When men do the hooking up, or talk about it, no one seems too concerned. It’s a routine rite of passage for the twenty-somethings, following a break-up, or after the termination of a long marriage.
When women do the hooking up, we seem surprised. We’re judgmental. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander?
Not so much.
This morning’s New York Times greeted me with an article on campus life, featuring snippets from young women who profess their preference for casual sex over relationships. They’re pouring their efforts and focus into schooling while in school, and they plan to continue concentrating on their (future) careers throughout their twenties.
Casual Sex: Double Standards are Alive and Well
In this set of observations (and implicit conclusions?) about young women and elite campus life, beyond the fact that I don’t consider this phenomenon to be new, what startles me is this: the female students interviewed felt the need to speak anonymously. They were worried about family and prospective employers making judgments based on their sex lives.
Would the young men they’re sleeping with have imposed the same restriction, or felt the same need for circumspection? Isn’t this the usual double-standard applied to women’s sex lives regardless of marital status or age? If this were an article about men on campus hooking up, would it even be press-worthy? Would the focus have been more explicitly on the excesses of drinking (for example) that often accompany the behavior?
As for “Sex on Campus – She Can Play That Game, Too,” the very title of the article makes me scowl. Must we call sex without strings “a game?” Are we implying that women are using sex to get something else? Are we still unwilling to recognize sexuality as basic to most human beings, and yes, that includes women?
Campus Life and Hook-Up Culture
Referring to discussions with female students on the campus of University of Pennsylvania, the article states:
These women said they saw building their résumés, not finding boyfriends (never mind husbands), as their main job at Penn. They envisioned their 20s as a period of unencumbered striving, when they might work at a bank in Hong Kong one year, then go to business school, then move to a corporate job in New York… Almost universally, the women said they did not plan to marry until their late 20s or early 30s.
Do you find this surprising? I don’t.
This is a highly competitive environment, and an education with a price tag of $200,000+ by the time you’ve completed a degree. I should hope these women are looking to make the most of their academic and networking opportunities! Were I a parent, I’d be distressed if they weren’t.
The Alcohol Connection
Frankly, what worries me more is the binge drinking, the lesser judgment when it comes to safety that may result, and the dangers of hook-ups with strangers. Note – hooking up with a stranger is not the same as “friends with benefits,” which was also mentioned.
Still, this is concerning:
Women said universally that hookups could not exist without alcohol, because they were for the most part too uncomfortable to pair off with men they did not know well without being drunk.
Life Lessons in Relationships
I’m hardly against relationships in college, but let’s admit that they can add layers of complications to an already pressurized four years. Naturally, falling in love and even surviving a broken heart also teach us a great deal about ourselves, preparing us for the future.
But what happens when two graduating students in a relationship are offered opportunities on opposite sides of the country? How many women have compromised their dreams or dropped them entirely, in order to accompany a man along the way in his?
Sure, sure. Life is full of these decisions, you’ll tell me. It’s nothing new and I agree. But aren’t these the challenges that women have traditionally faced? Letting go of their own opportunities far too soon? Pretending they aren’t sexual beings? Shouldn’t young men and women aged 17 to 22 be exploring all their options?
Why shouldn’t young women understand these years as essential to fully focusing on and developing a self?
Hooking Up vs Pairing Up
We are a culture that still sets marriage as a goal for women, marriage as status symbol, marriage as a sign of a woman’s value. Must we continue to view the college campus as her hunting ground for a husband?
I’m not advocating sleeping with a different person every weekend (for men or women). I’m not advocating drunken and careless sexual relations (also mentioned in the article). I’m not advocating casual sex for those who reserve relations for love. But I am convinced that if we were discussing the sex life of young males (and their casual conquests), no one would bat an eye.
When the topic is women? It’s a different matter. We continue to send mixed signals – about sexuality, about priorities, about the necessity of marriage or finding “marriageable men” during the university years.
For those who are comfortable with casual sex (and stay safe), it’s a no-brainer. My sense is that it’s been going on for 40 years if not longer. And focusing on studies while on campus? Solidifying a “self” before slipping into a secondary, dependent, or caregiving role? Shall we all sing a refrain of “Lean In?” Isn’t that exactly what these young women are doing? Leaning into their educational opportunities?
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