Bad Sex That "Just Happens"
Donna Freitas is very worried about today's college students. If you read The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture Is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy (Basic Books), you will be worried too. Freitas provides compelling evidence that far too many young adults live lives of quiet desperation—sexually and socially. While her proposed solutions to this problem are not radical enough to be deeply redemptive, she has much to say that Christians should heed.
The End of Sex paints a vivid portrait of hookup culture. A hookup is any level of physical intimacy, from prolonged kissing to sexual intercourse, as long as it takes place within a context understood by both participants to imply no commitment beyond the present encounter. "Hookup" is a term that is designed to be ambiguous. There is a social point to the term's ambiguity. The significance of what would otherwise be a meaningless encounter is the postmortem discussion and gossip among the peers of those who hook up. Males can say that they hooked up and hope that their buddies will assume that they had intercourse. Females can have multiple hookups and hope that others will think they are popular without assuming that they are "cheap" or "easy" (after all, maybe nothing more than kissing and fondling took place).
As the subtitle of The End of Sex makes clear, Freitas thinks that hookup culture is destructive. "Hookup culture promotes bad sex, boring sex, drunken sex you don't remember, sex you could care less about, sex where desire is absent, sex that you have 'just because everyone else is, too,' or that 'just happens.'". Her assumed audience is concerned adults—faculty and administrative staff at colleges and universities, as well as parents. The book ends with an appendix of practical steps for combating hookup culture. The appendix has three sections: "Things Parents Can Do," "Things Administrators and Staff Members Can Do" and "Things Faculty Members Can Do."
What Freitas finds most disturbing about hookup culture is that most of those who participate do so less than willingly. The students that she interviewed almost always saw their hookups as imposed by social expectations or as random acts—"It just happened" was a prevailing theme. In this context she has illuminating observations about the link between hookup sex and alcohol. Students "pre-drink" before going to parties because they want to be numb enough to do things that they would not do if sober. At some level they know that engaging with sexual behaviors of various sorts with strangers and casual acquaintances is demeaning. They brace themselves to do these things because they "know" that this is what "everybody" does at parties.
Oddly enough, however, Freitas is, in the end, unwilling to aspire to a world where no one hooks up. Rather, she wants to create an environment in which students see that "the hookup is just one option among many for navigating sexuality." Freitas is so invested in the young adults' right to choose that she does not want to take hookup sex off the menu. What she wants to do is add more healthy options to that menu: dating that involves getting acquainted without (or before) having sex; waiting to have sex until one is invested romantically in one's partner; deciding to abstain from sex for an indeterminate period. Freitas succeeds in making hookup sex look bleak indeed, yet she seems to think that a reflective person might make a clear-eyed choice in favor of it, and if so that's just fine (for them). The only menu option she dismisses is saving sex until marriage. This option, she says, "is extreme to the point that students cannot imagine living it, nor do they wish to."