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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.

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Originally posted in Everyday Feminism. Photo of me, circa 1989.

 

I didn’t have a “normal” childhood.

I didn’t play video games, or ride the bus, or have recess. I never rode my bike around the block or played with neighboring kids. I didn’t have a functioning television, let alone cable.

In fact, I spent the greater part of my childhood exploring an eleven-acre plot of farm land and forest and reading books about strong women from history, while tucked into the corner of a sagging red couch in our 100-year-old farmhouse.

I was homeschooled.

And up until I entered public school in sixth grade, the people I spent by far the most time with were my younger sister and my parents.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have friends – both girls and boys – or that I didn’t get a wonderful education. In fact, my third grade educational assessment showed me at tenth grade levels in many subjects.

But my early years certainly didn’t fit the mold of the typical American childhood.

My birthday parties always had historical themes about struggle and hardship; my feet were covered in calluses from walking barefoot through the rocky forest paths.

Homeschooling is certainly not for everyone.

It is also only available to those privileged enough to have a parent who is able – and willing – to stay home from work to teach their children. But it is a valid and wonderful option for some families.

This article is not a critique of homeschooling.

Rather, this is an investigative journey into discovering how being homeschooled affected some of my relationships – in particular, my relationships with men – and what this says about growing up in America, even without an average introduction to society through public school.

The conclusions drawn will certainly not be universal; if anything, they are personal. But I hope that by investigating together, some light may be shed on how the young female mind develops with (and without) societal norms.

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Also

Unlike some young women, I didn’t grow up buying into the notion that women can only do certain types of jobs, that women are less capable in science, math, and construction – or anything, for that matter.

With the only other student to compare myself to being my sister three years my junior, I was not exposed to gender stereotypes in the same way that many kids are. I was not interacting with a large group of kids, so I didn’t see people breaking off into interest groups based on gender.

When I got together with friends, it wasn’t girls versus boys. My most gender-biased activity, in fact, was a club that my sister and I started called the “Brave Women’s Club,” which essentially entailed taking adventures and spying on the neighboring farms.

All of my Barbies had professional jobs. They were pilots, professors, farmers, or business people. They had career aspirations beyond looking pretty. I was indignant when I received a doll that spouted out lines like “Let’s go shopping again!” and “Let’s make cookies for Ken.” I couldn’t understand why in the world this chick didn’t have better things to do with her time.

And when the evil mastermind Barbie caught some of the others in one of her diabolical schemes, it wasn’t Prince Charming who came to save the day. It was a collaborative group of friends who thwarted the evil plan that was endangering their pals.

Maybe this was because I wasn’t so constantly exposed to the rhetoric of princesses necessitating handsome princes to save them.

I think the semi-isolation of farm life and homeschooling made these themes less constant in my life. Additionally, I didn’t have cable programming drilling these falsehoods into my forming brain.

In this way, I believe I dodged the societal mindfuck that women can only do certain types of jobs well, and that they can’t be the saviors. I saw myself as an open book with career possibilities ranging from oceanographer to firefighter to historian.

But it wasn’t all positive.

Men as the Ones to Impress

Because of my limited contact with men (besides my family members and a handful of wonderful male friends), the male species was something of a mystery to me.

And because I didn’t have a brother and spent most of my time in the company of females, I grew to view men as elusive and special – as the ones to impress.

Yes, I knew that I could do anything I wanted in my life, but I also felt a deep sense of need to be the Perfect Girl. I felt that it was utterly crucial to impress the men that I came into contact with – to please them so that I was well-liked, despite my alternative upbringing.

Sadly, this grew into a deep-seated fear of confronting men in later life.

For years, I struggled to understand why I couldn’t stand up for myself when strange men groped me or tried to take advantage of me. Most of my female friends, almost all of whom had much more varied contact with males in their early lives and more traditional childhoods, would become exceedingly frustrated with me for just these reasons.

They didn’t understand why I couldn’t give the asshole who slapped my ass at the bar whatfor. To be honest, I couldn’t explain it either. I just felt an innate need not to create a scene – not to be a problem, to be good, and to impress. Even if it left me feeling used, hollow, and twisted.

I don’t know if this is a common problem among young women that have been homeschooled. I only know about my own experience. But when I finally realized what was going on in my mid-twenties, I was shocked.

How could I – someone who believed so deeply in the power, independence, and equality of womankind – have been playing into entrenched gender roles so deeply?

I don’t think I’ll ever fully know the reason.

But I think that without enough early contact with the boys who would become my peers as adults (causing me to search endlessly for their approval), and because I took social cues from what I knew of “classic” behavior for women, I fell into the trap of submission and docility. And it took decades to crawl back out.

It was clear: Despite spending my formative years outside of the public education system and eschewing standard norms, patriarchal views of women’s inferiority had somehow managed to seep into my consciousness.

Society Plays Its Hand

Whether or not my theories about homeschooling’s role in the matter are correct, I am certain of one thing: American society messed me up early, even though I was cut off from it in many ways.

It only took one year in public school for me to start despising my body, to start feeling the intense pull of pressure to be thin and beautiful. And I hung onto those ideals as the way to make men like me.

Despite being at the top of my class in high school, many people thought I was a complete ditz. I know, because when people found out what classes I took or my GPA, they would say, “No way! I didn’t know you were smart.”

And I am beyond certain that most of this was due to the way that I presented myself.

When you feel like looks and “being fun” are the things you have to give, they become a huge part of your identity – and the part that you play up. Instead of talking about my interests, goals, or passions to guys that I liked, I’d just wear a low-cut shirt and talk about the crazy shit that happened at last week’s party.

I’m still guilty of this today at times. I still catch myself avoiding intellectual conversation and sticking to what I came to believe early on was “my selling point.”

The Patriarchy Is Nobody’s Friend

The patriarchy affects more than just women.

It affects men when it tells them they need to like football, lift weights, hook up casually without feelings, and eat red meat – and that if they don’t do these things, they are weaklings. It rejects men who cry when they are sad, like watching ballet, or care about fashion.

The patriarchy is nobody’s friend.

It serves no helpful purpose in our society. And yet many of us are still beholden to it.

But that’s one of the reasons why feminism exists – to help everyone become more tolerant and to look at the differences among us as assets to be valued instead of shameful secrets to be hidden.

Fighting societal gender bullshit is no easy task – which I’m sure you know yourself.

Whether you are male or female, and whether you had a conventional education or not, cutting through the mess of lies and hypocrisy that our society presents us with on a daily basis is downright tough.

But it can be done.

***

If I do anything in my life, I hope I can help some other girl struggling like me realize that she has more to offer the world than her beauty and her body – that the people she really wants to associate with will value her for quirkiness, kindness, passion, and talent. Or for her mad Frisbee skills. Or simply because she speaks her mind.

We can all be part of dismantling the patriarchy. But we need more people to become educated about why it is hurting us.

We need more people to read Everyday Feminism, more people to teach their kids to defy classic gender roles, and more legislators to pay attention to gender pay inequality.

It’s for all of these reasons, and so many more, that we all fight the patriarchy every day.

I envision a better tomorrow, in which a young girl who is struggling with self-acceptance and self-worth won’t have to fight tooth and nail to be respected for more than her appearance.

Because each and every one of us is more than just a pretty face, despite what society wants us to believe.