As part of PAPER's month-long "Sexpress" series, New York-based sexologist Shelby Sells will be writing weekly columns that investigate modern sexuality. Dive into her sexpertise, below.
Hookups are brief NSA (no strings attached) sexual encounters between people who are not romantically involved, and usually (I'm generalizing here) have no interest in dating each other. Hookup culture has become a widespread phenomenon (some specialists even label it a revolution). Dating is hard enough without integrating casual hookups. How do we navigate through this culture while keeping our integrity and feelings intact?
It's important to recognize societal pressures and how they impact our thought process. An example of this would be when your date buys you dinner and it's implied you must go home with them. I'm sure some of you are thinking, "Of course I don't have to go home with them! A free meal does not equal sex!" But not all of us reach this same conclusion. Unfortunately, there can be an awkward sense of power and entitlement in those who pay or treat their dates to goods and services. I, along with many of my peers, have been subjected to coercion or guilt-tripping post-meal or post-date. This leads me to believe it's common enough in dating culture that it needs addressing.
It is extremely uncomfortable, violating, and disrespectful to pressure someone into hooking up in any situation. Remember, you don't owe anyone anything (and you are not owed anything in return). Your body is sacred and special. Only you have the power to decide who you allow to share your body and to what extent. No outside sources should influence us otherwise, whether it be our date, our friends, our horoscope (sorry I had to), what the media portrays as "normal" dating practices, or what society reinforces as romantic/sexual norms. We should hook up with someone because we want to, not because we feel pressured to.
A close friend of mine confessed that for years she felt obligated to go home with a man every time she went out. She believed it was the goal of the night to partner (hook) up. I know she is not alone in this thinking. Tons of singles go out every night with the hope of finding a mate. Eventually this mentality left her feeling empty and devoid of substantially satisfying sexual (and emotional) relationships. She said it felt like her responsibility to please her male suitors to feel validation and to get them to like her. It was her understanding that a relationship would develop from one of these flings, but hookup culture tells us otherwise (see my article on sextimacy here).
Again, hookup culture promotes casual sexual encounters between partners that are usually emotionally unavailable to each other. It is a form of radical sexual expression and is beneficial in moderation. So how do we hook up with integrity? We must take pride in being a great lover by genuinely giving and receiving pleasure. Respecting each other's boundaries through consent and communication is key. It takes two seconds to ask if your midnight lover enjoys oral sex or having their nipples played with.
Being kind and courteous to one another (i.e. creating a warm and safe atmosphere) is a surefire way to create positive experiences that could result in multiple encounters. Setting boundaries (making sure both partners are aware of each other's physical and emotional commitment or lack thereof) around the hook up is a great way to avoid hurt feelings or awkward goodbyes (and future hellos in public). It is perfectly okay to casually hook up and partake in hookup culture. Make sure you and your partner are being safe and using protection (yes condoms!) Condoms are the only sexual tool we have to protect ourselves against STDs and infections. Safety is sexy!