Sexual liberation versus college-life expectation: hook-up culture in college

Hook-up culture in college creates an unhealthy pressure to partake for fear that of missing out, and for some it just might be better as an idea than in reality

We live in a society where discussing sex is as casual as talking about what you’re going to have for dinner. While this allows for liberation, exploration, and non-judgemental attitudes towards sexuality and sensuality, I believe that it also promotes a culture where hook-ups occur without consideration of the emotional toll that so often follows. 

Hookup culture is an integral part of college life for many. Games of Never-Have-I-Ever quickly edge their way to uncovering who’s slept with who, where they’ve done the deed and how kinky they get in the bedroom. We talk about sex openly, no longer repressed but instead empowered. We’re able to sit around the table with our friends and talk about what happened in the bedroom last night with the person we met in the club. We can address and fulfil our sexual needs without the emotional attachment. We can have a great night of fun, and then never speak to them again.

While some people can easily disconnect from those they have sex with, others find it hard to forget about the shared intimate experience.

On the other hand however, we can also dwell on sexual encounters to the point where it takes a toll on our mental well-being. Does this casual attitude create a pressure on those in their 20s to take part in hookup culture? More importantly, is physically engaging in casual sex fundamentally good for all parties involved? While some people can easily disconnect from those they have sex with, others find it hard to forget about the shared intimate experience. Moreover, one must consider the risks involved such as STIs and pregnancy scares, which can be daunting in the context of a one-night stand.

College is a great place to explore your sexuality, indeed, there are times when I genuinely enjoy casual sex and the ease of it.

This is in no way a statement that sleeping with different people is a bad thing. College is a great place to explore your sexuality, indeed, there are times when I genuinely enjoy casual sex and the ease of it. However, I have come to find more frequently that after someone leaves my bed, I feel an emptiness inside and a sense of dread that I cannot shake. I may like being a part of the hook-up culture in college, but I don’t think it’s good for me. As I consider the hook-ups I have engaged in since I became single late last year, I am trying to decide whether I have ever enjoyed casual sex. 

I decided to discuss the topic with my friends to see if I was alone on this complex and often contradictory opinion. 66% of people interviewed spoke about an expectation in college to participate in hookup culture. While I don’t think there is an active pressure as in no one is forcing us to have lots of sex while we’re young and free I believe that there is a subconscious pressure and expectation rooted in us as young adults. Where does this come from? Is it ingrained into us through pop culture and TV shows? Do lyrics like: “But if we’re gonna do anything we might as well just fuck” and “we were just having sex no I would never call it love” affect our view of sex without us even realising?

On top of this, 63% agreed with me when it was proposed that they’re missing out when they’re not having casual sex, such as when they’re living back at home in between term times, or when they’re in a relationship. It is a common feeling to admit that you wonder what it’s like to sleep with different people. It seems thrilling and fun with the added ability to gain wild stories that are good for the plot and exciting to share at parties.   

Has our sexual liberation created a chasm, resulting in people feeling left out if they are not participating in hook-up culture? 

There is an intense dichotomy between the words casual and sex, despite their frequent proceeding of each other. While sex doesn’t have to be meaningful, it is an intimate act. Engaging in it casually places it in a category of meaninglessness. If you are striving for just sex then that’s great, but it’s a common occurrence for one party to end up falling deeper and becoming attached after an intimate experience. This can leave you feeling stupid, clingy, and desperate, when in reality it is very normal to feel this way after spending a night in close proximity to someone. Is it possible to disconnect ourselves from sex? If we credit someone as being the best I’ve ever had, can we wake up beside them and kick them out of our bed easily, detaching all emotions from the actions of the previous night?

I think that we skim over the aftermath of casual sex too easily. It feels almost embarrassing to say that you’re thinking about the events of a one-night stand for weeks on end, but I assure you that more people share this opinion than you think. It shouldn’t be a shameful thing to admit that you’re overthinking and overanalysing your encounter. It’s actually very natural; while some would place this on the fact that sex is an intimate act, others correlate it to the transfer of energy between two bodies during sex. 

This leads me to question whether or not the short-term pleasure is worth the long-term distress. While we search for empowerment, what we find often instead is disappointment, dissatisfaction, and loneliness..