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Hookup Culture & Identity at Concord Academy

INTRODUCTION

Hookup culture is, as many high-schoolers are well aware, really confusing for people of all ages, genders, sexualities, races, and ethnicities. You name it, and they’re confused by hookup culture. Many adults are concerned for our futures: I’ve heard “Whatever happened to good old romance,” and “There’s no real connection happening, what if they never figure out how to date,” and the timeless classic, “Millennials are killing dating.” Young adults, on the other hand, claim it’s freeing… but do they really think so?

  • 91% of college women say that they feel that hookup culture “defines their campus.” (1)
  • A study that involved 300 students at a public university found that, although “94 percent of participating students were familiar with the phrase hooking up, there wasn’t any sense of solidarity regarding what hooking up actually entailed.” (2)
  • In a study of roughly 1,500 undergraduate students conducted by the American Psychological Association, many experienced negative aftereffects when they participated in a hookup: “27.1 percent felt embarrassed, 24.7 percent reported emotional difficulties, 20.8 percent experienced loss of respect and 10 percent reported problems with a steady partner.” (3)

So, if hookup culture is that hard to navigate on college campuses, what will high-schoolers have to say about it?

A BIT ABOUT ME

I’m a senior at Concord Academy, a private college preparatory school with around 400 students in Concord, Massachusetts. I am 18 years old, white, heterosexual, and a cisgender woman. Since Concord Academy is such a small school, gossip gets spread fast — and by “fast,” I mean that if two people hook up at a dance on Friday, by Saturday afternoon most of their grade will know about it. Because of this grapevine, I hear a lot about hookups and hookup culture, and it’s pretty much a mixed bag. Some people hate it, others enjoy it, some don’t participate at all, and I was curious to find out why.

STUDENTS’ THOUGHTS

I sent out a survey to the student body, asking about how their identities influence both their perspective on and their participation in the hookup culture at our school, and these were some choice responses:

How do you define a “hookup”?

“I think that to me, hooking up is when you get together with someone to test out what a relationship could be like by getting with them physically. Could be as small as kissing or as big as having sex. There’s not really a clear cut definition of what it entails.”

How do you feel about the hookup culture at Concord Academy?

“I feel like it can be toxic when it puts pressure on people, especially women, to conform to the Eurocentric beauty standards. It personally stresses me out to think about myself as being seen and assessed for my ‘worthiness’ to be hooked up with. It enforces harmful beauty (especially body) standards to be thin/hourglass, which has countless negative effects on self-image of myself and others. There’s a lot of slut-shaming that stems from the hookup culture as well, and that’s awful.”

I used to really hate the hookup culture because it plays such a large part in the racial/body preference that’s prevalent at CA (aka thin white girls), and I know from personal experience and from my friends’ experiences how damaging this can be, especially in the stage that everyone is at during high school of trying to feel positive about themselves and their bodies. My feelings about if have gotten a little bit less strong for the sole reason that I ended up dating someone that I probably would never have even gotten to know if we hadn’t started as just a hookup.”

Does your gender identity impact your feelings about or your participation in the hookup culture?

“I’m nonbinary, and my particular nonbinariness has resulted in a lot of straight girls “experimenting” by flirting with me (I’m soft butch enough that I don’t seem like a “real” lesbian) and straight men not recognizing me as a dating/hookup option because I’m too masculine. I mean, some of that is race too, because there’s this thing where people for some reason think black femmes look like men.”

People have really judged me for hooking up with boys by saying “I could do better” but they just mean physically. I’m getting shamed for hooking up with someone because I could have hooked up with someone more “attractive” which is totally obnoxious.”

Does your sexuality impact your feelings about or your participation in the hookup culture?

“I’m a semi-out bi girl, and I see a lot of sexualization of queer women at CA where they’re seen as ‘special’ or ‘cool/trendy’ (which is horribly problematic).”

I feel like there’s a lot of privilege in being straight.”

Do your racial and ethnic identities impact your feelings about or your participation in the hookup culture?

“I think hookup culture at CA puts pressure on women to subscribe to Eurocentric beauty standards (i.e. hourglass figure). I haven’t seen race affect hookup culture too much, but I do know there’s fetishization of some women of color (especially black and Latina women) which is dehumanizing and gross.”

“As a white male day student, I think I have far more opportunities to hook up with people both at CA and away from CA while boarders don’t have that last option and people who don’t conform to Eurocentric beauty standards are less well off.”

“As a black femme, I literally would be attracted to people and be like, “I wonder if they’re into black girls” as though that was something normal, as though it would be acceptable to not “be into black girls.” For a long time, I equated my sex/romantic life with my self esteem, and my blackness made this even more confusing and devastating.”

“Being Arab doesn’t mean anything in these circumstances. I’m still half white, so I have that look that makes people say “is he white? or is he more then that?” and from that I have white privilege in most circumstances. And from my experience, women are more or less indifferent either way.”

 

 

Do you agree with these students’ opinions about hookup culture?

Yes!
No way.
My school is a bit different; I’ll tell you about it in the comments!
Created with PollMaker


I was also able to speak with several students and gather their thoughts on Concord Academy’s hookup culture. Take a listen:

COMPARE & CONTRAST

So, how do these students’ thoughts compare to the experiences of others from around the world?

  • “In the Netherlands, 93% of sexually active 15-year-olds reported using condoms or birth control pills at last sexual inter- course, with 17% reporting using both methods (Godeau et al., 2008). Not surprisingly, Dutch adolescents enjoy comparative freedom from anxiety about the physical hazards of sex, as they experience exceptionally low rates of teenage childbearing and STIs. For example, the odds of being infected with gonorrhea for Dutch adolescents are 75 times lower than for U.S. adolescents (Panchaud, Singh, Feivelson, & Darroch, 2000), and less than 1% of adolescent Dutch women give birth (United Nations, 2011).” (4)
  • However, a study of American college women found that “only 69% of females reported condom use during [their] most recent hookup.” Studies of US college students have also found “gender differences in emotional reactions to hooking up, illustrating that there is great variability in attitudes following a hookup. For women, 26.4% reported a positive reaction, 48.7% reported a negative reaction, and 24.9% reported an ambivalent reaction. For men, 50.4% reported a positive reaction, 26.0% reported a negative reaction, and 23.6% reported an ambivalent reaction.” (5)
  • “American culture, rather uniquely among developed nations, fails to support teenagers’ sexual development, to their detriment. Given adequate education, access to reproductive health care services, and open communication with adults, teenagers are capable of successfully navigating the transition to becoming sexually mature adults without encountering unduly negative health outcomes.” (4)

I also spoke with two of the counselors at my school, Jeff Desjarlais and Elise Hoblitzelle, who also teach Sex Ed to 10th graders at Concord Academy, to hear their thoughts on hookup culture.

“I tend to be more anthropological… like, how did we [even] get to the point where we have a dating app?” says Jeff. “And part of it is — and we talk about this in class — that the average age of first period is 12.5, and the average age of marriage is 28, so… now what? If the culture is not requiring you to be married before you have a kid, what do you do for those 16 years? Dating was often courting–” meaning, entering into a relationship with the intention of marriage, “– and that whole ritualistic thing was a social norm, trying to keep purity, and bloodlines, and all that stuff, and when all of that is gone, what do you replace it with? A non-commital sexual relationship, because people are still sexual; I would argue even more sexual. So you’re having all of those feelings, and what do you do with them? Because there’s no cultural filter anymore, about what you should and shouldn’t do.”

“When a student said in class today that there wasn’t a lot of pressure to participate in the hookup culture, I questioned that,  I was like, really?” Elise laughs. “I think that there definitely are some students who think they’re supposed to want it, and are participating because that’s what people are doing, and [they] don’t even really fully recognize, maybe this isn’t what I want, maybe I’m just doing it because this is what my peers are doing and I’m supposed to like it.

CONCLUSION

There are a lot of problems with hookup culture in America — racial biases, misogyny, and homo-, bi-, and trans-phobia, to name a few. Some people enjoy participating in hookup culture, but for others, it can be uncomfortable or mentally draining to have little to no emotional connection. If we improve sex education, as well as improve education surrounding mental health, how to make healthy choices, consent, and how to have healthy relationships (with themselves and with other people), the hookup culture would likely be less stressful — and less confusing — for everyone.

What do you think we can do to improve thought processes and education surrounding hookup culture? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

 

 

CITATIONS

(1)  “Study on College Hook-Ups.” ABC News, ABC News Network, http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=126813&page=1&arubalp=9bb445e7-1004-4417-a38e-6f5b161142

(2)  “The Teen Hookup Culture: What Parents Should Know.” TODAY.com, 6 Feb. 2018, http://community.today.com/parentingteam/post/the-teen-hookup-culture-what-parents-should-know

(3)  Garcia, Justin R., et al. Review of General Psychology : Journal of Division 1, of the American Psychological Association, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 June 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3613286/

(4) Harden, K. Paige. “A Sex-Positive Framework for Research on Adolescent Sexuality.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 9, no. 5, 2014, pp. 455–469., doi:10.1177/1745691614535934, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/2a90/c231040cba3b75b6cac4ae6f67fbb728abd3.pdf

(5) Lewis, Melissa A., et al. Archives of Sexual Behavior, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4397976/

ARTICLES I READ BUT DIDN’T CITE

(1) Vetter, Anne. “It’s Not You, It’s— Hookup Culture and Sexual Subjectivity.” Colby College, 2017, https://digitalcommons.colby.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1866&context=honorstheses

(2) D’Amato, Suzanne. “Modern Romance.” Teen Vogue, TeenVogue.com, 17 June 2015, https://www.teenvogue.com/story/teens-talk-about-sex-and-hooking-up

(3) @ryansager, Ryan Sager. “9 Reasons ‘Hookup Culture’ Hurts Boys Too.” Time, Time, 22 Nov. 2013, ideas.time.com/2013/11/22/9-reasons-hookup-culture-hurts-boys-too/

 

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COMMENTS: 20
  1. April 26, 2018 by Greer.Harnden Reply

    I go to CA as well, and it was super interesting to see this actually being talked about- I shared a lot of these feelings but had never heard them talked about. It was really interesting to hear Jeff and Elise’s opinions too! I think the best thing we can do is to talk about this culture, and I’m glad you started this conversation!

    • April 27, 2018 by Matti Horne Reply

      Thanks Greer!! I loved your page, too. I also really think that starting a conversation about hookup culture is the best way to begin catalyzing change… maybe something to bring up to the new Heads of School?

  2. April 27, 2018 by Margaret C Reply

    Hey! I thought this presentation was very well done. I think this is a great topic to raise awareness about because many adults just don’t get it. I am a senior at a boarding school and I couldn’t agree more when you said that if someone hooks up on friday night more than half your grade knows about it by noon the next day. Although I think there are some issues with how teens hook up in todays world, I don’t particularly have an issue with it because I think that it is really important for people to find out what they like and who they are and that is a lot easier when a conversation like this is started.

    • April 27, 2018 by Matti Horne Reply

      Hey Margaret!! I could honestly not agree more with what you said — I was talking with my advisor about this the other day, and I brought up the fact that it’s so important to figure out how to exist and who you are outside of a relationship, and hookup culture, as problematic as it can be, is a great way to have fun without compromising your individuality or making a huge time commitment to someone else. Although hookup culture definitely has some weak points, I think it has a lot of potential to be a sex-positive and body-positive space, and we should do all we can to start the conversation and shift the culture.

  3. April 27, 2018 by Abby Reply

    Cool stuff, Mattea!

    • April 27, 2018 by Matti Horne Reply

      Thanks so much, Abby!

  4. April 27, 2018 by Elim Lee Reply

    Hey Matti! I’m so glad that you were able to take something that is very present in our everyday lives and ask about how our normalized perception of gender played into it. I can’t help but feel like it was also very modern, something I appreciated a lot. It leads me to the question, do you think 2018 has made gender more intertwined in hookup culture?

    • April 27, 2018 by Matti Horne Reply

      Hey Elim! Thanks so much. As for your question, I definitely think that gender does play a large role in hookup culture, though I don’t know if 2018 in particular has had some effect on that. I think that, as a society, we are definitely becoming more conscious of gender itself, and I’m sure that that also translates into hookup culture.

  5. April 27, 2018 by Shealyn.Kennedy Reply

    I really enjoyed your project because I think that it is really applicable to my school. What really stuck me was the first person’s comment in the interview. When they spoke about who knows about their hookups is out of their control, it really made me think. I totally agree with this that when someone hooks up at our school, so many people know about it and talk about it. There is a loss of power over who knows personal information and I don’t think that it’s fair or okay. I really really like how you used interviews with their identity “labels” over it to help explain what they say. It was really powerful to hear their voices and hear different perspectives on the issue. It’s clear that you put a lot of time and effort into this project and it definitely shows.

    • April 28, 2018 by Mattea Horne Reply

      Thank you so much! I definitely thought that putting my interviewees’ ideas and perspectives in context with their identities was crucial to my project. Since so much of my project was based on personal experience, the interviews were a huge part of it, and it’s somehow easier to talk in person rather than answer an online survey. Plus, I think it brings much more of a personal connection.

  6. April 27, 2018 by Kelsey.Watkins Reply

    Wow I loved your presentation!! I thought it was super relevant to teens today and something that is not often talked about even though many people can relate. I am really glad that your decided to stand up and start this conversation. Even though my school is super far from yours, I can see many parallels between sentiments around hook up culture. After this I will try to be more mindful of when people say things like “she/he/you can do better”. I never really thought about how problematic those words are.

    • April 28, 2018 by Mattea Horne Reply

      Thanks!! My goal with this project was to start conversations and to get people really thinking about some of the behaviors that they (and others) engage in. It certainly made me think a lot more about it, and the same comment that struck you, about how people say ‘oh, they can do better’, is so toxic and ridiculous, and enforces many arbitrary and harmful societal standards.

  7. April 28, 2018 by Abby Reply

    Mattea I love this project!!! I think that this is such a relevant topic and something that isn’t spoken about enough. Although I don’t go to CA hookup culture and its effects on people our age are so prevelant.

    • April 28, 2018 by Mattea Horne Reply

      Thanks so much Abby! I completely agree.

    • April 28, 2018 by Mattea Horne Reply

      Thanks so much Abby! I completely agree; hookup culture is so present in pretty much any high school or college.

  8. April 29, 2018 by Anna Thompson Reply

    Hi! I also go to a private prep school (with around 800 people in the high school) and have yet to read anything on this page that isn’t extremely similar to my own experience and many of the experiences of my classmates. We seem to have almost the exact same hookup cultures at our schools, and I completely agree that there are many issues. Personally, I worry about the gossip that will follow whatever I do, as it seems many of your classmates do as well. It’s certainly tough to block out what people say about you (or the person you’re looking up with), no matter how much confidence you have in yourself. In terms of this project, amazing job with the survey reports and visuals, they were aesthetically pleasing and effective in delivering your message! Additionally, I thought that your video was very powerful, and it was moving to hear your classmates’ voices as they shared their opinions. My question for you is this: what are some of the main improvements/tools that you think should be used in sex-ed to help combat issues surrounding hook-up culture? Overall, awesome job!

    • April 29, 2018 by Mattea Horne Reply

      Hi Anna! I’m glad to hear that you found my project so interesting. As for your question regarding tools to use in sex education — I think that the primary cornerstones should be 1) sex-positive sex education, 2) inclusive sex education (e.g. including the LGBTQIA+ community), and 3) mental health education. 1) sex-positive education means that, while we should teach about the possible consequences of sex (pregnancy, STIs, etc.) we also emphasize that having sex (or not!) is supposed to be a positive experience for all parties — that it should be a choice (consent!!!) and that it’s normal and healthy for people from all genders to want to have sex, not just guys. 2) We need to emphasize that “sex” can take many different forms, and that it’s not just something that happens between a cisgender/heterosexual couple — that there are, in fact, options for physical intimacy for LGBTIQIA+ folk. 3) We also need to educate young adults about mental health, because they need to be equipped with the mental and emotional skills to make their own healthy choices, whether that means “hooking up” with 10 people or not “hooking up” at all. Since the experience should be a positive one, we need to make sure young adults understand how to know when they’re ready to take that step, rather than forcing themselves into it because that’s what everyone else is doing. Another component of mental health education is talking about how to recognize signs of an abusive relationship (psychologically abusive or physically abusive), and strategies to help themselves, friends, or family members leave an abusive or toxic relationship.
      Hope this helps!

  9. April 29, 2018 by Jennifer.Bernardez Reply

    I think it’s interesting that you focused on hookup culture in a high school setting rather than a college and more specifically just at your high school. I think you established well that everybody is confused about/has different definitions to hookup and hookup culture. Overall good job!

  10. April 29, 2018 by Suzy Reply

    Hi, I think you’re project topic was very interesting. I loved how you included direct quotes from people at your school and how they feel about hook up culture. What I don’t get is why adults find it so different from when they were younger. I know that not everyone hooked up and maybe it wasn’t so talked about then, but it’s not like it didn’t happen haha. Overall you did a great job!

  11. April 30, 2018 by Sara Reply

    Hi! I really enjoyed reading your page. It’s affirming to see that, even at a school all the way across the country from my school in California, high schoolers are experiencing the same discomfort around hookup culture. I especially related to your first interviewee in the recording who commented that they feel as if they have no control over who knows what about their sexual/romantic life.

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