Liberal feminist: Hookup culture hurts women, and we hate it. So why do we join in anyway?
Leah Fessler, a recent graduate of Middlebury College, wrote her thesis on the school’s hookup culture and its effects on women. In an essay on the website Quartz, Fessler described the emptiness that she felt after “subjecting [herself] to unfulfilling, emotionally damaging sexual experiences.”
“It wasn’t just the social pressure that drove me to buy into the commitment-free hookup lifestyle, but my own identity as a feminist,” Fessler wrote. Despite her feminism and independence, the commitment-free hookup lifestyle led to Fessler becoming inevitably attached to the men with whom she was involved.
“With attachment came shame, anxiety, and emptiness,” Fessler continued. “My girlfriends and I were top students, scientists, artists, and leaders. We could advocate for anything—except for our own bodies. We won accolades from our professors, but the men we were sleeping with wouldn’t even eat breakfast with us the next morning…We were desperate to know what it felt like to be wanted; desperate for a chance at intimacy.”
Fessler wrote that the guys with whom she was involved didn’t seem to emotionally care about her at all, and the realization of this stung.
As part of her senior thesis, Fessler interviewed 75 male and female students and analyzed over 300 online survey responses on the hookup culture. One hundred percent of female students she interviewed and three-quarters of female survey respondents “stated a clear preference for committed relationships,” Fessler reported.
The female students Fessler researched reported feeling self-doubt, emotional instability, and loneliness after casual sex. Despite their efforts to detach themselves emotionally from the men with whom they were sexually involved, they became attached.
“The truth is that, for many women, there’s nothing liberating about emotionless, non-committal sex,” wrote Fessler. The young women who she interviewed participated in the hookup culture because they thought it was what men wanted or that it would lead to a committed relationship.
Participating in the hookup culture meant “actually [denying] ourselves agency and [bolstering] male dominance, all while convincing ourselves we’re acting like progressive feminists,” Fessler concluded. Yet, she wrote, many of the men she interviewed also would have preferred committed relationships to casual sex, but felt social pressure to engage in the latter.
“Emotionless, casual sex,” Fessler wrote, is typically “radically dissonant” with the way women are naturally wired.
The lack of fulfillment from the hookup culture Fessler and the women she interviewed experienced is part of a larger phenomenon.
“Where was the freedom I was supposed to feel?” a pseudonymous freelance writer asked of casual sex in Verily magazine. She wrote that the fear of pregnancy, confusion, and physical and emotional pain that came from hooking up made her life “hellish.”
The hookup culture is rigged against gender equality, she argued, because it automatically puts women at a disadvantage. Women carry the “brunt of sexual risks” while men “wield the majority of the sexual power”—the hookup culture works against women’s natural desire for commitment, which would serve the needs of any children produced from such a union. Commitment-free sex helps irresponsible men and hurts women in the process.
Christine Hassler detailed at the liberal Huffington Post the biology of this trend. Intimacy causes hormonal changes in women’s brains, making it extraordinarily difficult for women to engage in sexual activity without releasing the hormone oxytocin, which causes emotional bonding.
Unfortunately, modern culture often denies or ignores the frequent experiences of pain and regret the hookup culture causes women. But as the fruits of the sexual revolution continue to manifest themselves in the grief brought about by the hookup culture, it seems likely that more feminists will join the chorus of voices labeling casual sex as profoundly anti-woman.