Sex, love, and the hook-up generation

By Francisco Dao , written on August 20, 2013

From The News Desk

When I got myself an intern a few weeks ago, all I wanted was someone who would listen to me rant, but talking to her has been fascinating. It’s been a bit like spying into the lives of 20-something/college age kids and, at the risk of sounding like an old prude, what I learned was horrifying. I had always assumed the stories about the easy hook-up culture of today’s youth were overblown hyperbole fueled by the unsubstantiated boasts of teen boys. But my female, top-tier college educated intern told me it was all true.

Even though I don’t have children of my own, this worries me. I fear an entire generation, and likely the subsequent generations to follow, have been socialized with what is ultimately an unhealthy perspective on sex. Before you start calling me a rigid, puritanical, overly conservative old man, allow me to explain.

I am not anti-sex or even anti-casual sex. I’ve had booty calls and one night stands, and they’ve been great. But for the most part, people who grew up pre-Internet as I did were taught that random hook-ups aren’t a fully acceptable social norm. Case in point, there’s a reason the trip home the next morning is called, “the walk of shame.” It’s an acknowledgment that we probably should’ve known better than to do what we did, that sex without a relationship is generally a bad idea. The hook-up culture seems to have done away with even this basic level of moral guilt.

Some of you, especially those in your early 20s, are undoubtedly thinking, “Why should anyone feel morally guilty about sex?”

While sex can occasionally be enjoyed strictly from a carnal standpoint, it is still infused with significance. Even cursory research into sex reveals that we subconsciously ascribe deep meaning to it. For example, a significant portion of erectile dysfunction can be traced back to the patient’s psychological conflicts about sex. The most common subconscious confusion is that sex is a replacement for love. Whether we recognize it or not, we all have emotional needs to fill and, in lieu of love and caring, we often try to fill those needs with sex.

The detachment of sex from emotion as propagated by hook-up culture is what concerns me. In the same way Facebook and social media friendships are an illusion that require no investment, the hook-up generation has created a model of “dating” that is also an illusion. Dating now consists of little more than texting and sexting. Unless you count online flirting, there’s virtually no effort put into courtship or connection. People barely even have to meet face to face at all. But the sex, along with its psychological baggage, is real.

Sex as viewed by the hook-up culture has been completely decoupled from love and relationships. There doesn’t appear to be any recognition that it is anything more than a carnal release. I believe this will eventually lead to a generation of maladjusted people who, having masked their emotional needs with easy hook-ups, won’t know how to fulfill, or even recognize the void. And as fun as all the easy sex sounds to a 20-something, once you get past the immediate pleasure, even the most popular players are very often desperately lonely. Viewed holistically, hook-up culture is ultimately a recipe for emotionally dysfunctional relationships.

I suspect the reactions to this post will be split between those who are a bit older and married who will most likely agree with me, and those who are young, single, and enjoying the hook-ups, who will think I’m an uptight, overly sentimental jackass. It’s difficult to make arguments against easy sex. We all like it, it feels great, and with basic protection it seems harmless. Additionally, if hook-up culture is the new normal then that makes it okay, right? Not necessarily. Just because a behavior is normal does not automatically mean it’s healthy. A culture that doesn’t fulfill the emotional needs of those who practice it remains flawed regardless of how many people accept it as the status quo.