Hook-up culture: Many young women prefer it and that’s not a bad thing

Pic via Sociological Images.

Hanna Rosin has an essay in The Atlantic this month about hook-up culture in anticipation of her book, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women.  I have been curious to see what direction Rosin’s book would go, since I have always been a fan of her well-researched and logical writing but, like others, found her original piece on the end of a male dominated culture a little bit short-sighted. So, what would she find when she entered the dark and stormy debate around female sexuality, youth and college campuses?

It’s good news! Society is not going to end because young people like sex! She concludes that women are hardly pressured to participate in hook-up culture, many of them actually prefer it. Unlike many of her pearl clutching contemporaries, anxious about the changing nature of female sexual expression, Rosin looks at the evidence and concludes that women are not just surviving in a culture of hooking up, they are leading it. And that’s a sign of female progress.

She touches on the common anti-sex argument touted by people like Caitlen Flanigan, that sexual freedom only benefited men, you know by giving the “cow away for free.”

The central argument holds that women have effectively been duped by a sexual revolution that persuaded them to trade away the protections of (and from) young men. In return, they were left even more vulnerable and exploited than before. Sexual liberation, goes the argument, primarily liberated men—to act as cads, using women for their own pleasures and taking no responsibility for the emotional wreckage that their behavior created. The men hold all the cards, and the women put up with it because now it’s too late to zip it back up, so they don’t have a choice.

This attitude predicates itself on, the belief that women don’t really enjoy sex, the only have it with the hope that the dude will want to commit and, as Amanda writes, that women are so awful men will only deal with them if they know they will get an all access pass to the vagina park. Both of these assumptions are false!

But there is more–Rosin finds that not only are women in support of a culture of more casual hook-ups, it’s actually something they prefer because it gives them the freedom to be themselves and not let an excess focus on relationship management get in the way of their future. She writes,

For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.


Talk to an individual 19-year-old woman such as Tali on a given day, and she may give you an earful of girl trouble. But as her girlfriend might tell her after a teary night, you have to get some perspective. Zoom out, and you see that for most women, the hookup culture is like an island they visit, mostly during their college years and even then only when they are bored or experimenting or don’t know any better. But it is not a place where they drown. The sexual culture may be more coarse these days, but young women are more than adequately equipped to handle it, because unlike the women in earlier ages, they have more-important things on their minds, such as good grades and intern­ships and job interviews and a financial future of their own. The most patient and thorough research about the hookup culture shows that over the long run, women benefit greatly from living in a world where they can have sexual adventure without commitment or all that much shame, and where they can enter into temporary relation­ships that don’t get in the way of future success.

(Emphasis mine)

Does this mean that sexism doesn’t exist when it comes to sex? Of course not and Rosin notes that. As I wrote in Outdated, when I was navigating the awesome terrain of casual sex–I realized it wasn’t the sex that started to feel unfair–it was the sexist double standard that I was a slut for enjoying sex and not wanting anything more out of it, while men engaged in this encounters socially unscathed.

Ultimately, all the anxiety around young women’s sexual freedom is short-sighted because it ignores that a) we are sexual creatures, b) many women choose or prefer casual sexual encounters and c) that we are more equipped than ever to handle living in a world where we don’t have to rely on finding Mr. Right. I know this is scary for most traditionalists or people that see sex and romance as something that men dominate and women submit to–but Rosin concludes, rightfully, that at this point there is no going back.

There is no retreating from the hookup culture to an earlier age, when a young man showed up at the front door with a box of chocolates for his sweetheart, and her father eyed him warily. Even the women most frustrated by the hookup culture don’t really want that. The hookup culture is too bound up with everything that’s fabulous about being a young woman in 2012—the freedom, the confidence, the knowledge that you can always depend on yourself.

Does this mean that we are not going to get into long-term relationships anymore? No, not at all, it just means we are better informed about the types of relationships we want and when we want to actually be in one. Sounds pretty damn responsible to me.

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/heatheradair/ Heather Adair

    I’ll say this — I read her article last week — there was something that seemed in-congruent from beginning to end: the idea that the all college-age men are disinterested in relationship.

    The angle I wish this piece had taken was less “women now dodging relationship in favor of hookups, just like men!” and more “attitudes toward hook-ups vs relationship similar between males/females on college campuses.” More equalizing.

    I love that we’re investigating girls’ ability to operate from an equal sexual platform, but I’d prefer to step back from the prevailing sentiment that “men only want quick, no-strings-attached sex, never long-term commitment.”

    Felt like a slightly sexist assumption upon which the entire article was based. That left me a little flat.

    • http://feministing.com/members/tstamp/ tstamp

      “women now dodging relationship in favor of hookups, just like men!”

      Yeah, that does read like a promotional agenda designed to influence female sexual behavior

  • rubbersoul4163

    While I agree with the main premise of Rosin, as well as what you say, I do think that this response by Lisa Wade over at SocImages has a good critique of the shortcomings of Rosin’s points…


  • http://feministing.com/members/tstamp/ tstamp


    Who actually is complaining about this? Certainly not the men involved. They can go find other women if they want to get married so badly. Amanda put out a good review here –


    and here is some more information


    Where it appears they have stolen your really cool painting of college!


    • http://feministing.com/members/antitype/ The Antitype

      Amanda’s response was borderline the offensive. The notion that it’s now men’s responsibility to neatly fit into the schedule of women so they can get ahead is absurd.

  • http://feministing.com/members/antitype/ The Antitype

    I think casual hookups and hook-up culture can be beneficial and enjoyable, so long as everybody involved knows the score.

    The part of that article where the girls were basically using sub-marriage quality dudes for sexual release rubbed me the wrong way, cause it kinda had an aura of deception about it. Does this dude know you’re dating him for now, and see no future with it? If yes, and he’s into it, cool. If he is under the impression that you’re serious and you already know you’re gonna be moving on, that’s pretty selfish.

    Works both ways. In my experience, the only women I know who have been hurt by hookup culture were those who believed – whether by their own error or because they were led on to think so – that something serious was developing when really they were just being used for a night or two of fun.

  • http://feministing.com/members/whumpusthing/ Melissa

    As a girl in college (a Catholic/Jesuit university, but I feel no religious pressure on campus, so it feels nullified for the most part), I see lots of girls take part in either the monogamous one-relationship throughout college, and then the girls that hookup, and everything in between. It’s interesting reading the academic analysis explaining what’s going on, since it’s very real for me and my friends.
    My only issue with non-complicated hookups is the possible risk of STD and unplanned pregnancy, but I’m sure that’s addressed somewhere in the research.
    Also that header image made me laugh, just because I like the idea of comparing college to a Bachanal party.

  • http://feministing.com/members/nickenzie/ nic

    I can’t even get sex

  • http://feministing.com/members/bnquick74/ Ben Quick

    Full disclosure: I teach undergraduates at a large Southwestern university infamous for its hook-up culture.

    First of all, it strikes me that the primary reason for the prevalence of hooking up/random sex/one night stands–call it what you will–is the difficulty in navigating the modern relationship. I have yet to meet a young man or woman who prefers hookups to intimacy.

    Secondly, the lack of emotional risk and vulnerability involved in hookup culture can lead to a generation of adults that hasn’t experienced the pain of heart break. If empathy is crucial to healthy relationships and is developed through a human experience that is no longer shared–I’m speaking of heart break–how can we expect a culture devoid of intimacy and vulnerability to generate empathy and produce healthy relationships? A person who has been hooking up for five years can’t just flip a switch and become intimate. A person who has never experienced a broken heart can’t possibly be expected to show sensitivity when ending a relationship.

    My two cents.