Has Emotional Intimacy Replaced Casual Sex as the New Taboo?

"American hookup: the new culture of sex on campus" by lisa wade.

"American hookup: the new culture of sex on campus" by lisa wade.

It’s practically the circle of life for every older generation to look on at the next generation with horror at their newfangled slang, technology, social customs and moral decay. In fourth century B.C., Plato questioned, “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?” Even an inscription found in a 6000-year-old Egyptian tomb expressed concern for the state of its youth: “We live in a decaying age. Young people no longer respect their parents. They are rude and impatient. They frequently inhabit taverns and have no self-control.”
An issue du jour concerning our youth that’s sending the media into a tizzy and the older generation into a moral panic: the changing romantic landscape and its “hookup culture”.
As much as the Baby Boomers tsk-tsk at the current hookup culture that the media reports as rampant on college campuses, college students don’t actually hook up all that much. According to a survey by Paula England that sampled more than 14,000 students from 19 colleges, on average about 80 percent of students hookup less than once per semester over the course of college. In fact, college students of today aren’t any more sexually active than the generations before them.
What the sexual liberation movement of the 60s and 70s did change for succeeding generations of women was reimagining the potential of their sexuality from merely a means of production to a source of pleasure: to be empowered to have sex and view sex in the same way men did.
But did the sexual liberation really liberate today’s women to enjoy sex as much as their male counterparts?
Recent research presented at the annual meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research tells us that the liberation hasn’t exactly resulted in equal opportunity of enjoyment for all genders. In a study led by Justin R. Garcia, out of 600 college students surveyed, women were twice as likely to reach orgasm from intercourse or oral sex in serious relationships as they were in hookups. Researchers also noted that while women do not like to say what they want and need, men rarely ask.
Women might have been liberated sexually in one sense, but in another sense, they are still trapped in the classic double standard alive in hookup culture. Women and girls are judged for being promiscuous, while men and boys “will be boys.”
There’s no current consensus on what hooking up actually means — hooking up could mean anything from kissing to sexual intercourse. This is symbolic of the wider ambiguousness surrounding the sexual and romantic landscape today: from analyzing the mixed signals of a text which said he didn’t want anything, but wants to hang out, to the ambiguous “hang out” as the new date.
But for all the ambiguity, there’s almost a social contract in hookup culture that the hookup be meaningless, or at least perceived to be meaningless. In an interview with NPR, Lisa Wade, a Sociologist at Occidental College, described this as an artificial binary between careless and careful sex: on the one hand, the idea that when we get into romantic relationships, we're supposed to be loving and kind, and on the other hand, our concept of casual sex is the opposite of that.
Convincing everyone that it was meaningless is not something that comes naturally. Instead, many college students ensure this meaningless by being drunk or appearing to be drunk when they hook up. Sober sex is very serious.
If casual sex was taboo before the sexual revolution, emotional intimacy has become taboo today. Neither party is permitted or willing to admit to emotional involvement, commitment or vulnerability. A sad takeaway from Wade’s book, “American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus,” is that men and women are free to have sex, but neither feels entirely free to love.
Though there are some men and women who genuinely enjoy and benefit from hookup culture, it’s obvious that not everyone benefits from it equally.
“It was one of the saddest realizations for me when I was writing the book just how powerfully hookup culture has convinced students that they should be embarrassed for having feelings and feel weak for wanting connection,” Wade said, because of course, having meaningful relationships and sexual experiences that are kind is something that all human beings want. In fact, according to Wade, men are more likely than women, by a few percentage points, to say that they wish they could be in a relationship.
We all desire intimacy, but there can’t be any kind of intimacy without vulnerability. To be fully engaged in an intimate relationship requires being vulnerable. To give and receive love fully, we need to be vulnerable to be open to it. To wear our heart on our sleeve — to tell someone how we feel about them — and to expose our raw, imperfect, flawed, messy selves, is scary. Perhaps then, the most radical change we can make in our culture today is not a sexual liberation, but an emotional one. 
Shane Tan ’20


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