Why do you think campus hookups are something we should be concerned about?
When my students are happy, empowered, feeling good about themselves, and their self-esteem is high, I don't worry. When I see them depressed or ambivalent or second-guessing themselves—that sends a red flag. This is where I need to come in, sit and listen to them, and try to respond if I can. Even though most students will say they think a hookup can be good, the culture of hooking up is causing a lot of struggle and ambivalence, and that worries me.
How do you define "hookup culture"?
Three criteria I heard from students were that, one, it involves sexual intimacy—anything from kissing to sex. Some people assume "hookup" means heterosexual intercourse, but that's not the case. It might involve heterosexual intercourse or homosexual intercourse, or it might just be kissing. Two: it's brief—anything from ten minutes to a whole night. It doesn't mean it's a one-night-stand. And three: don't get attached. You're supposed to walk away emotionally unscathed. There's a social contract to the hookup—students know they're supposed to walk away not caring. What tends to be difficult is the walking away and not caring. They find that they're not so good at it. In theory, the hookup is a liberating sexual encounter with no strings attached. And some students experience it as liberating, or like having it as an option. But this is where talking about a culture of hooking up is important. Instead of the hookup being this exciting option, it becomes a norm. Students are limited to this one form of sexual intimacy.
In the '90s, you say hookup culture was "a town" people would visit, but weren't immersed in. Why is it different today?
When I went to college, it was something I could choose, but I didn't have to live within it for four years. When you walk out on your average college campus today, you're living in a culture of hooking up. If you don't want to live in that world, you have to opt out. There are social repercussions for doing that. Some students felt they needed to move off-campus because they didn't want to be part of it. To me that sounds extreme. You should be able to live on campus and not have to worry about it.
How is it different from the free-love movement and second-wave feminism in the '60s?
Even that phrase "free love" implies freedom and choice. The '60s was a response to restrictive sexual norms. You weren't supposed to be having sex, so you choose not to be a part of that way of thinking. There was also a lot of talk about love. Now, all these super-empowered, smart young people talk about hookup culture as if it's coercive. They're compelled to participate. All this sense of freedom is gone. It's not so much they're exercising liberation or responding to something restrictive. They're conforming.