It happens like clockwork. It seems like every few months, major publications look at their collective wristwatches and say: “Looks like it’s time to write about the fact that young women have sex for reasons other than reproduction!” Yes, one of the many bullshit double standards young women have to deal with is the fact that while guys our age are expected and encouraged to have commitment-less sex, when women do it’s literally national news.
But “hooking up” as it actually exists is far too messy, too individualized and too intimate to ever be summed up as a cultural trend and accurately captured by middle-aged reporters. But despite these various iterations of coverage of our generation’s tendency to “hook up” as breaking news, it seems nobody has really told the truth about our generation and sex. Nobody is willing to admit that there is no universal “trend” to hooking up in college: there are individual human beings with individual sex lives who make their own damn choices – choices that, if we’re going to be honest, are more often than not a series of often impulsive and nebulous choices rather than cohesive “trends.”
Of course, there’s some truth in each of the overarching categories into which college women are usually grouped. There are ambitious students who opt for a “friend with benefits” over a relationship to focus on their work and professional goals. Technology plays a big role in facilitating a much more casual atmosphere for getting together and there are certainly young women who try to live up to manic sexual ideals informed by porn and pop culture and convince themselves that it’s sexually empowering.
But none of these identities is a singular truth: none of them tell the whole story. Most young women are still very much trying to figure out what we want and where we fall on the spectrum of these identities and choices. It’s also important to note that far fewer college students are even having sex than we’re all led to believe. There’s no single way women navigate their sex lives because there’s no single type of woman—and women overall are still navigating our identities based on few existing models for who to achieve women-defined sexual empowerment and satisfaction.
Rather than being able to freely build our own definition of nonmonogamous sexual satisfaction, women are caught in a hook-up culture based on an unrealistic double standard: We can either be the prude – the aspiring mommy, the hopeless romantic – or the slut and perform a male-dictated model of female sexuality. It doesn’t help that the general conversation about women and sex focuses completely on women’s behavior in such a dichotomous and accusatory way due to our culture’s fear that women may want to exist independently from relationships with men, that women may even want relationships with each other (it’s worth noting that gay and/or queer women’s sex lives are rarely if ever included in this conversation), and that women do have their own, unique definitions of sexuality (which society is hypersensitive about policing).
Ultimately, college women are all just trying to make their own decisions and claim sexual empowerment within a context of stereotyped, male-defined female sexuality and a culture of double standards. There really aren’t any hard and fast rules for how women approach sex today: Most of us are making it up as we go along, although I’m willing to bet that the majority of college women actually want something in between a super-serious relationship and detached, demeaning, porn-influenced sex. Women are just a group of human beings (always a shocking revelation) trying to navigate one aspect of our lives the best way we know how. It may not be a trend, it may not be snappily summarized by an alliterated headline, but it’s the honest bottom line.
My advice on hooking up? Do what makes you happy. It might take some experimentation and a variety of partners, some bad choices and hopefully many good ones, but you’ll figure out what works best for you.