomer panic aspect. There’s a palpable fear that they (boomers and their ilk) exude over what they don’t understand or can’t control, that when it’s mixed with nostalgia becomes toxic. It’s what’s responsible in my mind for the embarrassing segments where reporters try to be down with the kids — phenom most recently on view in the segment on “skanky leg.” I can’t remember one time I’ve listened recently that I didn’t wish that Democracy Now or BBC were on the air at the same time.

  45. Meg
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s pretty clear that hooking up – i.e. sex without intimacy – is a trend that has grown and is growing in our society. And I don’t think it’s an unreasonable concern which should be reported and discussed.
    Of course, as you note, the majority of people have been having premarital sex for some time – at least the last 50 years. But casual hookups are becoming more common and frequent. I would argue (without statistics at hand to back me up) that people are now having more casual sexual hookups outside the context of any relationship, and therefore more sexual partners. Both of which practices have all kinds of implications on dating, marriage, and the structure of family units in our society today.

  46. Meg
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Yes it IS different from what was going on 20-200 years ago! The barrage of sexual messages and images we get on a daily basis has increased dramatically, and while in some ways this is good (more education, awareness, etc), it can also be bad when absorbed and interpreted by children – and because of the internet, TV, billboards, etc our children are absorbing and interpreting these messages, often with no input or clarification or explanation from a caring adult.
    Kids – and I do mean KIDS – are engaging in sexual activity at increasingly early ages. And unfortunately a lot of this activity is done BY young girls for the pleasure OF young boys. Girls aren’t being empowered about their sexuality or pleasure or how to develop a mature fulfilling relationship (and, arguably as bad, they aren’t learning how to have a mature fulfilling sex encounter either!).

  47. meeneecat
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Yea, I thought the reply was rude also, regardless of the point she was trying to make, there was no need for her to curse in response to what you said. It would have come across much better if it were said more politely.

  48. UnsexualHeathen
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    This. It’s not that premarital sex didn’t exist in the past or that marriage is the venerable, society-saving institution that many would claim – it’s that now there is an EXPECTATION of casual sex, with messaging that is practically inescapable. The concept of sex without relationships has become practically normative, rather than simply being a true situation for many people. That, not the straw man of “they’re saying no one had premarital sex in the past!!!”, is the difference.

  49. gatanegra
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Ok, and here is where I begin to feel uncomfortable with these discussions.
    What do you mean by “relationships”? How are you defining it? What is intimacy? What in the world is a “mature fulfilling relationship”? These complex concepts are being thrown around way too easily. Who gets to define them? According to what ethical & cultural standard?
    Hooking up is not necessarily “sex without relationships” or one-night encounters. Many of these young folks are talking about having sex with friends, or with people they know. Those ARE relationships, just a different kind. It’s not all bad and it’s not all good.
    I feel like people are missing some of the substance of what has changed because casual sex needs to be defended from the puritans (and it does). But, others are overstating what has changed in their desire to defend young women (and men?) from what may be a new sort of sexual oppression. There’s a barrage of sexual messages/images and *also* a barrage of messages/images related to intimacy (gay marriage anyone?). Either way, it’s set up to make us feel like we fail — we can’t be happy because there is always something better, something that we don’t have.

  50. Jessica
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    …you’re just arguing that it’s all good, rather than bad as the abstinence only folks do.

    I disagree – I’m not saying that sex (casual or otherwise) is always good. I AM saying that it’s complex, and deserving of more than a black and white interpretation.

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