We all know what it's like to get frustrated with the college dating scene, particularly when it feels like more and more young adults are interested in casual hookups rather than settling down. If that's not your style, it's easy to feel lost, looking for someone who is willing to really connect rather than jump right into bed together. I get it.
But let's all be careful what we attribute these dating woes to. Is it really just our society, our day and age? Conversely, is the alternative, a society that discourages casual sex, really preferable?
I've seen many young adults, women especially, talk about how they wish things were like the "good old days." They've built their idea of what the "good old days" looked like based on stories from their elders and what they've seen in movies. Fair enough. Didn't we all wish our first high school date would involve a handsome, well-dressed young man bringing us flowers, taking us for milkshakes, and leaving us weak in the knees with a goodnight kiss?
Thing is, that's a highly romanticized tale. According to data gathered by the National Center for Health Statistics, in 1957, there were 96 births for every 1,000 females ages 15-19 in the United States. So nearly 1 in 10 teenagers had a baby that one year! Where are all the classic Hollywood movies portraying these young women and their experiences? I can answer that pretty easily: these things were swept under the rug. Either that or a teenage mother was already married. In data collected from the 1950 census, the median age at marriage for women was 20.3 years old. Sex education was practically unheard of. Lucille Ball, who was visibly pregnant during episodes of her own TV show, was not allowed to say the word "pregnant" on air. This was before the sexual revolution, so effective methods of contraception were far less accessible, not to mention that almost nothing was done to create a culture of support for victims of sexual assault. The number of older women who used #MeToo to reflect on how they were shunned for reporting their assaults or were too discouraged to report at all is staggering. Many assaults were perpetrated, and still are, within committed relationships and marriages. Are you still sure you were born in the wrong generation?
Just to be clear: despite all this, people still looked plenty for casual sex. Before I went off to college, my Nana told me about frat parties. What she described as happening back in the late 1940s is almost exactly what I see every weekend: loud music, dancing, beer everywhere, people drinking themselves unconscious, and oh yeah, the hookups. She mentioned her experience with a drunk, very pushy guy who wanted her to come to his room. Sound familiar?
Contrary to what you may have come to believe, data from the past four decades indicates that our generation is one of the most sexually healthy ever. Sure, more people are being diagnosed with STDs, but that is due much more to a dramatic increase in the number of sexually active individuals who get tested and increased availability of judgment-free medical care for those who are diagnosed.
The truth is, there is nothing inherent about humans that says being non-monogamous is unhealthy, physically or emotionally, as long as precautions are taken. There is absolutely no reason that a culture where non-monogamous, commitment-free sexual activity is accepted should be a gateway to disrespect of women. If anything, the cultural views on sex of the past were incredibly harmful to women. There was no "hookup culture" because so many people were married by the time they reached our age, and the ones who did engage in casual sex were far less safe about it. Most of all, there was no national discussion about these things. If even acknowledging the phenomenon of pregnancy on TV was scandalous, imagine all the other things that were covered up.
None of this makes finding your special someone any easier, I know. But sex positivity isn't the belief that everybody should be having sex all the time. It's the belief that society has come to demonize healthy sexual behaviors, and by extension, allow the very unhealthy ones to slip under the radar. Sex positivity recognizes that every individual has a different relationship with sex, whether they enjoy having multiple partners, prefer to have sex only in committed relationships, wait until marriage, or aren't interested in sex at all. All personal preferences are perfectly valid.
So what is "hookup culture" then? Perhaps a transition stage. As a society, we're finally confronting the big issues of sex education, healthy relationships, and recognizing harassment, abuse, and assault. Sadly, not everyone is there yet. That boy who sends you demeaning late night texts when all he wants is a one-time hookup isn't a product of "hookup culture." He is a product of the values our society perpetuates and is now trying to phase out. The fact is that many people in their late teens and early twenties don't feel emotionally ready for long-term commitment, and that's ok. Everyone is different. Those people may have been pressured into an unhappy marriage if they were born 50 years ago. If you are a college student and looking for something long-term, be patient because you deserve someone who wants the same. Just don't make it about shaming those of us who make different choices in our personal lives. That kind of backward thinking is what created sex-negative cultural trends in the first place.