Guys, we need to talk about hooking up

{via Jezebel}

{via Jezebel}

On Sunday, I read the New York Times’ piece on College Sex Culture. And so did some of my co-workers. And it turns out, we all kind of trolled ourselves.

To start with, I’m fine with women taking control of their sexuality. In fact, I want women to feel comfortable asserting their sexuality and expressing it as they feel. So I liked when this article started off talking about women having sex in unattached relationships because, well, that’s their prerogative. And it also sticks it to the whole idea asserted by Susan Patton back in April. I still kind of love sticking it to Susan Patton.

But then I kept reading, and things started to get, well, you’ll see. I urge women to feel comfortable in their sexuality. But in the process, let’s not let guys get comfortable in thinking that just because we’re at a party, we’re giving them an open invitation to come back to our place. And even if they do come back to our place, neither “yes” nor reciprocity is implied with walking through our bedroom door. That’s a given, right? I thought so, but that’s probably why these few paragraphs made me a bit concerned:

“I think a lot of guys get the idea: ‘O.K., this girl’s coming to this party, and she’s drinking. That means her goal of the night is to hook up with somebody,’ ” she said. “They’re like, ‘O.K., she came out, and if she dressed like that, it must mean that she wanted to hook up.’ ”

A friend of hers, Kristy, shared a story about a different kind of coercion. She had been making out with a guy at his house, not sure how far she wanted to go, when he stood up and told her, “Get down on your knees.”

At first she froze. “I was really taken aback, because I was like, no one has ever said that to me before,” she said. Then he said something like, “ ‘I think that’s fair,’ ” she recalled. When she still hesitated, he pushed her down.

“It was at that point that I was like, ‘I’ll just do it,’ ” she said. “I was like, ‘ “It will be over soon enough.’ ”

“Over soon enough”? That’s not a reason to make me eat broccoli let alone do anything else. I kept reading and soon encountered my next issue.

The idea that agreeing to share any kind of sexual encounter – from a sloppy corner make out sesh, to something more intimate – means it’s open to be shared with anyone, on any medium of their choosing, is not okay. When it comes to Listserv-ing tales from last night, please, think again. I’ve seen this happen far too many times and in college the instinct is to laugh it off or else be thought of as “un-chill.” Um, Girls? BE UN-CHILL. This is something you can be un-chill about. Just because you agreed to do whatever you did with one person, doesn’t mean you agreed to put it on the fraternity equivalent of ESPN’s Web Gems. His friends don’t need a blow by blow (pun only partially intended), and especially not one that can be distributed to hundreds on the Interwebs.

One woman recalled a guy showing her an e-mail he had received on his fraternity Listserv, in which another guy described having sex with a girl in the bathroom at a club.

“They’re not afraid to use names,” she said of the men, adding, “I’m sure there’s been a story about me on a Listserv. It happens to everyone.”

Okay, next: Why is it presumed that because he chose to leave with you, he has to get something out of it? Especially when what he wants out of it isn’t necessarily something you want to give. I know this girl below doesn’t sound like she particularly wants to go down on this guy:

One girl, explaining why her encounters freshman and sophomore year often ended with fellatio, said that usually by the time she got back to a guy’s room, she was starting to sober up and didn’t want to be there anymore, and giving the guy oral sex was an easy way to wrap things up and leave.

Let’s get a few things out there. Taking control of your sex life means assuming the responsibility for your own well-being, your own positive sexual experience, and not being pushed past your own boundaries. Under no circumstance should the reason behind a sexual action be that not doing it is “unfair” to your partner. A grin and bear it attitude doesn’t exactly translate into fun. If you’re choosing to have sex, it’s probably because you want to and because you want it to feel good. So why would you suffer through it? Most guys don’t. Why should girls have to?

But those weren’t my biggest problems with this Times piece. No, this was: the way they wander into rape as an unfortunate consequence of the hook up culture that’s sweeping the college-aged of this great nation. It seemed to me like rape was the bellyache you’d get after eating too many cookies: of course you’re going to want to puke if you chose to eat that many. Just like of course you can expect to be sexually assaulted or raped if you chose to go out and drink and maybe make out with someone.

In November of Haley’s freshman year, a couple of months after her first tentative “Difmos,” or dance-floor makeouts, she went to a party with a boy from her floor. She had too much to drink, and she remembered telling him that she wanted to go home.

Instead, she said, he took her to his room and had sex with her while she drifted in and out of consciousness. She woke up with her head spinning. The next day, not sure what to think about what had happened, she described the night to her friends as though it were a funny story: I was so drunk, I fell asleep while I was having sex! She played up the moment in the middle of the night when the guy’s roommate poked his head in the room and asked, “Yo, did you score?”

Only later did Haley begin to think of what had happened as rape — a disturbingly common part of many women’s college experience.

How many times have we heard this story? And how disgusting is it that this has become a typical part of a college experience? Typical college experiences are cramming for tests, getting addicted to coffee, that inevitable night of your 21st birthday when you drink a bit too much and your friends hold your hair back as you puke and swear never to drink again. Typical college experiences should NOT be getting raped or sexually assaulted. And yet…

In a 2007 survey funded by the Justice Department of 6,800 undergraduates at two big public universities, nearly 14 percent of women said they had been victims of at least one completed sexual assault at college; more than half of the victims said they were incapacitated from drugs or alcohol at the time.

The close relationship between hooking up and drinking leads to confusion and disagreement about the line between a “bad hookup” and assault. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, 10 to 16 forcible sex offenses were reported annually to campus security as taking place on Penn’s campus or in the immediate neighborhood.

Are we okay with those numbers? I’m not.

This article gets one thing right: women are prioritizing themselves. During our college years we want to ensure that we have ample time to learn, grow, succeed, thrive, experience, do all that we want without the sometimes cumbersome nature of relationships. If that means, for some, not having time for a boyfriend or girlfriend – that means not having time for a boyfriend or girlfriend. But while we’re busy asserting ourselves in preparation for our entry into the real world, we should also be asserting our self-worth on those around us. And that means changing the narrative that sexual assault is merely an unfortunate symptom of a society that no longer pressures women into relationships, but allows them to explore themselves – both professionally, academically, personally, and sexually – outside of their relationship with a partner.

No, I may not want a boyfriend. But I definitely don’t want any of the other things this article describes either. It’s up to us to push back and set our own parameters on hook up culture while making sure that women don’t get steamrolled by a process designed to sexually liberate. Because so far, I don’t like what I’m seeing.


Want to read more prominent voices talking about hook up culture? Try Jezebel, Hanna Rosin’s , and The Atlantic. Of course it’s also worth reading Susan Patton’s ideas from earlier this year on the subject, lest I be accused of not showing both sides of the argument here.

I’m sure I missed some. Any recommendations for me? Put ‘em in comments!

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  • Reply July 15, 2013


    I think this is such a tricky can of worms. I have seen so many friends “just do it” because it was “the thing to do” and then hate themselves in the days to follow. It goes back to middle school dances where we would dance with a boy just because we didn’t want to seem mean. Men ignore our texts all the time with no social consequences, why can’t we ignore their sexual advances?

  • Reply July 15, 2013

    Ali Vitali

    That’s a great point, Alexandra, and it hearkens back to something Clare Austen-Smith wrote a few weeks back on this site (read it here:

    But I also think it goes deeper than just ignoring sexual advances. Women have just as much a right as men to “just do it” if that’s how they feel. But its when certain sexual acts are presumed or reciprocity expected that the situation begins to crumble. I think your example of middle school dances is spot on, but we’ve taken it to a new level. If hook up culture is supposed to breed equality in sexual behavior and relationships, women need to make sure that their side of things is being heard. It’s more than “just doing it”; it’s making sure women have as much control as men do in setting the parameters of when, where, how, and what.

  • Reply July 15, 2013

    Zoe Bjornson

    I think sex in college is a tricky situation. Many girls don’t want to seem prude – so they’ll do anything. And then there’s the classic excuse, “Oh, it’s what you’re supposed to do in college!” Girls these days get tricked into thinking what is normal, and right now – it feels like everything is what you’re SUPPOSED to do because everyone else is doing it.

  • Reply July 15, 2013


    So glad you’ve written about this issue that people don’t like to discuss even though it’s SO IMPORTANT. The statistics are alarming and while women should have freedom in their sexuality, I agree that we must be smart and aware of the possible consequences to partying too hard.

  • Reply July 15, 2013

    Princeton '12

    I really liked your column. I do want to say that I do not think Patton represents the flip side of your argument. I am not saying Patton is right or wrong (fwiw I think it is neither fully right nor as bad as people make it out to be), just that her perspective is not the opposite nor mutually exclusive from yours.

    • Reply July 15, 2013

      Ali Vitali

      I actually agree with you, Princeton, and if you read the link out from where I talk about Patton at the top you’ll see I wrote she wasn’t all bad when she wrote her remarks. She made some valid points! *gasp* That said, Patton is a different perspective about how women should be conducting themselves; her point of view stipulates that women should be staying far from these sexually non-exclusive relationships in favor of monogamy during (and presumably after) college.

  • Reply July 15, 2013


    If a man and a woman both get drunk and have sex, who raped who?

  • Reply July 16, 2013


    Let’s school the boys on being gentlemen in college and beyond. Whether or not girls are okay with hooking up, or out looking for a boyfriend or girlfriend in college, kind of ignores the problem at hand. Most boys turn into little shits during their college years and just take advantage of the moment. If the only way you can score is if you’re with a drunk girl, there’s a major problem with you. And if your entire dorm floor is okay with that – even making jokes about it – then there’s a problem with our society. I’m very strongly against making girls change their vernacular. Nine times out of ten, I’m sure a girl just wants to kiss. And yeah, I pulled that number out of my ass, but still. Girls don’t talk about going to a party and scoring. Guys shouldn’t, either. We need a cultural reversal for men, too, because they are the heart of this problem. They are the ones taking advantage.

  • Reply July 18, 2013

    TiLT #7 | oh, ella

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