A feminist, scientific perspective on the hook-up culture
by Eva Wash
The hook-up culture that pervades our college campuses is perpetuated by a basic, yet flawed assumption—that there exists a duality between our minds and our bodies and thus we can detach physical pleasure from any emotional significance. Some of us, especially men, may be more capable of such detachment, but research shows that women are physiologically predisposed to develop emotional attachments from physical intimacy.
Two weekends ago, I had the chance to see Dr. Miriam Grossman, the author of Unprotected: A Campus Psychologist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student, give a lecture on the medical and psychological consequences of the hook-up culture. After working for several years as a psychologist at UCLA, Dr. Grossman could no longer stay silent about the fact that many of her patients were young women feeling confused and used in their casual sexual relationships and that some were left to struggle with more permanent scars, such as STDs, that are a greater risk when the number of partners, and the number of partners’ partners, increases exponentially.
To illuminate for us the reasons why women often feel confused by this type of sexual behavior, Dr. Grossman referenced the neurological research of Dr. Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain who discusses the role of a particular hormone that sparks attachments to sexual partners. According to various studies, this hormone oxytocin is present in both men and women, but is more active and copious in women: while it is involved in both labor and lactation, oxytocin is also released in the brain during physically intimate behavior as innocent as touching and gazing into another’s eyes. In the brain, oxytocin dampers the activity of the amygdala, the neurological center for fear, and results in increased feelings of trust and safety with a particular person.
Obviously, this growing sense of trust with one’s partner can be a very positive and healthy development, but when a woman hardly knows a man before she pursues a physical relationship with him, she could be deceived by the sense of security and attachment she automatically feels. Moreover, other studies with oxytocin have suggested that when injected with the hormone, people in general are more likely to be generous and to take risks. Thus we have neurological evidence for why women generally seem prone to be more self-giving and less cautious when entering into new physical relationships.
My point is not to scare women away from physical intimacy by painting us as being biologically wired for vulnerability and heartbreak. Rather, in realizing that we do have these innate tendencies, I would encourage women to be more selective when it comes to the person who is becoming the object of such trust and self-gift. Compared to the hook-up alternative, such selectivity may require more self-control and less immediate satisfaction of physical desire, but it undoubtedly improves the chance at having a healthy relationship with a partner who deserves you.