We all know that hookup culture harms women, but we rarely talk about what it does to men. Spoiler alert: it’s not good for them either.
We’re often led to believe that truly masculine men are the ones who like to hook up and have no respect for women, but that’s far from the truth. The ugly truth is that the unwritten rules of hookup culture make men just as miserable as the women who participate in it. It also erases what masculinity really is, and we can see examples all around us.
The Truth behind Hookup Culture and Men
Examples of how hookup culture harms men can be seen in books like Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, and Navigating the New Masculinity by Peggy Orenstein and American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus by Lisa Wade.
Looking for Emotional Closeness by Hooking Up
After interviewing several young men (mainly college students), both authors concluded that hookup culture hurts men both similarly and differently than how it hurts women. Orenstein writes, "Although hookups are explicitly meant to be devoid of feeling, guys in college use them in part to experience emotional closeness, in however attenuated or fleeting a fashion."
Orenstein also writes, "Hookup culture presumes that they, unlike girls, lack even a basic capacity for love, that they neither can nor should acknowledge emotional vulnerability — not in others, not in themselves."
Hookup culture presumes that men lack even a basic capacity for love.
One of the many young men Orenstein interviewed expressed that he felt pressure to act a certain way after a hookup. He said, “You're trying to play it cool. I mean, I don't know if she was into it or if she's trying to move on; she doesn't know if I'm into it or if I'm trying to move on, and because of that question mark, you don't want to make yourself vulnerable and get shut down for ‘being vulnerable’.”
So contrary to the popular narrative, many of these young men are searching for emotional closeness and want to experience intimacy and/or romance. They often turn to hookup culture to try to find intimacy but fail.
Hooking Up Is What College Students Are “Supposed To Do”
Sociologist Lisa Wade found similar results in her many interviews with male college students who participated in hookup culture. She said, “Students who are in a hookup culture often feel like hooking up is what they are supposed to be doing, not just something they could do. Hookup culture is that idea that college students should be hooking up and that other ways of engaging sexually are somehow deficient: uncool, regressive, repressed, overly emotional. There’s also a set of rules for interaction that facilitate hooking up and an institutional context that specifically enables hookups, but doesn’t support other kinds of sexual interactions.”
One young man told Wade that he participated in hookup culture when he started college because he felt that he was in “a paradise of girls I’m attracted to.” The luster of hookup culture faded when he “realized the act of finding a girl to take home for a night was full of mind games, shallow attraction, and girls who sometimes only wanted him for his weed. They’d act indifferent or uninterested at the next run-in, and he’d find himself hurt or embarrassed that he remembered nothing about the girl in question except the color of her underwear. There would be gossip, awkwardness, and hurt feelings.”
Most people I knew who participated in hookup culture weren’t happy and weren’t having good sex.
He gave up on hookup culture shortly after to protect himself from heartache. I graduated college four years ago, and I knew several young men who felt this way. Both young men and young women on college campuses feel pressure to participate in hookup culture, often out of a desire to fit in. In my college years, I often felt like I was missing out on something when I would hear friends and acquaintances share their hookup stories. I snapped back into reality when I realized that most people I knew who participated in hookup culture weren’t happy and weren’t having good sex. In my mind, that destroyed the appeal of it altogether.
The Dark Side of Men and Hookup Culture in Pop-Culture
Pop culture makes hooking up seem oh so sexy. Men who are promiscuous and like to hook up are often portrayed as alpha males. Don Draper from Mad Men and James Bond in literally any franchise movie are the perfect examples. Other characters like Nate Archibald and Chuck Bass in Gossip Girl and Simon Bassett and Anthony Bridgerton in Bridgerton are portrayed as studs who love to hook up, but are they really happy? All of these men put on a façade of being a stud, but they’re miserable when they’re having no-strings-attached hookups.
This attitude is also seen in music. Popular artists like The Weeknd and Morgan Wallen often sing about hooking up, but it’s clear to any listener that they’re miserable. In one of his most popular songs, “The Hills,” The Weeknd sings, “I only call you when it’s half-past five, the only time I’d ever call you mine, I only love it when you touch me, not feel me, when I’m f***ed up, that’s the real me.”
Country singer Morgan Wallen takes a similar approach. In his song, “Warning” he sings, “Should’ve come with a warnin’, don’t sit right there, don’t sip on what they’re pourin’, her kiss is gonna kill you in the mornin’, nah, it ain’t gonna end too good, everythin’ about that night I thought I wanted, should’ve come with a warnin’.”
Men who are promiscuous are often portrayed as alpha males.
Wallen takes it a step further in “Livin’ The Dream,” where he gets honest about how being famous doesn’t take this problem away. He sings, “Between alcohol and women and Adderall and adrenaline, I don’t ever get no rest, sign my life away to be the life of the party, yeah, to everybody else.”
So in opposition to everything we're told about how men are really just in it to get laid and are happy with shallow, meaningless sex, we can see that men who participate in hookup culture are often just as miserable as women who do the same. So if this is the case, then why do we keep pushing the narrative that hooking up makes you manly?
Can We Stop Saying Hooking Up Makes You a Man?
There’s an unfortunate cultural narrative that suggests that men need sex to be manly, but is this true? This often has negative side effects regarding mental health and confuses real masculinity with toxic behaviors.
In reality, real masculinity isn't toxic, and associating masculinity with predatory behavior only causes harm. We’ve been tricked into thinking fictional characters like Don Draper from Mad Men are perfect examples of masculinity, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, we should be looking at a different great example of a truly masculine man in pop-culture: Captain America. One character keeps women around for sex or as characters that fulfill his personal fantasy, and the other treats women with respect, has strong leadership skills, and a strong moral compass. We’re often led to believe that masculine men are weak and disrespectful when truly masculine men are actually the opposite.
Being a man doesn’t make you immune from the negative effects of hookup culture.
Hooking up also has negative psychological consequences — not just for women, but for men too. Susan Krauss Whitborne, Ph.D., writes, “Researchers examining the mental health associations of hookup sex also report that participants who were not depressed before showed more depressive symptoms and loneliness after engaging in casual sex.”
In short, being a man doesn’t make you immune from the negative effects of hookup culture. Continuing the narrative that hooking up makes you manly does nothing but harm the mental health and well-being of millions of young men, and often misleads them into thinking that predatory behavior is synonymous with masculinity.
The narrative that hooking up makes a man manly and that men need sex is harmful to men. If we truly care about the future, we should be teaching boys and young men to be chivalrous and respectful, not to find fulfillment in meaningless hookups. Both men and women have a role and a responsibility in ending hookup culture.
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