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Meditations on hooking up

Published: October 6, 2006
Section: Opinions


Last week, on Sept 29th, the good people of NPRs On Point interviewed some college sex columnists, including Amber Madison, recent Tufts grad and author of Hooking Up: A Girls All-Out Guide to Sex and Sexuality. A book deal after graduation? Well, lets just leave it at: Im jealous.

She and the other panelists discussed the modern hook up phenomenon and the resulting progression: that hooking up comes first, relationships second. And that if people are aiming for a relationship, they are more likely to take it slow.

I basically agree. In a modern world without first dates (except when youre meeting someone from the internet), sometimes the hook up is the first time two people are ever alone together. Sometimes it is the first time any form of attraction is even acknowledged. What gets tricky is when you actually do want a relationship with this person, and then you worry about how far youre willing to go. I think its pretty safe to say that at this point, if you decide to have sex right away, you are telling the person that sex is the main objective for you. At least, thats what we-think-they-think-we-are-thinkingright?

Another point discussed over and over was the idea that modern, liberated, women think: If men only want to use me for sex, I can use men for sex too. What bothers me is that most of the panelists viewed this in a positive light. This is supposed to be empowering.

But to me, it sounds more like revenge than empowerment. How is sex empowering when the motivation is all about men, not about yourself or your own enjoyment? Why does it have to be women having sex like men? Why cant it just be, having sex for fun?

Even Sex and the City did an episode on women having sex like men where they posed the question: Is it even possible for women to have sex without emotional attachment? I think it is definitely possible. I think it is possible for the women to have sex without attachment, just as I also think women can get attached after having sex. Same goes for everyone else, of any gender. I also think the same person can have sex with one person and feel nothing, then have sex with another person and be unable to keep emotions out of it.

But having sex without emotion is not having sex like a man. And having sex with attachment is not having sex like a woman. Its having sex like a human, and we are all capable of an entire spectrum of emotional responses, or lack thereof.

Therefore, the idea that having sex on the first date (or in this case, having sex on the first hook up), is not about sex, but maybe about trust. The real reason you might not have sex right away is not because you are afraid your partner will think youre a slut, or just using them. It is because you are self-conscious;

worried you wont meet their standards, perform well, or that, they might only want sex from you.
What weve lost as a result of the disappearance of dating is a code for understanding each others wants and expectations. Buying a girl dinner used to mean you wanted, and expected sex. Regardless of the obvious sexism of that statement, at least the signals were clear. Today, when two people end up in the same bed together, the only way to know what the other one is thinking is to ask. And most of us havent reached that level of comfort yet, even those of us who hook up on a regular basis.

And those of us who do hook up on a regular basis are not expected to want more from any of our partners. If it is known that you plan to have sex, enjoy sex, and do so often, it is expected that you only want to have sex, enjoy sex, and do so often. Not only are these people often conflicted about their own choices, they feel that in order to have sex like men they must continue having sex like men. It is these people – the ones who may have evolved the furthest – who find themselves the most restricted by their choices.

By believing that having sex like men will empower them, these people are trapped in a system where only one type of sex is available to them- emotionless sex. If they chose to think of it as having sex for fun, there would be nothing to prove. They could find themselves in a meaningful relationship and still continue to have sex for fun without contradicting any values or goals.

Host Tom Ashbrook asked the question, Is sex no longer special? The panelists said no, its still special. I agree somewhat. I mean, its certainly more special than oral sex, which has become as common as 7th grade bake sales- but even then, it can be considered special for some. As usual, it depends.

But I think the real question here is this: Is it a bad thing that sex is sometimes not special? I really dont know how to answer that. It could be, in a sad, innocence lost sort of way. But on the other hand, it could be a good thing too. Sex isnt special! Now we can stop worrying about it! (This would perhaps be Foucaults ultimate wet dream.) But I dont think that will happen.

The last point I would like to address was the question Is the quality of sex better in a relationship than in a hook up? Here I am going to take the scientific approach and say, Yeah sorta. Its better because people in relationships get a lot of time to practice. With sex, practice is everything. This is why sex is better in a relationship- both partners have had a chance to learn the steps to their unique dance. In hook ups, there is a lot of stepping on toes.

I think the question they meant to ask was this, Does emotional attachment make sex better? I say, not necessarily. Sure, it could, if thats what does it for you. But Im sure emotionless sex is an ultimate fantasy for many folks, and Im also sure there are people who enjoy, and really get off on, both emotional and emotionless sex. Sex is better with emotion, for some, sometimes, but not for everyone, always.

In the end, its simple. Do what feels right for you. If you feel ashamed, think about why. Is it because you do not feel comfortable with your actions? Is it because you do not agree with your own philosophy? Or is it because you think other people will not approve, and think less of you for it?

Like I said, do what feels right for you, and let everyone else go fuck themselves. (If that feels right for you, of course.)

If youd like to hear the program, you can listen at www.onpointradio.org.