Tuesday, November 18, 2008

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.


At November 18, 2008 at 5:46 AM , Anonymous Princeton '09 said...

Hear ye! Getting to know potential partners first is usually much more fulfilling than the hook-up culture alternative. This goes for both guys and girls: if you meet someone who piques your interest, be proactive and ask them to chat over coffee or the like. Besides, meeting people while sober and studying in Firestone is SO much more rewarding than an eating club hook-up :)

At November 18, 2008 at 2:37 PM , Anonymous Roissy said...

Relevant article: http://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_4_darwinist_dating.html

And trenchant critique: http://roissy.wordpress.com/2008/11/18/love-in-the-time-of-game/

"Chivalry cannot coexist with female empowerment and unfettered sexual choice. The days of door holding are long over. Get used to it."

At November 18, 2008 at 3:41 PM , Blogger Sam Borchard said...

While I can appreciate the message of this article, the fact that you are addressing it exclusively to women goes against what I consider to be the main point of feminism:

While there are certainly biological differences between men and women (which we can't honestly say we know the full extent of), these differences are dwarfed by individual variation from person to person. So whether or not women on average may be more biologically prone to [insert characteristic here], that judgment can't be used to justify an assumption that ALL women are like that. Nor can it be used to explain why a particular woman is like that. The same applies to men.

Although I don't think this was your intent, by addressing this article to women only, you are condoning an assumption of both genders - that women are emotionally susceptible to physical intimacy and that men are not. Neither is justified - I know (and I'm sure you do too) plenty of women who enjoy the hookup culture and many men who have been hurt by it. There seems to me no reason why this article could not have been written for them too.

At November 18, 2008 at 6:52 PM , Blogger Franki said...

What Sam said.

I'd also like to point out that a tendency towards emotional attachment doesn't mean that forgoing hook-ups is the only way to avoid those attachments. There's a point where common sense has to come into it. One must not confuse a predisposition towards attachment with an inability to recognize the reality of a situation and judge accordingly.

At November 19, 2008 at 6:03 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...

Couple of things 'cause, hey, if my voice can't be heard what's the point right?

I will never stop holding doors for anyone...chivalry isn't sexist, it's just nice. Sure it may be rooted in sexist history and may be thought of as "women are too weak to open doors, men should do it" but that is just our subjective view of things and is greatly affected by our society. If we lived a perfectly equal, non-sexist society, I doubt anyone would argue that opening doors is wrong. No, it's not, the fact is that opening a door is just that, it's opening a door. Why we do it is what should be judged. I do it cause I'm nice, maybe others do it cause they are sexist, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't open doors for people in fear of being labeled a sexist, that is just as judgmental as a sexist claim, it is sexistist.

As for Sam's comment, I'm totally with you on what you said, though Franki, you take it a step further and I don't quite agree. Surely one shouldn't say that ALL women should stop hooking up based on some study that only shows SOME women are affected by it. However, that is not to say that those that are prone to be affected shouldn't think about not doing it. The fact is that no matter how logically and common sensically you approach a decision, chemicals in your body are going to be released and they are going to make you feel a certain way. Realization doesn't prevent a chemical from being released, unless you are a Tibetan monk, who the hell knows what those guys can do, am I wrong?

At November 19, 2008 at 11:19 PM , Blogger Franki said...

Roscoe, I understand your point, but I was suggesting more of a mind-over-body (or in this case mind-over-mind) approach. You can fight the feeling if you know what it is and where it's coming from. If Party A is way more into it than Party B, the chemical release may be causing that disparity, but that shouldn't stop Party A from saying "I'm reading this wrong; I need to back away and do what's best for me."

At November 20, 2008 at 3:20 AM , Blogger Roscoe said...

Point well taken, thanks! =)

At November 24, 2008 at 2:43 PM , Blogger Susan said...

This is insightful and important information about the role of hormones in attachment. There are many biological differences between the sexes, and acknowledging them enables women to be true to themselves without guilt. Below are relevant statistics about hooking up derived from research. Cited sources may be found at www.HookingUpSmart.com, a site that aims to support young women in their search for meaningful relationships by providing strategic insight and guidance as they manage their social and sexual interactions with men.
• 91% of students report that hooking up is very common or fairly common on their campuses.
• 87% of college students report having hooked up.
• 73% of girls wish dating were more common.
• 12% of hookups eventually lead to relationships.
• 60%t of sexually active teenagers will at some point have sex with someone they are not dating.
• 49% of students who had intercourse during a hookup never saw the other person again.
• 61% of women who say hooking up makes them feel desirable also say it makes them feel awkward.
• During hookups, guys have orgasms 44% of the time. Girls have orgasms 19% of the time.
• 12% of women say that it is sometimes easier to have sex with a guy they don’t know than to make conversation.
Susan A. Walsh

At November 24, 2008 at 8:17 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...


A big problem of relying anything on your statistics (or any statistics for that matter) is that statistics in general are not understood by a majority of people anywhere. The fact that something happens 91% of the time says nothing of what you should do or act. Just because you see these statistics does not mean that it will happen to you 91% of the time, or that you have a 91% chance of being that type of person.

The fact is that you have a 100% possibility of being yourself, or a 50% chance of being in the 91% group and a 50% chance of being in the 9% group (i mean, you either are or you aren't, two choices, thus 50/50) if you want to think about it another way. Statistics may be able to contribute to the discussion of what is wrong with the world right now (positive thinking), but it can do absolutely nothing to tell us about how the world should be or how the wrongs can be amended (normative thinking).

Statistics are not as intuitive as one may think. it is dangerous to use them as you have. A good example of the danger is the current financial crisis. The fact remains that people just don't understand statistics and probability as a concept, let alone the statistics themselves.


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