“Hook-up culture” — that amorphous concept destined to destroy any lasting morality in our society — is often cited as a basis for gender inequality. The argument is that men are biologically predisposed to enjoy casual sex, while women are more inclined to become attached, leaving them emotionally damaged. The practice of hooking up, then, is inherently unbalanced in its power dynamic, since men appear to reap all the benefits.
But hook-up culture is not necessarily inherently bad for women. First, the belief that men reap all the benefits in this exchange is itself sexist: women, like men, certainly have the capacity to enjoy casual sex. While it is often suggested that emotional attachment stems from sex more quickly for women than it does for men, a 2012 study challenges this assertion — and even if the assertion were true, this should not necessarily preclude women from engaging in and enjoying casual sex.
The debate about the benefits of hooking up versus the benefits of traditional dating encompasses many arguments, but the back-and-forth regarding what sexual dynamic is better for women misses key points. A power dynamic already exists between men and women that grants men more control. This is not the result of hook-up culture or dating culture: this is a dynamic rooted in history. Any ill-treatment of women in either culture is a symptom of an existing dynamic, not a result of that culture.
But present power dynamics aside, hooking up can prove to have significant benefits for women. In Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Laura Hamilton and Paula England’s “Is Hooking Up Bad for Young Women?” the authors argue that, based on interviews with young women, “committed relationships [detract] from what women [see] as main tasks of college.” Essentially, the amount of time and emotional energy required of a relationship is no longer a burden for a woman who prefers casual sex; in fact, she has more time to complete her academic work and achieve good grades. Additionally, women in relationships find it “difficult to meet people” — perhaps an inhibitor to the kind of social networking characteristic of a college experience (a networking that can help later in life when college friends have dispersed around the country and may be helpful in finding jobs).
Hooking up has its own consequences: women enjoy sex much more in committed relationships, and women having sex in committed relationships are more likely to orgasm. But, according to Armstrong, Hamilton and England, “the costs of bad hookups [tend] to be less than the costs of bad relationships.” A mediocre sexual experience will not distract from completing academic work well and on time; a devastating break-up may do just that.
Sexual encounters — within committed relationships or not — are rife with imbalanced power dynamics and ill-treatment of men and women. And there is no definitive answer as to whether hooking up or dating is a better option overall. For some women, hooking up is more desirable, and for others committed relationships are — but it is up to these women to decide for themselves which avenue they choose to take. If some women are able to satisfy a carnal need without distracting from the goal of attending college — which is, of course, to learn — then hooking up works just fine.