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May 30, 2004



Yeah, it makes me sad too. And I've been there, done that and realised that it wasn't right, and that eventually the emotions you "keep in check" all come back to get you. I've also seen it have a very negative effect on my peers, and I'm glad that people are taking this culture seriously. Ah, the wisdom all of 8 months at uni can impart!


Another pathology highlighted in the article associated with this direction in sexual mores is the complete and utter dominance of appearence. A major center for the facilitation of "hook-ups" are (non)dating internet sites where people are rated on their appearence by their picture. At least in dating, while physical appearence can be very important, other aspects of the person become important at some point, at least for most. In the hook-up culture, everything but physical appearence becomes trivial. This, of course, reenforces one of the most dispicable and mysogynist pathologies of modern culture.

Unlike the author of this (excellent, by the way) blog, I'm not religious, and I'm not a social conservative. I do have a glimmer of optimism about the possibility of today's teenagers learning to live outside of a relationship. In my generation (I'm not even 30, I can't beleive I just wrote that!) I saw too many people, especially women, who never learned to be comfortable with themselves, and jumped from relationship to relationship, good or bad, becuase they didn't know how to be alone. If this generation can avoid this pathology in greater numbers, that has the potential to be a good thing. The notion that long term relationships are the way we're supposed to live contributes to the existence and persistence of a lot of bad relationships.

My pessimism overwhelms my optimism, though. But my overall response to this article was, like you, deep sadness about the extraordinary defeat this trend represents for social and cultural feminism. Excellent post.

The Angry Clam

If you call Hugo a social conservative, you haven't been reading him long enough.

He does admit the appeal of it though, and one of the earliest commentary discussions I had with him concerned the intellectual/emotional appeal of conservatism as compared to progressivism.

It had to do mostly with the stronger emotional pull to an idealized past than an idealized future.


The kind of value he places on monogamous traditional relationships in this, and the previous post on the subject, is a sign of a form of social conservatism. I'm sure it's a label that doesn't fit him all that well, but he's clearly some kind of social conservative. I certainly didn't mean it in a pejorative sense.


Well, I'm not much of a social conservative at all on most issues, but I am a very strong advocate of treating all living creatures with dignity, including the yet-unborn. I'm also convinced that traditional monogamy is both a tremendous vehicle for personal growth and a foundation stone for culture and society. If that makes me a conservative, I'm happy to accept the sobriquet.


I'd like to think that in the long-run, it doesn't "rock" for boys. Otherwise, how are things ever going to change? Girls are left with a choice between a casual hook-up or nothing, and I think the latter can often be more detrimental than the former.

Sweet, romantic guys who don't pressure you into sex are fairly hard to find. I, like many girls, long grew tired of hearing our friends and youth advisors telling us to wait or that it would happen when the time was right.

When reading your post, it seemed like you were coming down on the girls far more than the boys. You're sad for them, you don't think they're ability to hook-up and not feel for the guy is a step backwards, etc. On the other hand, the boys are just being boys. At some point boys need to be taught to control their sexual urges, it's not a girl's role to do that. Anyway, that's just the feeling I got from it, but I have been reading my Women and Law textbook a lot lately.


That was certainly not my intent, Amy, but I can see how you could come to that conclusion.

The problem for boys will come soon enough. Making the transition from "hitting it and quitting it" to emotional intimacy is difficult indeed. We are creatures of habit; every random hookup reinforces the notion that other human beings are disposable. It makes it much more difficult to change, and this has a dire effect on men as well.

Trish Wilson

Great post, Hugo. I'm still reading the Times article. It's very long. Hook-ups remind me of Erica Jong's "zipless fuck" from her book "Fear of Flying." It's the same thing - sex without commitment being held up as such a wonderful thing. That was back in the '70s. The problem was that a lot of people, especially men who read her book, misunderstood what she meant. They took her description as an endorsement of sex without commitment when in reality her point was nothing of the sort. The "zipless fuck" was impossible to achieve for the very reasons brought up in the Times hook-up article - people's emotions get in the way; they really want more than just sex. They want human interaction, and when they hook-up or try to find a "zipless fuck" they are very disappointed and left feeling empty and used. I agree with the article that the term "hook-up" has been rather vague, but it reminded me so much of the "zipless fuck" that I had to let you know about it.

I don't think that the hook-up and its antecedents have their origins in the feminist movement. The media's depictions of feminism, women moving in drove in the work force, and the advent of The Pill created misleading images of feminism. Here's a good article about feminism during that time period:

Male Bashing? Hardly

All of these things were trendy and exciting so the media ran with them. I think that the hook-up and Jong's "zipless fuck" have their origins in the Playboy culture and the Beat rebellion. It's all there - "free love," the focus on appearance to the detriment of everything else, no commitments, rampant consumerism, human bodies as commodities, etc. Barbara Ehrenreich wrote an excellent critique of the Playboy culture (which fell on the heels of "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit" trend from post WWII) in her book, "The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight From Commitment." The entire book is good, but the pertinent chapters "Playboy Joins The Battle Of The Sexes" and "The Beat Rebellion: Beyond Work and Marriage."

Now, back to that very long Times article... I really enjoyed your post.


I graduated from high school about five years ago, and either the hook-up culture hadn't hit yet, or I was dorky enough that I never so much as brushed up against it.

What struck me is this.

The general wisdom in pro-abstinence textbooks, school guidance counselors, and advice books was that you shouldn't try to form monogamous or committed relationships in high school (because you're just going to break up anyway). Perhaps they thought they could delay sex by delaying serious dating. High school was all about keeping your options open.

Teenagers didn't invent this concept. They're doing exactly what the textbooks are telling them to do; they're just adding sex to the mix.

Thank God I was such a geek in high school.


I didn't mention this earlier, but I suspect the article was a bit sensationalist. In other words, I think this 'hook-up culture' is an elite culture, an activity for the in crowd. Most High Schoolers are geeks and losers.

I don't have recent data at my fingertips, but I know that fairly recently what we knew about the sex lives of teenagers was that most of them were sexually active, but the strong majority of sexually active teenagers had a fairly small number of partners. And I think the numbers have been close to stable for a while. Maybe we're at the crest of a sea change in teenage sexual behavior, but nothing in this article does much to convince me of that.

If my recollection of the data seems wrong, please correct.


I always recommend visiting the Alan Guttmacher institute for up-to-date statistical information:


I'd also say that anecdotally, even allowing for a certain degree of adolescent exaggeration, the experience of the Brians and the Irenes matches the experience of many (by no means all) of the teenagers in my church youth group.


Thanks for the link (I was trying to think of a way to craft a google search teenage sexual behavior that wouldn't generate lots of links to alarming forms of pornography). A quick look didn't reveal anything that might answer my question directly, but there's lots of useful data there.

Maybe I'm projecting my own high school lameness a bit, but these definately seemed like the "cool kids" who wouldn't give 90% of us the time of day. And a decade and change ago, I think the cool kids had a lot more sex than me and my friends (and not becuase we were making smart choices about our future or anything like that).

At any rate, anytime anyone tries to imply or suggest a signifigant and rapid change in social behavior, and does so with almost entirely anecdotal evidence, my BS detector starts to make some noise. I'm not saying he's wrong, I'm just not convinced by what I see here that we've got a huge shift in teenage sexual practices on our hands.

michelle canlas

what about polyamory? that's a culture based on mutual love and respect, which combines sexual variety as well. why do people assume that having sex with different people means that we don't care about them? why do people assume that you can only love someone romantically one at a time?

i have nothing against happy practitioners of monogamy, but it is NOT a superior lifestyle to a polygamous romantic lifestyle. i'm not saying it's inferior either, of course. there is not only one way of having satisfying, happy, relationships that promotes personal growth.

i know i sound like a crackpot, but loving more than one person can actually promote self discovery and personal growth more than traditional monogamy. but of course, if the "polygamist" is being dishonest, then all this "loving more than one person" business is an invitation for trouble. but you could say the same about a restless monogamist who yearns to end a perfectly good relationship simply out of boredom.


Now, michelle, you can't possibly be suggesting that women would want sex for reasons other than love!


I only know a little about polyamory, and am not in a position to comment. But from what I understand, polyamory involves commitment and caring for more than one person. It is worlds removed from the sort of random hookups we were talking about here.

Personal growth requires some sort of sacrifice. If polyamorists make emotional and physical sacrifices for each other, then surely, they are growing.
If not, then not.

michelle canlas

well, i know some women who can "sport fuck" and enjoy swinging, though it's definitely not my cup of tea. there are some people, men and women, who prefer sex without emotional attachments. that's fine by me, as long as they practice safe sex. what bothers me about a lot of hookups is that some people are very irresponsible and don't use protection.

regarding polyamory: it's a lifestyle that promotes emotional (and sexual connections) with more than one person. the sacrifice that polyamorists tend to make is the approval of mainstream society. it can be very lonely for polyamorous practitioners, given that monogamy is the ideal that society heavily promotes. on the other hand, polyamorists don't sacrifice as much in their personal relationships because they don't have to demand that one person be everything to them. from what i have seen, the biggest problem with monogamy is the constant expectation that the lover be everything. frankly, this expectation can be very exhausting and frustrating. that's why so many monogamous relationships don't last--too many people have unrealistic expectations of what a lover should be.

people complain that they don't want to "settle", hence their high expectations. never mind that these very same people who demand such high standards from potential lovers are themselves unable to meet anyone else's romantic monogamous ideal. i think many hollywood movies have ruined us.

on another note, if you are a monogamist who is lucky enough to have found that person who can be everything to you, more power to you. winning the lottery is far easier than finding a person like that.


Something caught my eye at the beginning, but you didn't go in the direction I was thinking, nor did any others who commented, nor had you in the post you were referencing.

serious relationships are an impediment to (rather than a vehicle for) one's personal growth.

Maybe my experience is tainted by the fact that I did not choose emotionally or socially mature mates for my serious relationships, but what I've come to theorize is that the above statement is almost correct. I believe that until a person reaches a certain "critical mass" of maturity, forming a serious relationship does become an obstacle for personal growth. Not in the sense that one doesn't have time, or it would interfere with one's career, but in the sense that prior to reaching that critical level of maturity (don't ask me what that level is), a person entering a relationship tends to stop growing as an independent person with their own thoughts, beliefs, and interests.

As an example: a young, rebellious man who prefers to duck responsibility than live up to it, at age seventeen gets married. Thirteen years later, he is divorced and crawls into a bottle. Six months later, he meets an almost-grown woman who is then seventeen and crawls back out of the bottle. They "fall in love" and get married. Seven years later, he is again divorced. One would think that he should have matured beyond his irresponsible, rebellious ways. One would be wrong. He still exhibits the same behavior, and he is still endlessly amused by the same junior-high/high-school humor. His contemporaries who waited longer to form serious relationships show more advanced spiritual and emotional growth.

As for his second wife: at twenty-seven with three children, she had great difficulty identifying any way in which the relationship had fostered her personal growth. She found that her spiritual growth had been stunted and her emotional growth had been perverted. In spite of the children and a four-year degree, she was naive and, in many ways, still seventeen.

Perhaps mature persons are more likely to realize that genuine love can withstand the changes that come with growth - or perhaps mature persons are less willing to give up critical and integral contributors to their own joy in favor of "true love" which really isn't. Or perhaps mature persons are better able to distinguish genuine love (which really cares about the joy, well-being, and spiritual growth of another) from that which claims to be (but is instead a declaration meant to manipulate).


On hooking up: I think it's inaccurate to imply that only girls have emotional needs that go unfulfilled by casual sex. As you grieve for the Irenes, I grieve for the Brians (and my younger selves) who can't even imagine sex being the kind of enriching, joyful, sincere, edifying, sacramental experience my mother and my friends seem to take for granted.


I can't remember where I read this -- it may have been Dr. Drew -- but the first discussion I remember of "hooking up" said that many young college students felt that the only relationship options were either "hooking up," or joined-at-the-hip monogamy. One was empty, the other far too constricting. None of this sounds at all new to me: it seemed like the same scenario as what I saw in college, fifteen years ago.

Neither of them really sounds like a mature approach to relationships. But, people who are new to intimate relationships *wouldn't* have mature relationships, would they? You have to work through the immature stuff somehow.

Idealizing early monogamy seems just as problematic to me as idealizing commitmentless sex.

"Dating," an awkward enough experience, just wasn't something I've really seen teens and college-age young adults ever do. I've only encountered it among older adults -- folks in their late 20s and early 30s. It's not because we're used to it from the past. It fits the patterns of our lives in a way it wouldn't have when we were younger.

Most healthy relationships I've seen developed out of the participants already being part of a network of friends. Early monogamy inhibits developing such a network; casual sex is generally seen as toxic to such a network.


"But I am convinced to my core that the current state of sexual mores among the young represents not a triumph for feminist principles, but a triumph for predatory masculinity."

then your "core" is rotten

"Even as young women become the majority on most college campuses, the scarcity of men perpetuates a "hooking-up" culture because young men are confident that they (in the harsh but truthful expression of another era) don't have to "buy the cow" (make commitments) because they can "get the milk" (sexual gratification) for free.

I grieve for the Irenes. I grieve for the girls who give up on their romantic dreams before they are old enough to drive a car . . ."

i grieve for you

and . . . "buy the cow"?


that suggests that human relationship, especially sexual relations, is merely and subset of commerce and/or power, to be manipulated for personal gain

. . . a mere "deniable" transfer of wealth from males to females

feminism encourages the commercialization of interpersonal relationships, by making the female and male cultural competitors (with, of course, built-in female advantages in our, er, "equal opportunity" society

likewise, feminism encourages the reduction of human relationship to mere power politics -- The Personal Is The Political, as we've been instructed so smarmily by the Gender Supremacists these past decades

the "buy the cow" mentality is truly a reduction to the very Pit of the "bottom line"

as for "predatory masculinity" -- the past four decades of feminism have legitimized and made profitable the predation of FEMALES upon MALES in economic, employment, eductional, sexual, legal, and many other cultural contexts

why, feminism has become SO predatory, there are even separate academic "departments" in our academic institutions from which the demonization and criminalization of masculinity is sourced and disseminated

as history proves, the mass scapegoating of a religion or race or gender is VERY profitable, and the institutionalization of such bigotry against men (well, hetero white men, at any rate, they're the Evildoers, after all) is one of the most despicable aspects of american culture

maybe the Cow ought to stop selling herself

then she won't have to worry about being "bought"


hey foolishowl, I don't understand--are you a feminist?

here's what I got. you quoted Hugo (was it hugo saying it?) or who ever, as saying

"But I am convinced to my core that the current state of sexual
mores among the young represents not a triumph for feminist
principles, but a triumph for predatory masculinity."

then you said "then your "core" is rotten."

ok, no offense but what's your point? obviously you disagree but there's no explanation or arguement.

it's easy to make snide remarks or sarcastic one liners.

But formulating an argument is the whole point right? else lets just hit each other with words (ex: you're stupid. no, you're stupid.)

Foolishowl, what exactly are you taking odds with? I mean "then your core is rotten" sounds cool but explain why his core is rotten (why you think he's wrong)?

he goes on to say that now men can more easily get milk without buying the cow. to which you reply "buy the cow?"

Is that feminist hyper overexaggerated sensitivity?

what if he had said "steal the eggs without buying the bird"

what difference does it make? do you really not get the point? (aren't we adults?)

the point is that "he" can get sexual stuff (from kissing to sex) without out the time effort pain life tears of commitment.

then your response is something about consumerism and something

--look, you read alot, that's cool. when I first read alot I liked to say convoluted things and I always tried to be the one in the group with the weird and unique perspective.

I liked to air my shocking and daring opinions in the heaviest eloquence I could muster. but, seriously not only is it hard to understand, it is actually irrelevent to Mr. hugo's post.

but I think I get the gist: a) Feminism fights for a sexless world.

b) In relationships it's not about roles of
male or female anymore, but which person
has the dominant personality.

but that's all not feminism does, has done and is doing.

and this post is about a particular thing it's doing, the effect feminism has had on the way women and men relate to one another in courtship.

Inarguably the feminist movement has been interpretted by women (and we're talking about in the area of romance here) as an ideology that (yes I know, among other things) says no to the traditional sexual mores for women. and it has changed them. it has, period. inarguably.

and that change is completely negative. for everybody. we all lose. that's what he's saying. It damages both males and females. period.

it enables men to be pigs and turns women into the pigs men are. society as a whole sinks (and sinks and sinks). so hurray. feminism is awesome. look at all the wonderful things it does.

the last thing you say is that "maybe the cow should stop selling itself? maybe then it would stop getting bought."

again, sounds cool (very rage against the machine). but what do you mean? really. specifically, what do you mean?


The fact is, girls don't enjoy hookups nearly as much as boys, no matter what they say at the time.

How can this be? I thought men and women were the same? Isn't it "sexist" to state that women might be different from men?

Seriously, if there are inherent differences between men and women, then what is the sense of talking about "equality?"

They're only doing it because that's what the boys want.''

So why is that wrong? If a guy marries a woman because that is what she wants, is it wrong?

What we are failing to grasp is that in many ways, the sexual revolution has resulted in a dramatic victory for teenage boys.

From the male perspective, I see no reason to grieve for my side winning once in a while!

I have no doubt that most boys of that era would be salivating with delight at the thought, while most (perhaps not all) of their female peers would be horrified.

But this is because women in the 1950s were oppressed by the sexual double standard. Good girls were not supposed to like sex and all that sort of thing. Women now have the chance to be liberated. And they are throwing it away.

Even as young women become the majority on most college campuses, the scarcity of men perpetuates a "hooking-up" culture because young men are confident that they (in the harsh but truthful expression of another era) don't have to "buy the cow" (make commitments) because they can "get the milk" (sexual gratification) for free.

Well, I am associated with several major campuses and see just the opposite: women going to college for the expressed purpose of finding a guy who will make the 6-figure salary on graduation. i.e., it is women who are perpetuating the sexism here by playing out the traditional role. They are exchanging sex for security. Some liberation.

I grieve for the girls who give up on their romantic dreams before they are old enough to drive a car,

By "romantic dreams" you mean "sexist dreams" in which women play the traditional role of being pursued, and witholding sex to get what they want.

and who pride themselves on becoming "really good at keeping their emotions in check."

Why do you grieve for women who prize rationality over emotion? Do we want to go back to the "good old days" of weepy, whiny, tantrum-throwing, hysterical females?


...Damn. I was going to post, but then Joseph went and said it better. At least regarding "romantic dreams" and women behaving rationally.

It seems to me that Hugo's (and Dr. Pinsky's) claims for girls' "emotional needs" are a bit of an overgeneralization. In the case of Irene, for instance, it's never suggested that she might have done the asking, rather than waiting around for the boy to do so. I thought this was one of the fundamental, little, simple things that we were supposed to have solved way back before I was old enough to know the difference between a boy and a girl - the ability for either sex to hear "Well, why don't YOU do something about it?" But instead, it becomes a question of girls' needing protection from the rapacious sex drives of boys, once again, as it has been ever since man first interrogated his daughter's boyfriend. And instead of hearing (as young men do) "Toughen up", young women are again encouraged to cling and mope and wait for boys to make all the moves.

And "girls don't enjoy hookups nearly as much as boys, no matter what they say at the time"? Wow. Er...not even sure what to say to that, except "Speak for yourself", because it directly contradicts several situations ongoing in my life RIGHT NOW.

(Particular comment to Hugo: I agree with a large proportion of the things you write, and am only moved to comment when I have a strong disagreement. Also: hi, neighbour - I'm a student at Caltech.)


OK, I am getting into this late, but here's a thought: it would seem that if women are not interested in "hooking up" and casual sex, then they would take the initiative more and ask out men who are not interested in casual sex.

One would think that strict christian men who believe in saving sex until marriage, for example, would be very popular.


Alexander: Strict Christian men, at least in my church, are VERY popular. The women outnumber them by a lot, and the women can be, in consequence, pretty aggressive about showing their interest.

Octopod and Joseph: umm... i think you guys are missing the point. He's not grieving about the girls being rational rather than emotional, or for their traditional mores, or that they can't ask people out. He's grieving that they don't feel they have the right to their own needs for a committed relationship. I think of myself as rational (i'm a physicist!) non-whiny, non-clingy, and I asked out every single one of the guys I've ever gone out with, and my fiance will probably be the one to stay home and take care of the kids once we have kids, but I would be most unhappy if I had to give up my romantic dreams of a committed partner.

I think that saying "girls don't enjoy hookups as much as boys" is... perhaps a bit misleading. On average, I'd say, girls probably enjoy the hookups as much. But I'd also say that the girls get rather more messed up about them. On average. I have seen it work out for some girls, but I've seen a whole lot more girls get totally screwed up about some guy after they had both agreed it was just a casual hookup.

(hi octopod! I graduated from caltech (grad school) two years ago :) )

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