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The Dartmouth
February 22, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Wade discusses pitfalls of hook-ups

The dissatisfaction with "hooking up" and the culture associated with it, not the act itself, is what causes social problems on college campuses, Occidental College sociology professor Lisa Wade said in a lecture to a packed audience on Thursday afternoon in the Rockefeller Center.

Although modern media has increased its focus on hook-up culture recently, the practice has existed on campuses for a long time, Wade said.

"Your generation did not invent casual sex," she said. "In fact, your generation has fewer sexual partners than your parents did at your age."

Despite having fewer sexual partners, today's youth experience more sexual contact, Wade said. This likely comes from a shift in the "sexual script" that determines the order of sexual acts. Previously, the "proper order of sexual intimacy" proceeded from intercourse to oral sex, an order that has been inverted, she said. This change likely occurred as a result of students' desires to "find ways around rules" about not having sex, Wade said.

Wade said she sought to determine whether college students are excessively hooking up and whether these hook-ups are cause for concern. She based her lecture on surveys and quantitative research she conducted at Occidental, as well as on more widespread surveys conducted at many universities, notably by Stanford University sociology professor Paula England.

The average number of hook-ups for a graduating college senior over the course of his or her four years is seven, Wade said. Wade said that about 25 percent of students do not hook up at all, 30 percent hook up three times or less, 30 percent hook up four to nine times and 15 percent hook up 10 times or more.

These statistics demonstrate that hooking up on college campuses is not as prevalent as many believe, Wade said.

"There's no hook-up epidemic," Wade said. "That sort of world panic is not real."

Instead, the problem occurs because people who hook up tend to be dissatisfied with their experience, Wade said. People who hook up seek three things empowerment, pleasure and meaningful experience yet most find none of them, she said.

The lack of empowerment particularly affects women, who often become disillusioned with their hopes of embracing sex and becoming sexually liberated, Wade said.

"[Women surveyed] didn't feel like equals on a sexual playground, they felt more like jungle gyms," she said.

The lack of personal empowerment is compounded by the pressure to have sex on campuses, which is seen as "normal and inevitable," Wade said.

Lack of sexual pleasure is another phenomenon that affects women more than men, Wade said.

"Women very much de-prioritize their own pleasure," Wade said, adding that women experience orgasms about half as often as men do during a first hook-up.

The aspect of meaningfulness affects men and women equally, Wade said. Students do not always look for love in a hook-up, but most often want some sort of meaningful connection from sex, perhaps in the context of trust, Wade said. Students often desire desire "real friends with benefits," according to Wade.

However, the desire for connection is hindered by the seemingly careless attitude of those participating in the hook-up culture, Wade said. People choose not to discuss their emotional involvement because that would involve going "off script" in the typical sexual encounter, she said.

Students' levels of sexual dissatisfaction were reflected in a survey conducted by Wade that indicates that 11 percent of first-year students "loved" hook-ups, 50 percent were ambivalent, 38 percent opted out of sex altogether and less than one percent were in relationships, Wade said.

The "cultural dominance" of hook-ups is also problematic, Wade said.

While the act of hooking up is not harmful and can help students grow into "mature sexual adults," problems stem from the fact that a hook-up culture "dominates our thinking" today, Wade said.

Although 70 percent of female students and 73 percent of male students surveyed wanted committed relationships, this is an "invisible reality" and people tend not to admit their desire for a relationship in the context of the hook-up culture, Wade said.

This dominant culture specifically prevents forms of sexual expression outside the realm of typical hook-ups, Wade said. Relationships, same-sex exploration, abstinence and feminist sex are not discussed nearly as freely, she said.

Sharang Biswas '12, one of the two Sexpert interns who participated in the decision to bring Wade to campus, said that one of the most important aspects of the lecture was that it would be "less polarizing" than other discussions.

"[Wade's] work is just data, research and analysis, so people are more informed and can make their own mind up," Biswas said.

Biswas said he hoped the lecture would foster more conversation about sex within the Dartmouth community.

"Opening up dialogue about it makes it less threatening and makes people more comfortable to either engage or not engage in it," he said.

Students who attended the lecture said they enjoyed that it did not take a strictly positive or negative stance on sex in general.

"I figured it was going to be either for hooking up or against hooking up in specific," Jacob Ammon '15 said. "I thought it was really interesting that not necessarily the hooking up part is bad, but just the basic culture."

The lecture, "The Promise and Perils of Hook-Up Culture," was sponsored by Sexperts, the Women and Gender Studies Program, the Men's Project at the Center for Women and Gender and the Sociology Department.