The college microcosm has seen the idea of sex, and the larger picture of romance in today’s society develop dramatically over the last decade.
These changes have evolved into the young adult world and beyond, but college campuses know it best: an environment full of 20-somethings that are constantly interacting with each other and spending time with and surrounding each other almost all the time.
Though the romantic culture of a college campus varies from school to school based on factors including size and overall social life, in general, commonalities are present.
We are active on Tinder. We hook up. We do not understand what “hooking up” really means. We never double text. We recognize the power of a “read receipt.” We can never tell if we are going on a date or just dinner with a friend.
Granted, these are all generalizations and there are many successful, serious relationships that do defy those stereotypes. But the statistics indicate the climate of casual sex runs rampant on college campuses; over 91 percent of college students believe hookup culture pervades campus, and the median number of hookups for graduating seniors is seven, according to a 2013 study of 14,000 college students.
We use the hookup culture as a mask. How could we possibly have the emotional maturity to devote the time and energy to a committed relationship? How could we settle down so soon when we do not know what we could be missing otherwise?
Research explains more about modern romance, especially within the context of our culture, as women’s sexual liberation and newfound potential for professional careers over the past half century has led to a diminished need for traditional committed relationships. But these explanations do not answer if this hookup culture is a source of liberation or exploitation for women.
There is a gendered chasm dividing the amount of regret following these types of sexual encounters. Only 26 percent of women and 50 percent of men reported feeling positive after a hookup, and 49 percent of women and 26 percent of men reported a negative reaction, according to a study of 832 college student published by the American Psychological Association.
This raises a number of question: Why do we slut-shame women for having a lot of sex, yet fist-pump men for the same actions? Why is obtaining consent not a universal practice? Why is hookup culture so pervasive if it leaves so many feeling unsatisfied?
Maybe we employ this mask because of fear. People claim our generation grew up living through technology and simply does not know how to interact face-to-face, as putting oneself out in the open is an opportunity for emotional pain and distress that could feel simply unbearable.
Maybe we do not actually hate commitment or prefer to focus on our stepping-stone gateway career paths to anything else. What if we just hate vulnerability?
In the world of romantic economics, vulnerability makes us risk-averse, and independence allows us to be risk-seeking. The pros and cons point out that the chances of failure and its accompanying wounds have a much higher likelihood of occurring than the benefits. And with this in mind, it is no surprise that hookup culture feels ubiquitous.
It is tragic, really. The fantasizing romantic in me longs to have someone buy me a book in a bookstore, let alone buy me a drink at a bar. But the observing realist in me knows this illusion is a pipe dream, at least for now. As long as fear of vulnerability keeps up, hookup culture will reign on college campuses.
Caitlin Karna is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. UNMASKED appears every other Friday.
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