When we were young, Disney movies and fairytales painted us an idyllic version of how courtship occurs. Boy meets girl, sparks fly, they fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after.
But as we got older, the reality of modern dating became an entirely different story. Instead, as fate would have it, we ended up in the generation of Tinder, one night stands, side chicks, and rising STD rates. Lucky us!
Now, the differences between today’s dating scene and what our parents and grandparents experienced can’t be overstated. And one of the relationship areas that’s seen the most changes is probably how we treat, well, sex.
While historically sex has been an act of pair-bonding between partners and directly tied to procreation, hookup culture has in many ways turned sex into a merely recreational activity. Having casual sex with friends, acquaintances, or sometimes even full-on strangers is becoming more and more normalized, so much so that it’s actually even celebrated as “freeing” or “empowering” in many women’s magazines and other pop-culture media.
I won’t lie, I understand why the pull of pleasure-on-demand, no-strings-attached encounters have become so pervasive in an era of anonymity and convenience. After all, sex is by design meant to be fun, plus it’s also technically exercise (win-win!). So the sexual revolution seems like almost an inevitability when we consider how human nature tends to demand more of anything it considers good. But when looking at how the relationships and mental and physical health of so many of my peers have been affected, I can’t help but wonder, is this really what’s best for us?
The Science Says We’re Meant for Monogamy
As fun of an idea as hookup culture might seem like on paper, for many people the reality is much more somber. Feelings of regret, loneliness, and a lack of fulfillment are unfortunate consequences of casual sex that rarely get the same amount of screen time as the more titillating aspects. With how glamorized casual sex is in the media, people who don’t count themselves as fans may end up thinking that they’re the strange ones. But when we look at the science behind sex, the reluctance to engage in casual encounters actually makes a lot of sense.
Feelings of regret, loneliness, and a lack of fulfillment are unfortunate consequences of casual sex.
Oxytocin, commonly referred to as the “love hormone,” is one of the chemicals your body releases during sex. It encourages bonding behavior in us, and it also inclines us toward trust, empathy, and relaxation. This same hormone is released in women during childbirth and breastfeeding, and considering how strong we know the bonds are between mothers and their children, it should give you an idea of how powerful this chemical can be. Oxytocin has been cited as one of the biological mechanisms promoting monogamy in humans, which puts our bodies in direct opposition with the concept of casual sex.
The feelings of emptiness and unhappiness that people report after casual hookups aren’t a sign that they just need to “get over it” or that they’re “too clingy.” They’re a completely natural response to pair-bonding with someone who won’t actually be sticking around for the close relationship your brain has now conditioned you for. And what’s even more distressing is that some people may think that yet another hookup is exactly what’s needed to cure that hollowness. In reality though, engaging in more sex that lacks the accompanying emotional intimacy will likely only exacerbate the feelings of emotional vulnerability, not heal them.
Why We Should Protect Ourselves
Whether it’s unplanned pregnancies, STIs, the potential for emotional hurt, or the issue of putting yourself in a physically vulnerable position, as much as our culture might try to deny it, the truth is that sex has risks. And while in some cases these risks will always be there, they can at least be mitigated by having a foundation of trust with our partners.
The value of choosing people who care about us, who are invested in our well-being, and who are in it for the long-run is often touted when it comes to our professional lives and social circles, but protecting ourselves when it comes to romance is just as essential. No matter how much our generation may hear that hookup culture is what’s modern and liberating, we’re fighting against our brains and our bodies to believe that sex doesn’t really matter.
We’re fighting against our brains and our bodies to believe that sex doesn’t really matter.
And while there may not be much value in eschewing casual sex just because it wasn’t done in “the good ol’ days,” there’s absolutely something to be said for making prudent choices that aim to safeguard our emotional and physical well-being.
As modern women, we invest so much time in evaluating the right schools, jobs, companies, and homes, so why not exercise the same level of diligence when choosing who we allow closest to us?