Sexual Health at Vandy: Hook up culture


Claire Barnett

Sara Saeed headshot, Taken on 10/04/2018 (Photo by Claire Barnett)

Sara Saeed

The sexual disempowerment of young women in college is perpetuated by an unspoken, yet delicate hookup culture. We are complacent to norms that exist and, whether we are aware of it or not, they have become ingrained as the only way to appropriately navigate any hookup or long term relationship. Although we all recognize problems with our sex culture on campus, we maintain it. No one is willing to challenge our established and cherished rules. We preserve them because we fear the consequences of deviating from what is seen as the only acceptable behavior.

It’s a widely acknowledged and openly criticized fact that we use different standards in judging men and women who have casual sex. But the challenge is to begin to scrutinize the just as prevalent, yet implicit expectations both men and women in college internalize. The false assumption that solely men drive and uphold hook up culture is used as justification for their control of it. Whether a woman enjoys casual sex or is seeking an emotional connection with a partner, she must approach sex in college with our precise rules in mind to avoid social stigmas or seemingly inevitable awkward situations.

Such a small student population at Vanderbilt, and an even smaller subset of people who have casual sex, create a particularly rigid hookup culture. Those who are looking for connections beyond one time hookups and women who simply enjoy casual sex all lose in this game we play. The only ones who win are men looking to have casual sex.

Women and men approach casual hookups with different expectations for themselves and their partners. Pleasure becomes one sided when women feel obliged to impress or please their partner, while this social pressure isn’t as emphasized for men. It’s not surprising to hear that a friend faked an orgasm or only gives and never receives oral sex. This becomes a cycle of men prioritizing their own pleasure and desires over their partner’s and regarding women who hook up casually as inherently less deserving of pleasure. A sex positive woman can slowly internalize this lack of respect and mutual understanding and, eventually, turn into one who second guesses herself and changes her principles to control how she is treated or perceived.

A relationship between two casual partners is on the man’s terms. Even if a woman has no interest in anything beyond a physical relationship, she must actively prove she isn’t seeking emotional attachment to avoid coming off as clingy, emotional, or attached. This concern is far less prevalent with men who are already assumed to want sex and nothing more. On the other hand, men who seek a relationship have to jump over this hurdle. If you eventually gain the courage to express your feelings to a partner, you’re risking an uncomfortable conversation, getting a label you don’t want, or the entire relationship culminating into an occasional awkward half smile as you pass each other in Rand.

It’s hard to resist the model of sex in college that we all adhere to, but it’s worth it to occasionally scrutinize why we feel the need to tolerate a culture that, frankly, not many of us are benefitting from.