The New Breed of Sexual Creature: The Hookup Culture Finds an Advocate

Yet again, the Atlantic (September 2012) delivers another needlessly explicit essay in its ongoing fascination with hookup culture. While past articles explore the demeaning aspects of aggressive sexuality freed from social and religious stricture, Hanna Rosin, author of “Boys on the Side,” mocks the nostalgia of her colleagues’ longing “for an earlier time, when fathers protected ‘innocent’ girls from ‘punks’ and predators, and when girls understood it was their role to also protect themselves.”

Innocence is not a virtue for Rosin, particularly for young women. Recounting a party at an Ivy League business school, she notes the ubiquity of pornography and the prevalence of sexually explicit speech and behavior perpetrated by both men and women, all so common that “I found barely anyone who even noticed the vulgarity anymore.” Forget the innocence of women, the demeaning and degrading is normal, even praiseworthy.

A newly enrolled foreign student expressed surprise, noting that her fellow students must have “hearts of steel” and would be considered desperate, “or a prostitute” in her home country. Rosin laughingly brushes this aside, joking that “we are, in the world’s estimation, a nation of prostitutes. And not even prostitutes with hearts of gold.” But the relevant question is not “how did this happen?” or “what should we do?” or even “how do we make sure this is safe?” Instead, Rosin asks “Is that so bad?”

Many reflections on hookup culture conclude that men have emerged from the sexual revolution holding all the cards, now free to use and discard women without responsibility and with women increasingly obliged to participate in the new mores. Rosin sees it otherwise, noting that the “unbelievable gains women have lately made” make it far more likely for them to have a college degree, a career path, and to make more money than men their age. While contraception and abortion are often touted as key to women’s rise, Rosin treads further, for it is not “just the pill or legal abortion but the whole new landscape of sexual freedom.… To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture.”

Such claims cause one to ask what “feminist progress” means. Presumably, progress has some relation to flourishing, happiness, or the dignity possessed by all persons created in the image of God. Perhaps progress indicates as well society’s growing awareness that the dignity and well-being of those most vulnerable is often trampled by the powerful, and that many women are brutalized because of their sexuality.

Rosin means nothing like this, however. Progress for women means individual “success,” or “a promising future,” or “setting themselves up for a career.” Given that definition, nothing could be more regressive than pregnancy, but since that fate can be avoided or terminated the most pertinent threat is love itself. According to Rosin, it is women who most enthusiastically further hookup culture, and not for sexual pleasure but “to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind.” With such an understanding of progress, “an overly serious suitor fills the same role as an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.”

The word suitor has its etymology in sequi, “to follow,” as in one who follows or pursues in order to marry. Old literature might give us the image of the bedazzled lover following close at the heels of the beloved, but in contemporary norms a more sinister mood is evoked. A follower lurks about, attempting to capture, subdue; he pursues his prey, and his love is viewed not as that which unites in the free bonds of love, but as cords which bind, pin down, fence in. Suitors are dangerous things, romance a trap, love an enemy. Consequently, we’ve “produced a new breed of female sexual creature,” one who is unwilling to “trap herself in the bell jar” but who hooks up to open “her horizons.”

While Rosin suggests that almost all of the women she describes want to get married eventually, it’s difficult to understand how the grasp of freedom, love, and selfhood evidenced by the blasé approval of hooking up can nourish marriage culture properly understood. In Theology of the Body, John Paul II plumbed the depths of Genesis to explain the spousal meaning of the body with its full freedom found in “the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and—through this gift—fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence.” Just as the Creator wills the existence of each and every person for their own sake, “the interior freedom of the gift—the disinterested gift of self,” occurs when spouses welcome and will each other as they are willed by God; that is, when each wills the other for the sake of the other, as ends in themselves.

But for the “new breed of female [and male] sexual creature,” the entire point, in Rosin’s terms, is always to keep “their own ends in mind.” Never to will the other for their own sake but always to will oneself, this is the anthem of contemporary freedom, although, of course, it is to bind one’s own self with the indestructible bonds of self-imposed slavery and vice.

Such enslavement is particularly evident in the attitude towards procreation and sex acts of the reproductive type. As John Paul II explains, freedom is the power to love, to give of oneself, and to will the other. Intrinsic to willing the other is willing the “spousal meaning” of the body, which in uniting has as its purpose fruitfulness and procreation. Given easy procurement of the pill, one would expect hookup culture to rather easily and without worry engage in genital-to-genital intercourse, for the ancient “threat” of pregnancy is now evacuated; yet hookup culture as catalogued by Rosin and others tends also to be sodomy culture (in all its forms). It’s tempting to think that journalists looking to make a point or shock bourgeois Atlantic readers might exaggerate the point, but not just the writing but also the logic of the culture indicates that refusing and denying the freedom of the spousal gift—in fact viewing the spousal gift as a threat—finds its culmination not in the pill but in sex acts of the non-reproductive type, for even casual and indifferent encounters of the reproductive type carry reminders, hauntings, of the spousal, and such meanings are threats to freedom as currently envisioned.

If love and gift of self—the interior freedom of the spouse—is a threat devoutly to be feared, then all such hauntings must be exorcised, for while the “sexual culture may be more coarse these days,” the young are well trained and prepared to handle vulgarity, for they’ve been trained to reject the gift, “they have more important things on their minds, such as good grades and internships and job interviews and a financial future of their own.”

Created in the image of a Communion of Persons, we are made for communion, the freedom and power to welcome others; we’ve chosen instead the isolation of “more important things” and so find ourselves on our own and always for ourselves. And we cannot allow such training to go to waste, can we?

R. J. Snell

By

R. J. Snell directs the Center on the University and Intellectual Life at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, and is a senior fellow at the Agora Institute for Civic Virtue and the Common Good. He is the author (with Steve Cone) of Authentic Cosmopolitanism: Love, Sin, and Grace in the Christian University. His latest books are Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire and The Perspective of Love.

  • Guest

    There is no getting away from the facts of how and for what purpose we have been created as human persons – no matter how hard we try.

    I do counseling with individuals and couples.  Most of the people I see nowadays come in with problems that pertain to disordered relationships that are causing the individual(s) much unhappiness.  They are finding what they are searching for in life as elusive.

    I have taken to asking the men (although it equally applies to women) just how many women they have had sexual intercourse with over their short span of life.  One man ( in his 30’s)  told me that, although he could not be sure of the exact number, he guessed that he had sexual intercourse with at least 100 women.  Mind you, these were not prostitutes he was referring to.  I asked him how many of them he had uttered the words, “I love you” to while in the act of consummation.  His answer: most, if not all.  I then asked him if, in fact, he was telling them the truth i.e. that he indeed loved them all.  He looked at me as if I were insane – as if to say, how could anyone love all those people in the way that sexual intercourse implied. 

    I spoke with him about the Theology of the Body, knowing that he was Catholic and thinking he might get what I was trying to convey.  He listened attentively and then was on his way.  I next heard from him about six months later and asked if he could make another appointment – this time bringing in his girlfriend.  You see, he had just met her, had a one -night stand and she was pregnant.  She was intending to have this baby since, she had one abortion already and so had he with a previous girlfriend and neither wanted this again.  This would be the 3rd child between them.  I applauded their not going down that path yet again.  But what they were consulting me for were hints about how, now that they were going to have a child together, they might learn to love one another.  Stranger things have been shown to be possible but I was not placing my life savings on this one.  They never returned. 

    Since the 60’s, our culture has fostered this notion of “free” love but we know that love is not free.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  For true love is nothing short of a total sacrifice of self.  To not understand that is to consign oneself to a very unhappy existence indeed.  But societies have seen this departure from the truth before.  Where this will wind up, no one can say for sure.  But one thing is certain, there is no erasing from our being the natural law which is imprinted there.

  • Rebecca

    Ick.  God help us.  Literally. 

  • ChrisPineo

    There are some discrepancies in Hanna’s ‘New Journalism’ style.

    How could she have asked the Asian woman about the man she took home after the couple left the bar?

    I suspect she made that up to take a jab at an ethnicity she stereotypes. 

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  • Objectivetruth

    There are only two kinds of girls out there: those who would “do it” and basically jump in to the sack with almost any guy, and those girls that say no…..not until we’re in a committed marriage. The first kind a guy never has respect for or wants to marry, the second kind of girl a guy has respect for and wants to marry. No middle ground. So a young girl has to decide: do I want to be respected or not respected?

    • terry_zimmerman

      Then there’s the woman who fools herself by waiting until she is sure that they are “in love.” THEN it seems right.

      She means well. I know her. I was her.

    • Margarete Faust

      There is also the type of girl who tried to say no, and succeeded, but lost the one she loved because of it. No guy will give her a chance anymore because she will not even  do the little things. She is tempted because she does not understand why God is not sending her a good man, and she knows her time is running out. She is trying to be patient, but when every boy she encounters demands the same things after a date or two, she starts to wonder if that is the only way. 
      There are not only two kinds of girls out there, and it is far from easy to make that choice. Deep down, a lot of women do know what choice leads to self-respect, but as they get older and more weary of dating, they start to fear that the dating scene will never be over and start to convince themselves that hooking up may be the only way to end it. These are women that desire marriage, but fear that they will be left behind in spinsterhood if they do not commit sexual acts.
      I am a virgin who is stuck at a crossroads between the two paths of hook-up and waiting, but only because I have already lost 2 men that I have loved in the last 6 years because of it. If God wants us to stay pure, why does He allow us to lose like this? I know it is a test, but shouldn’t there be a time when the test is over, and a sense of hope is instilled? It is starting to feel more like a punishment than a sacrifice because of what I have lost (2 men at separate times, with whom I was in long relationships with and loved and wanted to marry). Now, my heart feels closed to love because it feels like there is no way out of the dating scene without giving in to hook-up culture. Most times I seem to hate myself more than respect myself because no one will value me, even when I am doing everything right.
      Don’t generalize about women: men do hold all of the cards, even for those women who respect themselves.

      • Bob

        Agreed……young men need to brought up not to be predators, respecting themselves and young girls. The majority of abortions are the cause of the boyfriend whom guilt tripped the girl in to having the abortion.
         
        God bless your chastity, it is a gift! Possibly discerning where God wants you and has planned for you? There are many single members of Opus Dei that have offered their chastity to God and spend their life serving the Church with great joy and happiness.

        • buckyinky

          The majority of abortions are the cause of the boyfriend whom guilt tripped the girl in to having the abortion.

          Proof?

          • Objectivetruth
            • buckyinky

              Thanks, this looks to be a good article, but to offer it as “proof” kind
              of misses the point I was trying to make with Bob’s statement, and
              actually points more toward supporting my challenging what he said. If
              you want to say, as Bob said, that the majority of abortions are the
              cause of boyfriends pressuring girls to have abortions, it makes one
              wonder why women are allowing themselves to be in a position of having a
              baby with men to whom they are not married in the first place.

              Looked
              at it in this way, the majority of abortions are caused by women who
              have not required the commitment of marriage before bedding with men.
              After all, as the article points out, only a minority of all abortions are performed on children of mothers who are married. Could one not say then that the majority of abortions are the cause of a girlfriend who thinks it unimportant to require her boyfriend to marry her before bedding with him?

      • Facile1

        Love God First.

        I know you will not listen to me, but only GOD is LOVE.

        I am one of three girls in my family. We were all raised as Catholics in private Catholic schools run by American nuns in the Philippines. My parents then sent all three of us to private American colleges in upstate NY for our undergraduate and graduate degrees. We all married classmates. The only marriage that survives till now is my older sister’s. She was also the only one who married a Catholic, who respected her decision not to have sex before marriage. She married in the Church. Her 34th wedding anniversary is coming up in October. She and her husband have a son and a daughter. Both are done with college (no college debts). Her son plans to marry at the end of the year.

        Both my younger sister and I are divorced and childless.

        It is difficult to be happy in a marriage. ONLY GOD is LOVE. Your love cannot fill God’s shoes (and neither can his.)

        LOVE GOD FIRST and go in peace.

        • Staci Chandler

          Yes! I definitely agree with this one!!!!!
          Sex can’t fill this void,
          Friendship can’t fill this void,
          There is no love like God’s love.
          and Once you experience this you will never be the same.
          Your definition of Love will line up to God’s Definition.
          And you will be able to love a freely as him, understand that your view doesn’t have to line up with other people in order for you to love them.

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  • When people worship false gods they lose the ability to love. 
    I pray that they wake up, convert and heal soon.

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  • Alecto

    Interestingly, there is a wide divide amongst girls and women on this issue. Why give Rosin so much power and credit for her views? There are as many nameless, faceless women and girls who disagree with her. They don’t relate to “hook up” culture at all and want nothing to do with it. The other half is impressionable, eager for acceptance and validation by what it perceives as the “Hip”. What that group isn’t told and often does not see because it isn’t shown, is that Samantha of Sex in the City fame has any number of STDs: herpes, maybe HIV/AIDS, and is alone with no husband, no kids and her fictional friends love her status, not her. Despite Rosin’s assertion these women “eventually” get married, they do so with lots of baggage, both permanent physical scars like STDs, or emotional baggage which makes maintaining loving committed marriage that much more difficult. Where is that message?

    It’s long past time to get the wholly positive Catholic message of abstinence, chastity and the benefits of a loving, committed marriage out there. I fear the Catholic fuddy-duddy hierarchy is so behind the times it cannot see the benefits of using the tools like social media, cable and the internet, which has opened up a Brave New World of influence to advance and overpower the current coarse culture. In addition, it’s time for a Catholic soap, prime time shows or aggressive cultural invasion. With all of the money we Catholics have and resources we control, I can’t believe HBO can put together a hip, hit show, but we can’t?

  • Mitchell Kalpakgian

    A man who demands marital rights and privileges before marriage and the vows and commitments of marital promises lacks real manhood, noble chivalry, and the virtues of a good husband and father–one who must put wife and children always before self.

    • buckyinky

      Indeed, but I don’t see anyone challenging this.

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