Often, when speakers try to tackle the controversial topic of sex in the midst of today’s hookup culture, their commentary ends up falling into one of two extremes: either they talk about sex in a staunchly conservative tone with an emphasis on religious calls for abstinence, or they approach sex in a wholly irreligious way in which casual hookups are prevalent and exonerated.
On Tuesday, Oct. 29, Donna Freitas, author of the book “The End of Sex,” gave a lecture in Viking Theater that successfully navigated the middle ground.
In her lecture, Freitas presented the research behind her new book that was released last April. This book speaks of “the end of sex” in regards to what she calls the nearly nonexistent meaning behind sexual experiences today.
Freitas discussed the staggering statistics she found regarding the pervasiveness of nonchalant sex on college campuses and the dissatisfaction the majority of students feel, even those participating in this cultural phenomenon. Using survey results and student interviews, Freitas confronted the conversation about sex, hoping to define today’s hookup culture and offer a solution for those desiring more meaningful relationships.
“Students play their parts – the sex-crazed frat boy, the promiscuous, lusty coed – and they play them well,” Freitas writes in her book. “But all too often they enact these highly gendered roles for one another because they have been taught to believe that hookup culture is normal, that everyone is enjoying it, and that there is something wrong with them if they don’t enjoy it, too.”
As a religious studies professor at Hofstra University, Freitas explained that she first came up with the concept for her book while teaching a class about dating and spirituality.
After returning from their senior spring break trips, her students began opening up about their less-than-satisfactory feelings both during and after the revered “spring break hookups.” Freitas recognized the discrepancies between society’s glorification of hookup culture and students’ concealed frustration towards it.
“They could all talk a good game about hooking up,” she said. “But if they were going to be honest, their hookups weren’t nearly as great as they were taught they would be.”
Freitas said she felt the need to help her students advocate for a much-needed cultural change. She proceeded to conduct interviews and surveys at colleges across the U.S., categorizing the schools into four groups: Catholic, Christian, private secular and public. The response and interest of students regarding her research was far greater than she could have ever expected.
“I was hoping for 40 volunteers [for interviews],” she said, “and I got almost 600.”
Freitas learned that there are three main criteria for defining a hookup. The phrase “hooking up” must be intentionally vague and therefore can include any sexual behavior ranging from kissing to actually having sex, it must be a brief encounter and the participants must not get emotionally attached. The fourth, and “unofficial,” requirement is that alcohol must be involved. These characteristics of the21st century hookup, Freitas said, have transformed sex into something to cross off a checklist.
“It’s just something you do, kind of like drinking coffee,” she said. “To be a normal college student is to be having sex. That doesn’t feel okay to me.” In her book, Freitas expands on this casualness towards sex.
“The hookup has become normative, and hookup culture a monolithic culture from which students find little chance of escape,” she writes. “It is the defining aspect of social life on many campuses; to reject it is to relegate oneself to the sidelines of college experience.”
Throughout the lecture, Freitas continued to criticize the way society views sex and the roles men and women are expected to play. In her interviews, she heard from the male participants time and time again that they have the same yearnings for meaningful relationships as women, but they feel that they cannot be vulnerable in public.
“Guys have to be sex fiends and they have to be callous about it,” she said. “To not be gung-ho about sex is to risk their masculinity.”
Freitas believes that one factor in the rising hookup culture is the lack of dating today. She explained that society has shied away from the traditional concept of dating due in large part to social media and pressure from pop culture.
According to Freitas, if college students today crave romance and more meaningful sex, they should take the initiative and reignite the dating culture dominant only a few decades ago.
“Apathy depresses me,” Freitas said. “We need to put the meaning back into sex for the hookup culture.”