BY SARA ABDULLA
Friend with benefits, fuck buddy, one-night stand, the person you're “talking” to; all labels millennials designate to different classifications of hookups – and all part of a larger phenomenon, “hookup culture.” The growing popularity of “hookup culture” is often unfairly blamed on millennials, depicting them as sex-crazy, STD-laden savages. In reality, millennials simply tend to approach sex and relationships differently than their parents did – the terms themselves are more ambiguous than they once were. Even the word sex can range in meaning, from actual intercourse, to oral performance, to just fooling around while naked. This also rings true for the word 'hookup' which merely entails an uncommitted sexual encounter ranging from kissing to intercourse.
The millennial approach to sex, and relationships in general, is openness. Sex no longer must be something that is mental, emotional, and physical – at its minimum, it can be recreational and an act to solely fulfill a primal drive. Perhaps that developed out of necessity: people will have sex no matter the circumstances. Millennials don’t form “traditional” romantic relationships nearly as often as the youth of past generations. According to surveys conducted by Gallup in 2015, 64% of 18-29 year olds have never been married, however, a similar percentage of millennials conveyed a hope to marry someday as older cohorts. But “someday” has been delayed for the youth with the average age of marriage steadily increasing. And with competition growing fiercer in schools and the workplace, there is greater pressure for young people to do more, professionally and academically, which in turn leads to a deficit of time and surplus of stress. This especially applies to high-achieving women, who often declare that relationships are more time-consuming and require more effort than they tend to be worth when young.
Time and effort are hardly the only barriers preventing millennials from avidly pursuing long-term serious relationships. We may live in the 21st century, but abuse and power inequality in relationships are still widespread phenomena. On top of everything else going on in a woman’s life, it’s easier to take a “risk” on a hookup, which might ruin a night, versus a relationship that could discolor a person for life. As reported by loveisrespect.org, 43% of college students have experienced abuse in their relationships in school, while SafeVoices reports around 25% of women experience violence from a significant other at some point in their lives.
We cannot discuss the phenomenon of hookup culture without discussing the rise of the dating app, an advent no longer used mainly by older cohorts. Women can now be connected to more potential partners than ever. Pew Research alleges that the stigma of online dating has largely eroded, with about 59% of Americans of all ages agreeing that online dating is a good way to meet people. A study from February 2015 suggests that approximately 100 million people use dating apps. Some estimate Tinder’s user base to be about 50 million, with 38% of its users between the ages of 16 and 34 years old. Some suggest that online dating corrodes communication, but it can truly facilitate it for those who have difficulties making friends, or friends with benefits, or hookup partners, in person.
Some women fear that modern hookup culture is merely a new manifestation of gender inequality and patriarchal roles for women as sexual objects, claiming that women are merely “giving in” and “settling” for hookups as opposed to being in a relationship. The rise of feminism in society and discourse surrounding it, however, suggests otherwise. There is less stigma surrounding women today, than in past decades, that have sex outside of committed relationships, and less pressure for them to force themselves into an unhealthy relationship or abstain from sex when they do not have a significant other. As women become more independent, especially with the normalization of contraception, abortion, and the dissolution of gender roles, there is less pressure for them to conform to predefined notions of female sexuality. Women can hook up with other people without concern of alienation from society or jeopardizing their prospects for long-term relationships later in life.
The studies generally agree: the majority of women feel content after a hookup, further ruling out the idea that the women are losing something to men as a result of hookup culture. However, others also suggest that many women do indeed hope for a relationship afterwards – but are afraid of asking for one and by no means expect one to materialize. There is however, a dichotomy that does exist, with women feeling empowered by the idea of controlling her sexual destiny and actively fulfilling her sexual desires, while also being afraid of desiring a potential long term partner, and potentially conceding to socialized roles that go against their feminist moral. Post-modern feminism would be better off by encouraging women to do sexually what they want to do – be it having sex, safely, every night or remaining celibate.
Hookup culture has been blamed for many problems in society today – rape culture, sexism, intimacy issues. In reality, it’s a development of modernization in society, and generally allows women to be empowered in their relationships, traditional or temporary, as long as they are able to ask for what they want. Relationship norms evolve over time, and today’s hookup culture is the latest custom.