“Why would you just cuddle with her when you could do it? I mean, Forman, doing it is it. That’s why they call it it.”
—Michael Kelso, That 70’s Show
Though stated for comedic effect, Michael Kelso’s sentiments closely represent the inclination of the Z generation towards “no-strings-attached” sexual liaisons. Waves of articles point to the increasing number of teenagers who have done “it”; recent reports by the American Psychological Association state that almost 70 percent of teenagers have engaged in some sort of sexual activity. Indeed, in a recent survey conducted by The Oracle, 45 percent of Gunn students admitted to “hooking-up” with another person without being in an exclusive relationship.
It seems everyone is doing it, but what exactly is it? While surprising that an expression so significant and ubiquitous could also be so elusive, the popularity of the term could in fact be attributed to its ambiguity. According to a recent report by ABC News, the phrase “hooking-up” is strategically vague because it allows students a way to mention their sexual activities without revealing too many details.
Still, according to Amanda Holman, a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska, without a definition, the term “hook-up” is misleading and could be driving this generation into further sexual indiscretions. Holman states that because so many teenagers attribute their morals and boundaries to their environment, defining the term may be necessary so students have a clear idea of what their peers are getting involved in.
For clarification, The Oracle set out to pinpoint what Gunn defines as “hooking-up”. In the survey, 57 percent of students identified the lowest level of “hooking-up” as making-out with another person without exclusively dating him or her. Surprisingly, the American Psychological Association recently stated that a “hook-up” is used to signify oral sex at the very least.
The History of Hook-Up Culture
Although the term “hook-up” was coined in the 21st century, the sexual progressivism that the term originated from can be traced through American history. Recent evolutionary biologists have linked the origins of modern-day hook-up culture to the glamorous soirees and escapades of the roaring 20s. During the 1920s, the rise of the Ford automobile not only signified freedom of transportation but also freedom for young couples to experiment with different forms of sexual activity without parental supervision.
With the sociocultural advancements of the 1960s, a more sexually open generation emerged. This decade signified a “sexual revolution” with feminist movements, wider availability of birth control and co-ed colleges. All of these progressive developments contributed to creating a generation of young adults no longer restrained by the sexual paradigm of their parents.
Since then, popular culture has taken the reins in influencing the sexual morals of young adults. The themes of highly publicized songs, movies and television shows have portrayed lifestyles that reflect the enjoyable nature of having uncommitted sex or “hooking-up.” Recent movies such as “No Strings Attached” and “Friends with Benefits” represent only part of the strong focus modern media places on casual sexual relations.
The Future of Hook-Up Culture
The blurred line between parental frenzy and the legitimate risk of hooking-up has made the direct consequences of hook-ups almost impossible to discern. Some experts argue that hooking-up is detrimental to the physical and mental health of adolescents while others state that a moral panic has blown the consequences of casual intimacies out of proportion.
Recent studies have documented the emotional repercussions of hooking-up. In her book “The End of Sex,” Donna Freitas explains how hook-ups leave students feeling unwanted, used, shameful and disempowered. Freitas points out that the modern-day hook-up culture glamorizes the suppression of emotions and romantic feelings. She argues that this culture not only alters the perception of romance but also makes young adults associate sexual encounters with isolation, boredom and ambivalence.
Other researchers point to the number of students that regret hooking-up to the mental side effects of uncommitted relations. In The Oracle’s survey, 31 percent of males and 41 percent of females expressed regret over their hook-ups. According to a paper by Elizabeth Armstrong, this regret in women can lead to “low self-esteem, depression, alcoholism, and eating disorders.” A recent TIME report by Rosalind Wiseman showed that men who regret their hook-ups are also highly susceptible to depression.
As with all trends among young adults, this sexual revolution engenders concern among older generations about how extreme it may become. The warning signs, parents insist, are already growing; a recent report by the American Sociological Association states that hook-up rates have gone up 10 percent since 1988. However, the Association also states that the rates of students with less than one partner a year have not decreased since the 80s, offering hope that traditional dating will not become extinct in the near future.