“On the plantation where I grew up in the forties were some tough people and mean people and hardworking people; they could load more cane, plow a better row, control their women — most of them would brag about having more than one woman.” — Ernest J. Gaines, African American author (b. 1933)
“Hooking up” is casual sex as opposed to long-term serious attachment or love, saying “yes” with anyone for any reason as a free agent with no (or low-level) emotions. It is not monogamous nor committal. It is without attachment, temporary and not permanent. Think shacking up. Think no strings attached.
Rules: You’re not supposed to care. You’re not supposed to be looking for love, nor admit to wanting trust, care, intimacy, or feelings of closeness, connection or companionship. Rules of courtesy are dropped with hooking up.
We overestimate other people’s fun, laughter, outward smiles. Not everyone is getting laid tonight no matter what the TV promises, paraphrased from Kurt Vonnegut. But researchers* have found that respondents wanted “friends with benefits,” dignity, honor, mutual respect, and consensual sex with sentiment. “Be nice. Want me.”
“The decision of women to have sex outside of a relationship,” Jane Hornsby wrote in Mac Weekly 092013, “no matter how many times it happens or with whom is neither shameful nor provocative. It does not subvert them to the wishes of men. It does not show them to have any less integrity. It does not place them on a different level than any other woman.”
Think slut, bad girls, this property is condemned, degraded, i.e., to “lower,” cheapen. Women told researchers they feel compelled to flirt, to provoke, arouse and stimulate men, and yet they don’t want men to decide their value, to discard them like toilet paper.
In sex, only four percent of men are harmful predators and admit to repeatedly taking advantage of intoxicated women at frat house parties with alcohol that lessens inhibition. Careless (“I didn’t mean it!”) means carefree.
Does hooking up dominate U.S. culture? Is it the purview of young, White, privileged, good- looking, cool, buff male athletes in the singles life? Does a “hot” look across the room guarantee pleasure and meaning? Does it allow space for abstinence?
“Am I nerdy? Unattractive? Being excluded? A failure? Prude? Abnormal? Is sexual activity mandatory? Is it wrong to “hold out,” to wait? Hetero women are hurt if men find us repulsive. We want men to want us but not to trick us for entertainment or distraction.
Surveys show 70 percent admit they want sex with emotion and that women’s main goal is still to please men or to be seen as able to do so. “Sometimes I wonder,” Katherine Hepburn said, “if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.” Hepburn was not referred to in polite company as a slut despite her relationship with Spencer Tracy, a married man.
“Sexual expression should not happen without love and commitment,” wrote Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and Zen master, in Peace With Every Step. “In sexual relations be aware of future suffering that may be caused.”
*Survey courtesy of < [email protected]>.
Elizabeth Ellis is the mother of three grown children, a college graduate, a 10-year veteran of the Foreign Service and a native of the Twin Cities. She welcomes reader responses to [email protected].