Hookup culture is a pretty hot topic of discussion among many people in 2022. On one side of the discussion you have a more liberal mindset that sees it as a kind of liberating force, and on the other side you have a more conservative mindset that sees it as symbolic of crumbling social values.
For clarity, when we talk about hookup culture, we’re referring to the idea of a permissive sexual environment in which one-night stands and no-strings-attached physical relationships are not just tolerated, but actively encouraged or celebrated.
How Common is Hookup Culture? Is It a Myth?
There has been some research that indicates that hookup culture, or at least parts of it, might not be as big a thing as the mainstream makes out. This is especially true among the main participants in this culture, and that’s college students. However, when you take a look at other aspects, such as how dating apps have changed, it’s hard to deny that hookup culture has strongly taken hold in many societies, especially liberal Western societies.
The focus of much of hookup culture now centers around certain smartphone apps such as Tinder, Grindr, and others that have made it easier than ever to meet strangers online and form sexual relationships. But didn’t people always meet each other in bars and clubs and then go home together? Yes, they did, and those were the hookups of yesteryear, but there’s a pretty big difference between those pre-app and dating website days and today.
Take an app like Tinder, for instance, where now even the most antisocial and introverted people can stay at home, swipe right, connect with others, and have people around at their home for sex within minutes or an hour at most. The hookup culture has always existed, but the advent of online connection along with the many different hookup sites and apps has widened it and made it substantially more powerful and influential.
While hookup culture tends to carry negative connotations when people talk about it, there’s a need to identify the genuine upside to such a culture, and celebrate what it has done for the romantic and social lives of many people.
It Allows for Sexual Experimentation
Sexual fantasy and experimentation — within the law and within reason — no longer have to be theoretical. When people have no avenues to explore certain kinks or sexual qualities that they find in themselves, they can manifest in negative ways. Online communities bring like-minded people together in a safe space where experimentation can go ahead and people can thus better explore these aspects of their sexuality.
Establishes Chemistry Before Commitment
For 2 people who might be interested in exploring a real romantic relationship, an early sexual encounted using a hookup app can be a great method of establishing powerful sexual chemistry between them. It’s quite possible that you could meet someone for a hookup, discover a unique and meaningful sexual connection with that person, and thus start thinking about getting in a bit deeper with them. Isn’t is better that way rather than getting emotionally invested only then to discover that you have no real sexual compatibility. Such an experience can be devastating.
It’s Easy and Fun
Quite a lot of us in the world can really do without the drama and complexities that longer-term romantic relationships bring with them. It can be extremely enjoyable to just find like-minded people who are focused on having fun and feeling good. At the end of it, there’s no need for dinners, presents, anniversaries, or even deep discussions. You can have those things if you want, but there’s no pressure, and that makes everything easier.
Terrific Stress Relief
Finally, is there anything quite so stress-relieving as a well-placed, well-timed, and well-executed sexual encounter with someone? It could be someone you know, or it might be a stranger, it’s not very important. It’s a fantastic release of tension, and quite possibly the most enjoyable distraction that a human being can engage in for a while, and there’s nothing wrong with that!
Now let’s look at some of the concerns of those who are opposed to hookup culture.
Top of the list is the potential health concerns that come from the rise of hookup culture. While young people are better informed than ever about safe sex, birth control, and the prevention of STDs, the United States CDC still estimates that there are something like 20 million new STD infections every year, and about 50 percent of those come from people age 15 to 24, people who are actively participating in the hookup culture.
Beyond disease, there’s also the issue of pregnancy. The United States has long had a problem with unintended pregnancy, with something like half of all pregnancies in the US being unintended. That doesn’t mean half are unwanted, but when it happens among those participating in hookup culture, it does, and the more sex that goes on, the more the chances are of unintended pregnancies happening.
Lowering of Self-Esteem
Next, there’s a definite correlation between people who overindulge in hookup culture, and those who experience a lower or weaker sense of self-worth. The main problem is in the way that we have made sex between 2 people a matter of transaction rather than one of either purpose or connection. In a more traditional world, having sex with another person was meant to be a meaningful and deep expression of your real feelings for them. Of course not all sex was like that, but it was the prevailing notion.
In the more transactional environment of hookup culture, however, we may see things like young women trading their company and sexual favors for the chance to be with a “sugar daddy” boyfriend who takes financial care of them, gives them gifts, and so on. Is that something we want to encourage as “normal” in the world of love and relationships? The move from expression to transaction has many potentially negative consequences for our broader society, or at least that’s how many people feel.
Moving to Traditional Relationships Can Be Hard
Let’s say one spends all of their late teen years and 20s in a hard “party” mode where they do good things like earn a degree, but also drink heavily, and have a lot of highly promiscuous and adventurous sex with a lot of different partners. If that becomes your life from age 18-30, then what do you really do after hitting 30? Are you even capable of having real relationships at that point? Can you see anything in sex beyond that physical transaction with another person?
Even if you have genuine feelings for others, what if you have established a certain reputation locally? Or if you have a well-established record online? Do you think nice girls or nice guys are going to want to be with that person? It sounds very judgmental, but it’s a reality those who dive deeply into hookup culture frequently face later in life.
It Can Lead to Hurt Feelings
Finally, hookup culture is a road to many misunderstandings and even emotional injuries. A negative phenomenon particularly in heterosexual hookup culture is that one party inevitably feels “led on” by the other, which eventually leads to misunderstanding, arguments, hurt feelings and emotional scars. One person may have believed they were working towards a real relationship while the other was maintaining other physical relationships alongside this one…it can get very messy.
Of course this can happen in same-sex hookups and couplings, too, but more often two people of the same gender are closer to the same wavelength mentally and emotionally and thus stand a better chance of avoiding the misunderstanding. Nothing is absolute, naturally.
Do Hookups Ever Turn into Relationships?
To conclude, and to end on a more positive and hopeful note, it’s worth looking at the idea that we shouldn’t see hookups as separate from “real relationships.” Most of us know at least one couple in our friend circle whose connection was initially physical, and then grew into an emotional and more meaningful one. There’s absolutely nothing to say that a hookup can’t turn into a real romance. In fact, when it does happen it can be more romantic because no one is really expecting it to happen.
One researcher, Rose Wesche Ph.D. published on her website that quite a proportion of people — as much as 60 percent — go into casual hookups hoping that more will come of it. She also cited studies, however, that showed it only happened in reality about 12 percent of the time. But is 12 percent something to sniff at? It’s more than 1 in 10, which means if you hooked up with 10 people over a period of time, there’s a good chance that something more meaningful could evolve with one of them.