Hook-up Culture Not What it Seems

Growing up in Catholic schools, I received a clearly painted picture of what my sexual future should be — abstinence until marriage. In middle school, we learned the Church’s teaching and the basis behind why you should wait for marriage to have sex. Then high school health class introduced us to STDs and unplanned pregnancies, again showing us that abstinence should be our only option. Learning these things as a young, impressionable 10-year-old and even an eager 18-year-old ready for college was good, but I knew there was a much different culture that was ahead of me: the hook-up culture.

This culture has become incredibly prevalent in our society and was the norm as I started college, so much so that I was not shocked in the slightest by its presence. The hook-up culture is made up of “pseudo-relationships” that consist of casual sex and no commitment. For her senior thesis, one student decided to explore and thoroughly study this hook-up culture in which both men and women today — including herself — find themselves immersed in during college.

She first describes her personal story and mindset in college as conforming to an unspoken social code that she followed in what she believed was a feminist mindset — feeling empowered by not needing to be constantly tied down to a man. However, she found the opposite was true. What was supposed to be empowering turned out instead to be a craving for something more, and the search for happiness in the casual, detached, pseudo-relationships was elusive. She found a common feeling among her friends and through online surveys and personal interviews of both men and women.

The writer presents an interesting discussion on feminism as its definition and standpoint are widely debated, and it seems the college girls she interviewed were stuck in a cycle of acting as they believed empowered feminists should act. But how different is that, really, from women conforming to the strict gender roles of decades past that women before us fought so heavily to break? Perhaps college-aged women are fighting against the still much-too-common opinion that women go to college to get their “MRS degree” and yet are mistakenly falling into the hook-up culture and not attaining the result they sought.

I was happy to see that this student did not limit her study to just college women, but included men as well. The answers from the men of the hook-up culture provide an interesting perspective because the casual assumption would be that they benefit from it — after all, there is no shame tied to the number of partners they have had. However, that lack of shame comes with a consequence: feeling the need to participate in the hook-up culture in order to be able to brag to their friends and boast about their dominance in hooking up with multiple women. The peer pressure to “perform” is high among college men, even though a majority of them report that is not what they want.

Overall, her findings conclude that college-aged men and women actually crave committed relationships but they get sucked into a culture that they perceive as an easier road to fulfillment, and which ultimately leaves them feeling empty without the relationship satisfaction they desire. They are taken over by this “unspoken social code” that mimics the middle school peer pressure of “everyone is doing it.” It seems students can’t escape this epidemic, even in college.

I believe the culture has gotten to this point because college-aged students are faced with two very different extremes that they feel they have to choose between—the hook-up culture or getting married and starting a family. Who shows us a successful middle ground? Personally for me at age 21, it seems a pretty intimidating task to find my husband right now, yet those who surround me at school are either stuck in the sex-based pseudo-relationships, or they are in committed relationships with their assumed future spouses. Well, what if I don’t want either of those scenarios right now? The fact of the matter is that there are not many role models to look to for this, which is why young people feel they need to choose between the two extremes. There are not many people promoting the choice of a “happy medium,” or a happy chaste singlehood.

People may believe that all millennials want this hook-up culture and it will only get worse. While it may seem that way, this is definitely not always the case. Young people crave the commitment and intimacy that is found through marriage but have not been convinced of the reasons to save for marriage. Not all hope is lost, though. We want to learn, grow and be the best people that we can be, which is where organizations like CCL can help.

Working for CCL and seeing and reading the great things that NFP has done for people’s relationships — even those who lived in the hook-up culture most college students find themselves in — is incredibly encouraging. It is organizations like CCL and others that teach the messages of Theology of the Body that can help pave a positive path for young people to learn that they don’t need to participate in the hook-up culture. It is the success of these organizations spreading the message of respecting your body and yourself as you were made in the image and likeness of God that can help people in my generation pick themselves up, recover, and become great husbands, wives, mothers and fathers — because that is what most of us want.

— Megan Imwalle
Communications Intern