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CS

Cross post from Everyday Feminism.

Hookup culture. Everybody’s doing it.

Most of you have already heard – or used – this term many times. But for those left in the dark, Urban Dictionary describes hookup culture as “the era that began in the early 1990s and has since prevailed on college campuses and elsewhere when hooking up has replaced traditional dating as the preferred method of heterosexual liaison.”

The American Psychological Association offers a more clinical description of “brief uncommitted sexual encounters between individuals who are not romantic partners or dating each other.”

But for the sake of brevity, hookup culture can be defined as “casual sex.”

And it’s on the rise91% of college students say that hookup culture dominates their lives.

But let’s take a step back and think about how – and who – this upward trend in casual hookups is affecting: Is it healthy? Is it fostering equality between the sexes? Is it mutually beneficial for all sexes? Or does it continue to uphold patriarchal memes?

There are two main schools of thought – one says that hookup culture supports women’s sexual empowerment by giving them the ability to have casual sex on their own terms; the other states that it helps sustain sexist double standards and disempowers women by depriving them of emotional connection.

By looking at both sides, we may be able to shed more light on the matter – or at least work towards a better understanding of each point of view.

Casual Sex in History

Historically, men who engage in casual sex or extramarital affairs have not been ostracized from society – rather, it has been almost (if not entirely) expected of them.

Women, on the other hand, have suffered punishments ranging from banishment to stoning to death for any sexual activity outside of the marriage bed.

Hell, just look at the Tudors.

King Henry VIII kept at least 12 mistresses during his married years and was decidedly sexually active before he was wed, while two of his six wives were beheaded because they wereaccused of sexual activity – including activity that took place before their betrothal to the King.

See the contrast between the sexes? One got to sleep around all he pleased while ruling a powerful world empire, while the other lost their heads for youthful sexual exploration.

Henry VIII is a common and well-known example of historical sexual discrimination, but these values used to be commonplace and routine in society.

And not much has changed.

The Dreaded Double Standard

We’ve come a long way since the 16th century in terms of gender equality and the way we view sex, particularly in the Western world. But there’s no question that most of Western society still gives men a “free pass” when it comes to sex outside of relationships, while women are much more likely to be judged, disliked, or called sluts for having noncommittal sex.

Studies show that this double standard leads to more hookup-related depression and anxiety in women than in men, and my personal experience supports this.

While there are anomalies, my female friends (and myself) invariably have a harder time dealing with the repercussions of casual sex than the dudes I know because they are more worried about what other people will think.

And why wouldn’t they be, considering how detrimental casual sex can be to a woman’s reputation? (Thanks, society!)

Hooking Up Today

While there is no question that Western society maintains an unfair double standard for men and women when it comes to casual sex, there are many individuals of all sexes who choose to engage in hookup culture on a regular basis – and enjoy it.

A lot of women say that casual hookups relieve them of the pressure that comes with trying to balance a career or educational path with a committed, time-consuming relationship.

In Kate Taylor’s New York Times article “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game Too,” one young woman talks plainly about the “low risk and low investment costs” of casually hooking up.

In another defense of hookup culture, author Hanna Rosin argues that casual hookups actually benefit women, giving them the opportunity to focus completely on their career goals without having to sacrifice having their sexual needs met.

And that’s just the question, isn’t it? Do casual hookups actually meet women’s needs? Let’s explore.

Are Hookups ‘Good’ for Women, Too?

That might all depend on what you think the end goal of casual sex is.

If it’s an orgasm and an orgasm only, then we have a problem. Simply put, women are just less likely than men to climax during a casual sexual encounter.

According to research conducted over a five-year period involving 24,000 students at 21 different colleges, twice as many men as women reached orgasm during their last experience with casual intercourse (80% of men versus 40% of women).

However, this same survey yielded very different results for women in committed relationships, about 75% of whom said that they had orgasmed the last time they had sex.

These numbers seem to lend credibility to the Masters and Johnson theory, which states that women need an intimate emotional connection with someone in order to reach orgasm.

However, most modern human sexuality experts believe that the real answer is more complex than this. In fact, many of the possible reasons why women don’t have as many orgasms during casual sex have little to do with emotions.

Investigating ‘Plain’ Sex and Orgasms

For starters, let’s get something out of the way. Guys, good old-fashioned penile thrusting simply doesn’t get a lot of women off.

A compilation of studies conducted over three-quarters of a century and compiled by Dr. Elizabeth Lloyd indicate that only about 25% of all women reliably reach their climax during “plain” sex (vaginal intercourse with no “extras”), while about one-third rarely or never have orgasms from intercourse at all.

Many women are, however, more likely to climax if they engage in other sexual activity with their partner, such as oral sex or manual clitoral stimulation.

So how does this relate to hookup culture? Simple. Casual hookups usually consist of vaginal intercourse and a focus less on other activities that help women reach orgasm.

Add what we already know, that women are more likely to orgasm from oral sex or an oral/vaginal combo than vaginal sex alone, to this fun fact: women are much less likely to get oral sex during casual sex. During casual hookups, men get it about 80% of the time, while women are on the receiving end of oral less than 50% of the time.

Benefits of Casual Sex Outside of the Big O

So we’ve already established that there are some roadblocks on the road to orgasm for women who have sex casually. But does having an orgasm have to be the goal of a hookup? Absolutely not.

Indiana University scientist Dr. Debra Hebernick believes that many women get sexual satisfaction and emotional benefits from intercourse that doesn’t lead to orgasm. Sometimes, according to her research, casual sex works wonders merely by providing a sense of intimacy for both partners involved.

Self-Centered Sexual Tendencies

What else is it about casual hookups that even further lessen a woman’s chance at climaxing?

Perhaps another answer lies in the interaction between the men and women who are participating in hookup culture, and in the indoctrinated societal messages that women absorb throughout their early lives.

Casual sex is usually more spontaneous, less emotionally-charged, and often experienced by partners who don’t know each other extremely well. Because of this, there is a much lower chance that women will ask their partner for what they want.

Not only this, but studies demonstrate that most men will admit to not trying as hard to please a partner that they do not have a deep emotional connection with. Some men say that it is awkward to ask a new partner what they like, and many even admit to being focused primarily on their own satisfaction.

Just Another Reason Why the Patriarchy Sucks

The cherry on top of the proverbial bad sex sundae is that despite how far we’ve come with gender equality and sexual liberation, society still judges women more harshly for being sexually promiscuous.

It’s not uncommon for women to express feelings of guilt or shame for hooking up casually – talk about a mood killer!

When women grow up being told to keep their number of sexual partners as low as possible, to only have sex inside the context of a relationship, and to stay virgins as long as they can, we end up with a problem: the difficulty of balancing a healthy casual sex life with a lifetime’s worth of slut-shaming.

It may very well be that this fucked-up socialization prevents many women from reaching orgasm in casual sex due to an underlying fear of disgrace.

***

In conclusion, I don’t think we can’t say that hookup culture is strictly bad or good.

Hookup culture can be, in my opinion, both harmful and helpful to women’s empowerment. Casual sex is an individual decision, and has individualized results for different people. There isn’t a “one size fits all” answer for this debate.

But I’m damn well sure of one thing: Patriarchal views that look down on women who participate in casual sex are hurting us. They are just another vestige of a long-gone time, like Henry VIII-era sexual discrimination and injustice, watered down and tied up in a pretty package that pretends to be equality.

Casual sex should be only a personal choice, free from society’s judgment and condemnation– whether you are man or woman, black or white, straight or gay, young or old.

Only when this is true for everyone – and I mean everyone – will I be able to answer the question of “Was it good for you?” with a resounding yes.

Scale

Cross-posted from my article co-written with Melissa A. Fabello for Everyday Feminism

Do you ever feel like thoughts about food and weight are starting to control your life? Do you believe that if you eat certain types of “bad” food that you need to punish or purge yourself by not eating later or exercising in excess to make up for it?

Has your obsession with weight and food become so all-encompassing that your quality of life has started to decrease? Do you feel hopeless and misunderstood when people tell you to “just eat right and exercise moderately?”

Do you become agitated and flippant when loved ones insinuate that you might have a problem? Are you worried that they might try to sabotage your weight loss plan?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you may have already begun asking yourself if you have an eating disorder.

And the truth is that it can be downright scary to look down that path.

Part of why we feel so scared to get help for having an eating disorder – to admit it to ourselves, to talk to other people about it, and to get professional help – is that there is a stigma around it.

Because like this article on eating disorder stigma points out, “If I caught the flu, I’d tell my doctor, take medicine, drink some ginger ale, and stay in bed. When I had anorexia nervosa, I didn’t tell my doctor because I was too ashamed to tell a medical professional that I had a medical condition that needed medicine and physical and mental treatment.”

We can’t let that stigma stop us from getting the help that we need.

Breaking down that first barrier is a difficult thing, but it’s an important step.

So let’s explore, together, what eating disorders are and how to get help for them.

Eating Disorders 101

Eating disorders are widespread in our thin-obsessed society, but regularly ignored and downplayed, which make them very dangerous, both emotionally and physically.

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) tells us that disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosas and binge eating disorder consist of extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food – and can have life-threatening consequences.

Because they are complex mental illnesses that come with an array of psychological, sociological, and physiological factors, eating disorders (also known as ED’s) are more difficult to treat than many other illnesses.

And contrary to popular belief, they also don’t discriminate. They can be found across all races, genders, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

You can learn a lot about how to spot an eating disorder in yourself or in a friend by doing research and behavior analysis. What is harder to learn through solitary research is how to actually deal with having an eating disorder on a daily basis – and more importantly, how to recover from one.

You’ve Established That You Have an Eating Disorder – What’s Next?

Admitting to yourself that you have an ED and that you want to get better can be extremely challenging, but is absolutely necessary for long-term recovery.

And if you’ve gotten to that point – which might even be why you chose to read this article – we want to congratulate you.

It takes a lot of strength to get to a point with body image and eating issues where you’re brave enough not only to admit that you might have a problem, but that you want to seek out more information and even help.

It’s amazing to come forward like that.

But even figuring out whether or not your thoughts and behaviors qualify as disordered can be hard to establish.

Amazingly, NEDA has recently come out with an online screening process to see if one’s experiences are in line with the symptoms of an eating disorder. You can check it out here.

Answer the questions, and see what the results tell you. Keep in mind, though, that even if the results say it doesn’t sound like you’re suffering from an eating disorder, it’s still worth talking about getting help for the issues that are being experienced.

So if you’re at the point where you’ve accepted that you might have an eating disorder and are ready to seek help, there are a number of ways to begin your path to recovery.

Different approaches work for different people, so keep an open mind when reviewing your options.

See a Doctor or Nutritionist

Seeing a doctor or a nutrition specialist can be a great first step.

These professionals can tell you exactly what vital nutrients are missing from your everyday life, how that is affecting you, and how to work them back into your diet. They can also help you figure out ways to fuel your body in a healthy way, without feeling sluggish.

It’s important to remember that doctors are there to help you be a happier, healthier person, not to judge or shame you. If you fear that a medical professional will make you feel worse – or if you experience this – know that you can always choose to see another doctor.

See a doctor who will validate your experience and offer you resources and options.

This type of basic medical intervention can help people with ED’s realize the ways in which they are damaging their bodies and help them move towards a healthier lifestyle.

Seek Therapy Options

Therapy can often be an important part of recovery as well.

Therapists who have trained specifically to help their patients deal with and overcome eating disorders are usually the best choice.

Find out what is covered on your health insurance plan, and look for recommendations from previous patients. A good therapist who understands eating disorders could mean a world of difference.

Even if you don’t have health insurance, you have options. Many mental health programs nationwide offer therapy services at little or no charge. They just take some researching to find. Call or visit your local Department of Public Welfare for more information.

And remember that you can also talk to a counselor at school or another community organization.

Explain your situation. Let them know what kinds of thoughts and behaviors you’re experiencing and what your fears are.

Join a Support Group

Talking to survivors of eating disorders in a group setting can be helpful for those trying to get better.

For some, an online support group may feel less intimidating, and there are a lot of recovery-specific blogs out there to help you build community, to feel less alone, and to feel inspired, given what other people are going through.

If you’re not sure where to start, try Recovery Is BeautifulLife Without ED, and The Love Yourself Challenge on Tumblr. They offer posts to boost positivity, facts about eating disorders and other mental illnesses, tips and tricks for dealing with fears, and also help and support if you want to write in.

If Tumblr isn’t your thing and you’d rather explore YouTube for community and inspiration, check out Arielle Lee Bair and her channel Actively Arielle: A Voice with a Commitment here. She’s an eating disorder survivor and specialist who posts weekly videos about prevention and recovery.

But remember that there are also a number of real-life, in-person groups that meet across the country. With the support of a larger community, a person suffering from an eating disorder can hear testimonial from people in recovery as well as from others currently in their position.

Not sure how to find a group? The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness has a helpful directory of support groups to choose from. Other useful resources include Eating Disorders Anonymous and ANAD (which includes a state-by-state listing of support groups).

Try attending a meeting, whether in person or online. If it doesn’t work for you, try a different group – or choose to decide that group therapy isn’t for you.

Remember that recovery varies for every person, so what worked for a friend may not work the same way for you.

Consider Medication

For some people, taking an anti-depressant or other mood-stabilizing medication can be incredibly helpful when dealing with an eating disorder – especially when combined with psychological counseling.

Anti-depressants can help reduce anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and depression in eating disorder patients; they can even reduce physical symptoms such as binge eating and vomiting. Talk to your doctor about anti-depressants to find out more about your options.

In some cases, other medications may be necessary to help deal with the health consequences of eating disorders – make sure to tell your doctor about all of symptoms you are experiencing so that they can make an educated decision.

Create and Educate a Support System of Family and Friends

Educate your family and friends about the disorder that you are struggling with, so they know how to support you during – and beyond – your recovery.

Simple online toolkits, such as this one from NEDIC, can be a good place for relatives and friends to start. By learning about eating disorders, they will be better equipped to help you during your journey and can become more aware of societal triggers that might make things more difficult.

While it can be scary for your loved ones to hear that you are suffering from an eating disorder, starting an honest dialogue about the issue will be beneficial to everyone involved and help you feel less alone.

Let your support network know that you recognize that you need help, are ready to actively find it, and would like their educated support while you do so.

Be Forgiving of Yourself – and Have a Plan

There may be times during the recovery process that you feel yourself backslide. This is normal, and it is okay.

Making sure that you have a contingency plan for such times will help. This plan might include multiple key players such as members of your family and friend group, your therapist, ED survivors from a support group online or in your community, and anyone else who is willing to put in the time and effort to help you resist relapse.

It’s comforting to know that people are there for you if you feel yourself slipping back into old habits. And having a plan to deal with a setback can make a hopeless-feeling situation much brighter.

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There was a period when we couldn’t see the light at the end of our ED tunnels. But with time and effort, our support systems and individual determinations helped us reach a healthy, happy place.

Remember – just because you are struggling with an eating disorder right now doesn’t mean that the feelings of hopelessness and depression will last forever.

With the right amount of support, hard work and determination, you can live a normal life again.

The most important thing is understanding that regardless of the specifics of your situation, if you feel like you need help, then you deserve to get help.

So figure out what kind of help that you think that you need, and go forth with the confidence to seek it out.

You’ve already done the hard part.