When it comes to casual sex, some parents just don’t understand. Here’s what they need to know about the new school of hook-ups.
As interfering mothers go, one of the most impressive recent culprits caused a minor media storm when she posted a Craigslist ad seeking a girl to take her son’s virginity. For those who missed it, the “Alpha-Mom”—whose true identity remains a mystery—tried to hatch a cunning plan: It involved planning a “chance” encounter with one lucky (paid) lady, which would ultimately result in her Harvard-bound son heading off to college a man.
Cynical commenters have questioned the post’s authenticity, noting how odd it is that the guy, described as intelligent, fit, and hot (albeit a bit awkward) needed help bedding a girl. I prefer to think that his well-meaning mom has heard the stories about college hook-ups and just wanted her son to be prepared.
We’re approaching high season for fretting over casual sex on campus, after all. The New York Times recently published an exposé on young women at the University of Pennsylvania who have sex with guys who—gasp!—are neither their husbands nor boyfriends. (God help us if they find out about those U of T sex parties.) Meanwhile, academics affiliated with Brown University were so concerned about the “potential for negative emotional and physical health outcomes as a result of sexual hook-up” that they surveyed 483 first-year girls in New York to find out which ones are most likely to do it. And the leading candidates? Girls who smoke weed, have already hooked-up in school, and don’t practice any religion.
If that research is to be believed, Craigslist Son won’t even have time to hang an Avengers poster before some young lady with loose morals comes along to confiscate his V-card.
Kidding aside, a conflicting study out of Stanford University found that 80 per cent of students hook up less than once a semester at college, and most of the time the fun is fairly basic—kissing, handjobs, and oral. And though alcohol and drugs are often involved, and there’s still a risk of picking up some horrendous STD, a quick fumble once every few months is hardly the orgy of no-strings sex older generations imagine is going on.
Jocelyn Wentland is a sex researcher in the Human Sexuality Research Laboratory at the University of Ottawa, where she studies the definitions of casual sexual relationships. She says the practice of hooking up is a lot more complex than it is often given credit for.
“The beauty of [the term] is that it is so vague; it could mean anything,” she says. “One-time hook-ups, multiple hook-ups, sexual intercourse, or oral sex. It’s the perfect term because it doesn’t really explain itself.”
In what Wentland calls her “nerdy little research piece,” she’s attempting to figure out the difference between the various types of hook-ups. These days, she says, those in the market for sex with few strings attached can choose from a few widely accepted options: the “friend-with-benefits,” the “fuck-buddy,” the “booty call,” or the traditional one-night-stand with somebody you’ve likely just met.
In focus groups probably a touch more interesting than most, Wentland grilled subjects about their perceptions of these types of hook-ups and found that a cultural consensus is emerging about what each means. Even people who have never engaged in casual sex knew the difference between, say, a booty call and a friend with benefits.
All manner of hook-ups first require you to know the other person at least well enough to have their contact information, but Wentland says hook-up etiquette is even having an impact on how we act on first dates. Once upon a time, a guy might have fretted about holding open doors, but today’s horny young things have to discern between texting or phoning in a booty call situation. (Wentland says phone if you’re drunk; text otherwise.)
Hooking up may be considered an expression of over-sexed youthful recklessness, but it could also be a perfectly sensible response to a world in which the promise of a good job, a nice house, and a couple of kids a few years after university has been replaced with a far less certain future. When your five-year plan changes daily, it’s hardly surprising that Mr. or Ms. Right Now seems appealing.
Still, it’s worth remembering that casual sex is nothing new. Wentland has incredible difficulty recruiting adults in their 40s and 50s for her studies, because they think hooking up is the domain of the young. But as she points out, the single and middle-aged go on multiple dates with different partners, too. Some of which, yes, end in sex. “You’re having the same [type of] relationship your daughter is having,” Wentland says. “You’re just not calling it the same thing.”