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Hooking Up: Cool or CREAPy? June 29, 2009

Posted by Onely in Essay review, Everyday Happenings, Great Onely Activities, Secret Lives of the Happily Single, sex.
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 As follow-up to Lisa’s sex posts here and here, my friend Nicole flagged for us this really good article from NPR about the relatively new and spreading trend of “hooking up”, or sex-without-dating. Brenda Wilson talks about the “major cultural shift” we’ve undergone lately, as dating is replaced by hooking up. Wilson reminds us that “dating itself represented a historical change”, as chaperoned sit-down sessions were replaced by dinner-and-movie expeditions. And now we’re changing from dating to hooking up. Because we’re all busy with life, friends, and work,  we have little time for relationships. But you know what? Even though it’s becoming “ok” to hook up (just as it became “ok” to go out without a chaperone), we’re still expected to eventually *stop* hooking up and find a committed  romantic ever-after partner (aka CREAP): 

Wilson interviewed a young person who said (paraphrased by Wilson) that “If you’re honest and open about what you’re doing, and willing to commit to a relationship, she says, a hookup and friendship can be fused into a lifetime partnership.” 

But are hookups less valid or acceptable if they *don’t* lead to a CREAP (or even to friendship)?  Just asking.

The reason Lisa and I started this blog was not to fight singlism (though we do that) and not to spout about how great single life can be (though we do that, too). We started this blog because we (ok, well, Lisa) noticed that even media advocating single-awesomeness almost always ended with, “And if you embrace your awesomeness and enjoy the wonders of single life, THEN you will be attractive and GET YOUR SOUL MATE!”  Which is why my radar went up somewhere in the middle of this article:

Wilson spoke with Deborah Roffman, who does human sexuality workshops for young people. According to my interpretation, Roffman implies that hookups are acceptable as long as the hooker-upper intends to eventually stop hooking up. She believes that younger generations, who have grown up in this Internet age of many contacts but fewer friends, need to

. . .learn about intimacy, she says: ‘How am I going to have a series of relationships that are going to be healthy for me and others, and going to prepare me’ for settling down with one person? . . . Being able to engage in intimate relationships where men and women bring all of themselves to the relationship is the cornerstone of family, Roffman says.

But Roffman redeems herself by making an excellent point: we sometimes look at hooking up as a kind of expression of sexual liberation and greater social freedom for women, but: 

She’s not convinced that this is a good thing for women, and says that being able to say yes is only one way of looking at freedom. She would feel much better if young men were also developing a greater capacity for intimacy.

Ok, overlooking her obsession with (emotional) intimacy for the moment, I have to agree with her point–at the same time that women are venturing into what is historically men’s territory (sexual freedom), men should also be venturing into women’s (emotional expression). 

Copious Readership, do you hook up? Have you? Will you? Is it good for women, bad for women, good for men, bad for men? Or is it just another exciting and possibly dangerous hobby like racquetball?  Onely wants to know. 

–Christina

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1. Lauri - June 29, 2009

I think it can be dangerous, but not because it will damage you for a having a “real” relationship or something, rather because of STDs! But these things can be avoided too.

Hooking up can only be “good” or “bad” if you make it as such. I don’t see it as being good in the sense that it makes some big statement about freedom, I think it can be good because it’s a sexual outlet for people who would like to have it, but don’t really have any reason to have a relationship with the person they are doing it with. It’s just what it is and I find it funny that so many people in the media have been reading into it so much lately. It’s just another term for casual sex, which has always existed.

But no, I certainly don’t think it’s only “good” if it leads to a “real” relationship. I think it’s real in and of itself. That’s the point of “hooking up”- it’s a moment in time. It can be “bad” if both parties aren’t really on the same page, but then again, if you have a situation where two people are “dating” and one is thinking it will lead to marriage and the other doesn’t, it is equally as bad. Like any other relationship, the key to hooking up is just honesty.

It could also be bad if people are doing it for the wrong reasons. I think trying to make a feminist statement with it could be a wrong reason. Using it to *try* to get a “relationship” out of someone could be bad. Using it for self esteem, etc, could be bad. If it’s because you enjoy having a physical relationship with this person, whether it be once or ongoing, then it’s good.

The idea that everyone is supposed to “out grow” hooking up is ridiculous though. To me, it seems equal to idea that people “outgrow” interest in sex. In fact, for me, personally, I have become more interested in hooking up without anything else in my 30s than I was in college! When I was younger, I hadn’t let go of that idea that all little girls are force fed, that physical relationships are only good when they are otherwise “meaningful.” I think it goes back to the idea that people actually become more comfortable being single as they get older.

It’s probably better the older the hooking up population gets anyway, as the more comfortable people get with it in general, but also because they may be more able to be more responsible regarding the unwanted effects of hooking up (unwanted pregnancies, STDs, etc).

Outside of college and certain situations though, I don’t know why “hooking up” and “dating” are mutually exclusive…can’t you go out to dinner with someone before you hook up? Doesn’t mean you want to marry them…

onely - June 29, 2009

“It can be “bad” if both parties aren’t really on the same page, but then again, if you have a situation where two people are “dating” and one is thinking it will lead to marriage and the other doesn’t, it is equally as bad.” Excellent point, Lauri. CC

2. bobby - June 29, 2009

“do you hook up? Have you? Will you? Is it good for women, bad for women, good for men, bad for men? Or is it just another exciting and possibly dangerous hobby like racquetball?”

Yes and no and maybe to all, even the racquetball question 🙂

I haven’t read the links yet, but what comes to mind is something along the lines that, we all KNEW the world was flat at one time, yet we were wrong.
In other words, marriage is wrong for one person while being single is for another, doesn’t work for them individually. I guess it’s an individual thing with hooking up too. 🙂

3. autonomous - June 29, 2009

I don’t think hooking up is necessarily a bad thing, unless there is a recklessness about it and even then, where is that line drawn? There is of course the whole issue of strangers v. acquaintances. That’s a bit scary to me as a woman, but it’s not a new conversation, since it’s basically just a nicer sounding term for the one-night stand.

Funny thing- I had a one-nighter the weekend immediately before I heard this NPR broadcast. Made me giggle- and my friend who heard it too who knew of my night. I had plans with her the next morning and so kicked the dude out super early. Some would say I acted like a man- but that’s completely wrong: I am a woman with a great life and not looking for any entanglements or future emotional baggage. I had stuff to do, so what. Cuddling and drinking coffee with a guy I have zero interest in beyond the physical is just painfully contrived. I don’t want to hang out and be friends. I’m not hoping for something more. I just usually want to take a shower and go on with my day.

onely - June 29, 2009

Chances are the dude *wanted* to go super early too. Maybe I’m stereotyping because he’s a guy. But it’s (half) my blog, so I can stereotype.
= ) CC

4. (no)sexandthecity - June 30, 2009

“Because we’re all busy with life, friends, and work, we have little time for relationships.” Interesting commentary on our priorities in this society. “Many contacts and fewer friends” is right. Good luck prying your friends or partners away from their TV’s and laptops.

I haven’t and won’t hook up. Last year was the first in 29 years that I considered “casual sex” as an option and toyed with the idea after the CREAPs in my life turned out to be, well, creeps. Most people have a need for intimacy and sex after all, but finding people in our culture who want a CREAP anymore is rare. People want you for as long as you meet their needs, then they’re done. Sleeping around is only “sexually liberating” for those who thought that what men were doing was good to begin with. I DO firmly believe women should do whatever they want with their own bodies. I’m just not sure that what women have gained is “sexual freedom.” All the single and divorced mothers probably don’t feel very liberated with their children’s fathers out practicing their sexual freedom. It’s a negotiation between 2 people, and hopefully both know beforehand whether it’s a relationship or not, committed or not.

In the end I found that the idea of having sex with someone I don’t love and who doesn’t care about me is still…yucky. Couldn’t do it. No one seemed “worthy” of that part of me. Plus what is one night really going to contribute to meeting my needs? And if you give it to anyone, what’s special about it? For me, casual sex OR hooking up would cause more problems than it could ever solve. No thanks.

Good or bad depends on what one wants out of life. I don’t want someone who’s comfortable using me and tossing me aside. If you want a CREAP, you’re screwed in this hookup culture.

onely - June 30, 2009

I tend to feel like no-sex and special k. I would have to feel a strong mental and emotional connection with someone in order to enjoy the hookup. Otherwise I’d probably spend the hookup thinking, “I wonder if I still have spaghetti sauce left in the fridge”.
CC

5. specialkphd - June 30, 2009

I’ve also considered casual sex in the past few months…but I would never be able to follow through with it. It just doesn’t feel authentic to me, and I guess I feel as if I would be lying to myself if I thought there would be no strings attached.

But some people can do that, without much consequence or impairment.

6. Therese - July 1, 2009

Used to love casual sex before I was coupled…it is really the only thing I miss about not being in a relationship. If I could have that back, life would be perfect.

7. Rachel - July 1, 2009

I don’t quite get the difference between a hook-up and a dating relationship except maybe the mental outlook – at least with a hook-up you know beforehand that it’s not meant to last… My last relationship before choosing to remain single was a dating relationship that would’ve probably worked a lot better as a hook-up. It was essentially sexual attraction without much else but because of the cultural overlay that makes hooking up less than, it had to be a relationship as culturally defined as leading to marriage (a “relationship” is really so much more! I have a relationship with the bus driver I see every morning – no, I don’t go to bed with him but we smile at each other and say good morning and otherwise relate to each… But I am digressing).

I think Bobby made a good point writing “marriage is wrong for one person while being single is for another, doesn’t work for them individually.” To me this means that the real freedom doesn’t lay in what mental attitude we have when we sleep with someone but it’s about being able to choose what works for us. Instead of calling something a hook-up (which sounds very close to hooker I just realized…), maybe we can call it a friendship based on sex or something like it. I have friends I see certain movies with; others that I enjoy hiking with; etc. There is some overlap but none of my friends meet all my needs individually.

So, although I haven’t hooked up, I want to free myself of the notion that the only good, valid coupled relationship is one that could lead to marriage. There are many ways of relating to people and maybe having sex with someone without sharing the rest of our lives with them is just another way.

onely - July 1, 2009

I know you were being sort of tongue-in-cheek about the bus driver, but it’s still a really good point–in fact in some ways you could have a deeper relationship with him that someone you hooked up with. Depends on the situation, but it’s possible.
CC

Rachel - July 1, 2009

Well, the word “relationship” has narrowed in meaning the way we used it. It really is describing two or more people being connected. The meaning, though, has narrowed to only describe relationships that could lead to marriage (also known as conjugal, intimate, sexual – all these terms are inadequate imo). That’s what I meant with my bus driver example: There is no need for anything romantic or something. So, we have relationships with our friends, our parents, our kids (if we have any), our neighbors etc. And, yes, sometimes these relationships involve sex but they don’t have to.

8. Therese - July 1, 2009

Maybe the phrase “casual sex” is pejorative as well. let’s just call it “sex.”

9. Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles - July 2, 2009

I’m a little amused that NPR has only just discovered hook-ups and friends with benefits (FWBs). Those kinds of casual arrangements have been mainstream on high-school and college campuses since before I left for college, which is a longer time ago than I care to admit. 🙂

I don’t think you can call them “wrong” without referring to an absolute moral system. For some people, casual sex is a violation of moral code, and for others, not so much.

However, I think we can talk about whether casual sex is beneficial or not. Aside from the increased risk of pregnancy and STDs (and, yes, some STDs like HPV are transmitted very easily even with condoms), there’s an emotional risk for many people. Please note that I’m not saying all people. But many people, especially women, are affected by the surge of oxytocin, the bonding hormone that’s present during flirtation and sex, as well as by the psychology of sex, the sense that you’re unveiling a private part of yourself, thus making yourself vulnerable to another person.

I know there are people out there who would like us to see sex as any other routine act like eating or breathing. But if it’s just another routine act, why do we keep our private parts covered? Why don’t we all just have sex out in the open, in front of anyone, wherever and whenever we feel like it? Why don’t we, in fact, just have sex with anyone? The fact that so many of us prefer to conduct our aptly named private lives in private and are at least somewhat selective about our sexual partners suggests that there is something that differentiates sex from eating and breathing.

In short, it is intimate. It’s not necessarily intimate in the same way that talking about something personal is intimate or in the way that sharing private emotions (eg., crying together) is intimate (although it can be). It’s intimate in a physical way that results from invading each other’s personal space, breaking through each other’s physical boundaries, and sharing very intense physical sensations with each other.

Some people say they can engage in this kind of intimacy and then walk away without any emotional consequences. Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone, but of the people I’ve known, especially the women, those who were able to “just walk away” had emotional/interpersonal problems in general. I know that this will come across as an inflammatory statement to some, but it is my experience of the people I’ve known, and I’m not going to pretend it hasn’t been the case in my experience just because it’s not politically correct.

The bottom line for me? I’m all about people treating others as they would want to be treated and, above all, doing no harm, which includes emotional harm. Maybe there are people who can go from hook-up to hook-up with no repercussions. But can they be sure there are no repercussions to their partners? In so many sexual encounters, especially ongoing FWB-type ones, somebody cares more, somebody gets used, somebody gets hurt. Personally, I don’t want to use or hurt someone; I don’t want to be one of the people who contributed to their emotional baggage. Neither do I want to expose myself to a situation in which it’s likely that I will feel used or hurt or accumulate more baggage. If nothing else, I think repeated hook-ups lead to a feeling that people are sort of disposable, that you can use them for the fun part and then toss them aside, and I don’t think that encourages respect for people in general.

This isn’t what most people want to hear, but I don’t think sex is for singles. I think it’s an intimate relational thing, something for two people who are close. Frankly, when I’m feeling in the mood, that’s what a vibrator is for. And, for me, it’s a lot more satisfying than trying to “train” a guy in one night. 😉

Rachel - July 2, 2009

I am not sure if I agree with you because some of the sex I’ve had within context of “intimate relationships” has been pretty degrading and not very intimate. And that’s how I ended up with HPV (his was asymptomatic, so he didn’t know he had it…). I don’t have a FWB but I am open to trying it.

I think a lot of what you’re writing is circular: Because we think that sex is so special and so different it is. We are putting so much emphasis on it and are turning it from a physical activity into something that is a deep bonding experience only reserved for that special relationship with The One (I am not sure if that’s what you’re saying but that’s the main cultural message and it seems like that’s reflected in your comment). I am not convinced that there really is a natural difference. Of course whether we can easily leave the cultural messaging behind is another question.

I am suggesting to do the opposite: Take out all the cultural overlay and see what happens. We might find that it’s a painful, unsatisfying experience. Or we might find it much more satisfying. Or something in between. I’ve experienced many good meals that had a lot more going on than just eating, so again I am not sure if sex is really so different. I do know, though, that talking about sex is taboo but I am not sure if that’s because it is so much more special or if that’s primarily due to this huge cultural overlay that demands that it be hidden (as far as I know in other more “primitive” cultures, sex is performed more openly, for example).

Now with all that said, I also don’t want to add to my or someone else’s emotional baggage. But an “intimate relationship” does not protect us from that. And I am not convinced that a “hook-up” or FWB would do that automatically.

Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles - July 3, 2009

First of all, I’m so sorry to hear that you had what sounds like some pretty traumatic or at least very negative experiences with sex. 😦 I’ve also been in relationships in which sex felt degrading and/or impersonal, so I know it’s a crappy feeling.

I want to clarify, though, that I wasn’t saying sex is always special, beautiful, magical, romantic, passionate or some other warm-fuzzy adjective. I was saying that it’s personal. Just because something is personal doesn’t mean it’s a positive experience. For instance, we’ve probably all had huge blowout fights with family members from time to time that were very personal…but definitely not warm and fuzzy! The point I was trying to make was that personal things have an impact on us and, by definition, other people.

I see what you’re saying about circular logic, but I think that if my logic was circular, then the argument would’ve been: Sex is intimate because it’s intimate. But, actually, my argument was that sex is intimate because:
–It’s an invasion of physical boundaries/personal space
–It triggers the release of hormones that create a close and bonded feeling
–It involves sharing body parts that we don’t let everyone see/touch
–It involves sharing very intense physical sensations

But I guess for those people who don’t consider the above things to be evidence of intimacy, then sex wouldn’t seem intimate…

In regard to primitive cultures, I’m no anthropologist, but it’s my understanding from what I’ve read that in most societies, even if there’s a lot more acceptance of partial or ceremonial nudity, couples seek out a private place to actually have intercourse (i.e., a hut, a tent, an outdoor area far from others, etc.). (Whether they can find one is another matter! :)) I’ve heard of a few tribal cultures that have some kind of communal sexual activity, but I don’t think it’s too common. If you know of sources that show otherwise, I’d be interested in reading them.

It’s true that my beliefs about the best conditions for sex are similar to traditional or conservative beliefs on the subject. But I don’t believe as I do because it’s traditional or conservative but because my own experiences and those of so many people I know seem to support those beliefs. I don’t think that everything the mainstream believes is wrong just because it’s mainstream, so I try to formulate my beliefs based on my own observations rather than on how they align with any particular system. That means some of what I think ends up sounding radical, and some of it ends up sounding like the status quo.

Of course you’re right that commitment, monogamy, or whatever else you associate with a relationship doesn’t protect us from pain. Not at all. I think close personal associations, with or without sex, always have the potential to be painful. But, for me, at least, the answer is to be more restrictive about who I get involved with on a personal level rather than less restrictive. That’s not to say that I can ever be sure I won’t get hurt. But I think I can minimize that chance if I know that someone cares deeply about me as opposed to caring only minimally or not at all beyond what my body can do for him. Basically, forging and then breaking personal ties is stressful and depressing, so I try to form ties that I hope will not be broken rather than ties that I know from the start will have to be cut.

There’s a lot more that could be said about this, but I don’t want to monopolize Onely’s comment thread, so I’ll just end here.

Rachel - July 3, 2009

Thanks for clarifying/elaborating on your views! I agree with your assessment that having sex is intimate but this is physical intimacy. What occurred to me while reading your comment is that you (probably we!) intertwine physical and emotional intimacy in what we expect from a sexual relationship. What I am suggesting is that we might benefit from separating the two. Just like I have some friends who I feel comfortable sharing certain intimate details with and others who I share other intimate details with. I am not suggesting to sleep with anybody and everybody. I am suggesting, though, that I think you still pack more into the “intimate” label than there really is.

Bonobos vs. chimps come to mind. Granted they are non-human apes but they do show different approaches to life and sex are possible.

onely - July 3, 2009

We don’t mind monopolies when they are well-considered and interesting! = ) (Just like Google says, “Don’t Be Evil”)
CC

onely - July 2, 2009

This is definitely an interesting convo, especially from my perspective as someone who recently had a “hookup” and is continuing to “hook up” with the same guy, much to my surprise, even a month later. I am struggling with my ingrained (emotional?) response to the situation, which is that I want him exclusively, and my more academic/intellectual (onely) response, which is that I don’t really think about him all that much except for when we are together (like, once a week), so I don’t see why I should demand any kind of exclusivity from him.

On the one hand, I really really want to set boundaries for this burgeoning relationship (like, I don’t want him to be seeing other women while we’ve got this thing going on), but on the other hand, setting boundaries also means that we’re defining our relationship as something a bit more serious, and I’m honestly not sure I want that either — both because I identify so strongly as “single” and also because of the guy himself.

So, I don’t have any answers here, but I guess I would tend to lean toward Rachel’s perspective on an intellectual level, whereas on an emotional level I’m not sure I can actually embody that perspective that I so desperately want to maintain.

I’ll write a post about it one of these days.

— L

10. Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles - July 3, 2009

See, here’s where I differ on the whole meaning of heteronormativity or maybe I should say the evil of it. I think the attitude that it’s not okay to be single is wrong. I think the legal favoritism of couples over singles is wrong. I think couples who are attached at the hip are…well, not “wrong,” but let’s say not behaving in anyone’s best interest. But I don’t think the “ingrained emotional response” to a sexual relationship that you mentioned is wrong. I think it’s just a part of human nature and not a bad part, either.

I’d say if you feel uncomfortable in a sexual relationship that’s not exclusive, then why continue doing something that makes you uncomfortable? Emotions aside, there are real physical risks from having multiple partners at the same time, even with condoms, so it’s not like your feeling of dis-ease has no basis. A lot of people who have FWBs are sexually monogamous for that reason, even if they’re not committed in any other way.

I’m sure you’ll make the best decision for your own situation, but I thought I’d offer a different perspective. And now I’m going to leave this thread alone because I’ve rambled on waaaaaay too long! My lips are sealed from here on out… 😡

Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles - July 3, 2009

Ummm…that was supposed to be a foot-in-mouth smiley above, not an angry one! I’m not mad, just so you know!

onely - July 3, 2009

At least you know how to insert smileys. I still haven’t figured it out.
CC

Rachel - July 3, 2009

“But I don’t think the “ingrained emotional response” to a sexual relationship that you mentioned is wrong. I think it’s just a part of human nature and not a bad part, either.” As long as we have all this cultural overlay – making sex intimate on both physical and emotional levels; stigmatizing sex with someone other than The One – we do not really know what’s nature and what’s nurture. Even the dis-ease we feel might be due to cultural influences. I am still discovering internalize singlism after more than a year of being single by choice and working through these cultural influences. This goes very deep. Now, this does not mean that it’s wrong to feel this unease, nor that we shouldn’t honor it and set boundaries. To me, it simply means to question my assumptions and reactions. The bottom line for me is, though, to do what feels like affirming my integrity. And this might mean that despite political rantings to the contrary, being monogamous feels best. Right now, for me, being single feels best.

11. trauma queen - July 5, 2009

I’m so happy for characters like Sam rom SATC. We need to have more figures like her in pop-culture to destroy such deep-rooted stupidity!

12. Pwnsive - July 22, 2009

Women who participate in “hookup culture” are doing themselves a grave disservice. They might enjoy it while they’re young and can get a constant stream of male attention, but they’re losing the respect of other men and, most importantly, themselves.

Most people– male or female, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, gay or straight– want to find a great person, fall in love, and get married. This is hard to do for a person (and especially for a heterosexual woman) who’s had too many sexual partners. It’s difficult internally because once a taste for variety is developed, this tends to be lifelong; it’s difficult externally because the most desirable marriage partners tend to be quality-oriented people who have never had casual sex and will consider a prospective partner’s unscrupulous past to be a dealbreaker.

Very few people expect to marry virgins these days– in the 21st century, we’ve come to accept the natural human pattern of serial monogamy when young followed by lifelong monogamy in maturation– but I can’t think of anyone who wants to marry someone who’s had a one-night stand. Just… ew.

onely - July 22, 2009

Suggest you google “heteronormahole” –Christina


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