Hooking Up Is Hard To Do

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Today it is supposed to be 70 to 75 degrees, depending on which meteorologist you believe, which means that it is finally upon us: Twitterpation Time. When all the googley-eyed couples emerge from hibernation and begin hand holding everywhere, causing middle aged women to coo and bitterly single people to become homicidal. A time when everyone is so blissfully happy at finally seeing the sun that we want to screw like bunnies. Or hopefully not like bunnies, because jackrabbit sex benefits no one, gentlemen.

To be fair, every season is hookup season because we are not animals that go into heat. And of course, hookups are not really hard to do. With the right combination of Paces ambiance, inebriation, and blessing from God, most of us could find someone willing to go home with us at least most evenings, if we are not even remotely picky. And the basic naughty details should have been taught to you by some combination of Disney movies, hormones, awkward talks with your parents, porn, and those awful movies they show you in sixth grade when they make the boys and girls go into separate rooms (depending on what you are doing). But, as the above example may suggest, hooking up is significantly harder to do correctly or well than it is to do in general.

For those of you who haven’t yet figured it out, America, where you are currently even if you don’t always live here, has some really messed up views about sex. Going into total detail about these views would take many pages and at least one rage blackout, so suffice it to say that hookups are seen as a nasty evil activity only practiced by sinners who will definitively have an STD. Alternatively, the hookup culture contingent paints it as a no strings attached, easy as slice and bake cookies, sexfest. Culture is dumb.

My basic views about hookups can be summarized into two points that I’ll expand on, problematize and more for the rest of this article. The first is that hookups, just like every other relationship, are not easy, no-thought endeavors. The second is that you should never do anything that you are ashamed of or do not want to do for any reason.

Hookups can be complicated because even though sex (or kissing) doesn’t have to be tied to feelings, it can be. Hooking up with someone you know often becomes complicated in some way because it is hard to get two people with a preexisting relationship on the exact same page about a change in that relationship. What happens, however, tends to be semi-unpredictable and varies wildly based on situational factors of the relationship and the hookup, making it really hard to generalize about in a 1500 word article.

If we were living in New York after graduation with its 6-googolplex single people, or if we attended a state school larger than the island of Manhattan, hookups might be totally happy go lucky. You could find someone, spend an evening (or afternoon, or whatever) with her and then never see her again. But in this incredibly shrinking campus bubble, no one stays a random for long. I hooked up with someone a while ago who I had never heard of before, and within a month I found out that he was my ex-boyfriend’s coworker, a good friend’s lab partner, and leader of a campus organization that eight different friends were part of. And then I had to hear his name on a regular basis forever.

Once you know who someone is, you will see her everywhere. On this campus, hookups don’t disappear: he’ll be in your seminar in a semester, she’ll be dating one of your friends in a year, or he’ll be shooting you an “I’ve seen you naked” smile in Sharples in a week. This is not to say you have to be thrilled about these prospects in order to hook up with someone, but you have to be aware that they are all possibilities. Of course it can also work the other way, when you want to date someone and realize that you have hooked up with one of her good friends and have to have that uncomfortable conversation. I’ve been there, and I would rate it as worse than having a shower that hovers a few degrees above room temperature, but better than going through an issue of Cosmopolitan with your mother. Clearly not jell-o wrestling with bears level, but still not enjoyable.

And before y’all jump down my throat for that second point, I am not suggesting that you should be ashamed of hookups. One of my father’s friends once told me while quite plastered that whatever you do in your life, you will have to wake up with yourself the next morning. And while I doubt she remembers telling me this and probably did not appreciate waking up with her hangover, for some reason I like it a lot. To me, this means that you should hold yourself to your own standards, because it’s not a great feeling to wake up and realize you don’t like who you were the night before. Of course, there are ways to keep this from happening.

You need to confront you own ideas about sex, hookups, and relationships. You need to figure out your feelings about sex and what situations you are comfortable doing it in. Your ideas about what constitutes a hookup, how many bases you are willing to round within the context of one, your preferences of hookup versus relationship, etc. These are things that you should think about by yourself, way before the possibility of naked time comes up. Whatever you determine your values are, you’ll ultimately be happier if you stick to them.

Within the context of each hookup, you should also ask yourself what your motivations are for doing it specifically. I don’t really care what your answer is, whether it’s “I want to have some fun” or “revenge” as long as it is an answer that you are okay with (though revenge hookups, in my experience, are never satisfying). The one exception I have to this is hooking up with someone because you like her and want to have a relationship with her. While relationships do come spring from hookups sometimes, in my very scientific made-up statistic, this happens like 5% of the time. They’re not great odds. The fact of the matter is that most people view their hookup partners and their relationship partners differently. And going into a hookup with preexisting feelings ups the likelihood that you get hurt.

You should also try to avoid hooking up with alcohol. I’m a realist, so I know this is the least likely to be followed, but there are a variety of reasons that you should at least hear me out. Anyone who has drunk a single drop of alcohol is not able to legally give consent, which means that if your partner believes the next morning that she did not give consent, even if she said yes while drunk, she is correct and can charge you with rape. This law exists for a reason: people under the influence of booze don’t always know what they’re doing. Usually after a drop people do, but the police have to draw the line somewhere. And often while under the influence, people do things they wouldn’t do sober. The other problem is that because of the puritan values still present in a lot of our society, it’s common for people to use alcohol as a buffer for hookups, either to not be ashamed on their actions in the moment or in order to “blame it on the alcohol” later. Again, I’m reiterating that you should not do something that you are ashamed of and use alcohol responsibly when mixing it with sex.

Other than that, there are a lot of things that should be obvious, but still need to be said because sometimes we unfortunately forget.

1. You do not owe anyone anything.

Not for walking you home. Not for talking to you for two hours. Not for getting you a drink. Never.

2. If you do not want something, say no.

Partners are not mind readers, and in a sexual system that doesn’t value asking permission, silence is often read as consent. If you don’t want an advance, you need to say so. It is the only way to be sure that your partner or unwanted partner gets your message.

3. You have the right to change your mind at any point.

Again, say no when you want to. A good person will respect it.

4. Use Protection.

I’m not naïve enough to assume that you ask for and trust a report of a clean bill of health from hookups, so instead you need to use protection always. For all types of sex, including oral. Condoms and dental dams are available at Worth, though in a semi-problematic policy, you have to request dental dams specifically.

5. Call someone out for making you uncomfortable.

If someone is hitting on you when you don’t want it, say something about it then, rather than when they make a move.

6. Ask for what you want.

I once hooked up with a guy who told me he had never had a girlfriend, but I could tell the second that he started kissing me because it became very clear that no one had ever felt comfortable enough to tell him that he was doing it very badly. If something isn’t doing it for you, make nice, gentle suggestions for changes.

7. Hooking up should be enjoyable.

If you are not having fun, either change something or stop. It’s just not worth it to have a crappy time.

23 comments

  1. 0
    Yoyo Boat says:

    I was hoping more people would respond to the content of the article rather than the details of its language.

    Nice job, SM. We are rarely honest about our attitudes towards sex, as well as our sex lives. I find this to be especially true when it comes to hook-ups.

    I have come to terms that, for me, hook-ups at Swarthmore have not been and probably will never be worth it unless it's with someone I at the very least trust and you know, LIKE. These quarters are cramped and the experience has never been all that memorable (in the good sense) considering that a hook-up is typically about the hook-up, and seldom about chemistry with the other person. But who knows? Maybe I just don't know how to pick 'em. Or maybe my attitudes are even too romantic for hook-up culture. Or maybe the cliché mumblings and canned courtship that usually preambles the soon to follow hook-up just becomes irritating and frankly off-putting after a while. It's become a mechanized affair.

    I am bored by it. I am bored by our culture's constant insistence upon it. I am bored by the critics who are scandalized by it. I'm just bored, bored, bored. Now of course there are exceptions. Some hook-ups can be worth it and are. But pulling from my own experiences and those of my close friends, they seem to be few and far between as most of us describe the majority of our one-night courtships to be fairly average, fine, or mediocre. Sometimes it's even "ohmygodwhatthef*ckwasIthinking" BAD. I'm not in favor of an anti-non commital sex league over here. I just ask why perpetuate the frequent myths about the good or the evil in hook-ups? Maybe, regardless of how uneventful the experience is, it's an experience nonetheless? I don't know…

    Anyways, I am sharing my experiences and wondering if anyone feels the same or differently. I agree with SM's general rule: Do it if it feels good/right/palatable/whatever. Don't if it's anything less.

  2. 0
    K '12 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    This is a great piece. I wish someone had told me these things when I was a freshman, particularly the list at the bottom.

    Re: using protection for oral sex… I've always felt that that seems much, much more awkward than using condoms for hetero intercourse. I'm not sure if this is inherent to the act, in that it would just get in the way more in those circumstances, or because our generation doesn't seem to expect partners to use it for oral in the way we expect it of them in penetrative sex. Do you have any facts'n'figures on the relative risks of unprotected oral sex (as opposed to unprotected penetrative)? Or any advice on making it more comfortable?

  3. 0
    Borne Stupid says:

    wow, wow, wow, wow wow owowwowowowowow so many points made just for the sake of making points.
    the baseball metaphor for sex was most likely developed by males, so yeah of course it's from a male perspective. a heterosexual male perspective, but that's just because that's who came up with it. i fail to see how it's homophobic in any sense and no evidence is offered. if there was a similar metaphor developed by homosexuals would it be heterophobic?

  4. 0
    Will Treece ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Yeah – suddenly using "she" exclusively in the paragraph about assault made me wonder for a moment why SM didn't make more of an effort to switch it up…but I don't think Susana's critique is helpful. I don't want to live in a world where people avoid bringing up female nonconsent in hypothetical/abstract situations for fear of being politically incorrect.

  5. 0
    Disillusioned says:

    I feel like people at this school sometimes take the gender debate way too far. It seems like every other article I read in the Daily Gazette criticizes someone about their "inappropriate" choice of gender in some way or another. Sometimes it doesn't matter, for example, which gender public safety officer is asked to watch a tape of a personal manner. The author of this article made a conscious effort to not offend anyone and switch gender pronouns. I think that was very obvious. That should be enough.

    Yes, gender issues are important, but commenting on them in so many articles totally takes away from the real issues that the articles discuss. Can we stop bringing this up unless there is an obvious problem that may truly offend someone?

  6. 0
    Argos says:

    Ursula K Le Guin came up with e (pronounced "eh"), es, emself, and it rolls off the tongue a lot easier than ze/hir. Also it's Le Guin.

  7. 0
    Peter '11 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    It's awkward because pretty much all intentional language reforms are awkward – they didn't develop naturally from the language, and putting a highly uncommon letter like Z in a super-common context like a pronoun just makes matters worse. "Ze" will flat-out never be adopted into mainstream English.

    On the other hand, "they" has a record of being used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun since the 15th Century, and seems to be the way language is increasingly evolving. That would be a much more logical one to push for.

  8. 0
    I'll play ball says:

    That really should read "using language awkwardly", because like Paul Cato and presumably SM, I don't think that "ze" is somehow inherently awkward. It would be great if ze wasn't awkward in a context like this and was just a normal part of everyone's daily use of language. I'm not sure pressuring sex columnists to use the word will get us closer to that linguistic ideal, and I'm not sure reaching that linguistic ideal would even get us a whole lot closer to a real ideal of social justice/equality. There is room for reasonable disagreement here, and social-context reasons for not wanting to use "ze" (ie "I don't want to use that word, it makes me feel/sound/read awkward") shouldn't just be dismissed offhandedly.

  9. 0
    The Serial Monogamist ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Oh wow. Okay, I want to address a lot of these points at once.

    @Paul's first points, I'm touched that you defended me and called me your beloved, and while I agree that flame wars don't often help anyone, I welcome Stephan and Susana's comments primarily for some of the reasons that you mention later in a different context – because of society's limited views of sex and gender. Specifically in Stephan's comment, I think what he is responding to is more privilege than ignorance based – The fact that as a cis, straight person, I have not thought as much about the implications of "ze" and maybe I should have. Even small issues in the scheme of things related to these complicated issues have value in being pointed out and acknowledged, used as food for thought, and then hopefully moving on with a slightly better understanding.

    @Stephan, Paul is right that I was referring to the grammatical awkwardness of using "ze", especially within the context of an article with a primarily casual tone. (At this point, use of ze seems to be primarily limited to academic texts) Because I saw switching between pronouns as a viable alternative, I admittedly didn't give it much thought further than that, but if a number of people voiced a preference for "ze", I would certainly use it in my articles in the future.

    My main focus on pronouns in the article was a conscious decision to rely heavily on second person, emphasizing the personal, individual nature of decisions surrounding hookups and casual sexual activity. A side effect of that decision is that there were few instances in which third person pronouns were necessary. I understand why the case of the offending alcohol paragraph can be seen as problematic, I probably should have seen it at the time, and all I can really say beyond it is that I'm human and will strive to do better next time.

    As for the bases metaphor, I think the actual qualifications for the bases vary wildly based on location and background. In the original version that I heard in middle school, home base was oral sex (I think second base was french kissing and third was manual sex). And I think I've heard at least six different versions since then. There's a pretty famous XKCD comic spoofing the ambiguous nature of the metaphor. Besides the fact that baseball is traditionally male, due to this ambiguity I'm not sure that it is necessarily as misogynistic/homophobic as you've said. In the article, I aimed to use it as a bit of textual variety after saying "hooking up" hundreds of times, but I will definitely consider alternatives in the future.

    @ Paul's last point, I'm glad to have made you think, and I realize that I bring up a lot of these sexual norms without going into much detail. I would be interested in writing a column expanding on these ideas, what makes them problematic, and what we can do, on an individual and slightly larger level, to change them, if that sounds like something that people would be interested in reading.

  10. 0
    Paul Cato says:

    With all due respect to both of you,

    SM has made a BIG effort to respect sexual differences and not pigeonhole aspects of sex to one group or another. I feel you two are reading far too much into the article and responding unfairly.

    Most people read the DG for the sake of comment-drama and while it is very entertaining and frequently thought-provoking, those instances wherein the debate has little to do with the article’s subject-matter are unfair to the author and take away from the article’s integrity (now one can argue my post is simply furthering this peripheral debate but I feel this act of hypocrisy is justified given the fact that I'm defending my beloved SM).

    As a member of a minority group I understand the urge to correct/call someone out when I read/hear them make an ignorant/naive comment. But I must remind/ask myself: 1) "let he without sin cast the first stone" (the gender restrictive "he" is used because the statement is a quote) & 2) Am I doing this for the sake of the other person’s education or simply for the sake of calling someone out/bringing attention to an issue I care for (and if so is this REALLY the forum or a good opportunity to widen understanding on the issue?).

    Now I understand that there are times at which people need to be called out for their ignorance, but I feel that this should occur only when the ignorance is widespread or to the point of causing painful offense or when the person making the comments has done so with malice. Though as a straight-male I might not be deemed qualified give a fair judgment as to whether this article meets the first condition, but with regards to the second I feel that SM's gender switching is proof that the article was written with little malice.

    Stephan, you call SM out for their control over the section on consent, implying the use of only one gender pronoun was consciously overlooked. I see no basis for such an assumption – it is more likely that SM wrote the article with a focus on her topic and that that section/paragraph ended up being what it was for the sake of fluidity.

    With that in mind I also feel you have taken SM’s comments on the pronoun “ze” the wrong way. SM said the awkwardness of the pronoun comes with its usage, presumably, in writing. They made no comment regarding those who support the use of the comment nor did they imply any resistance to linguistic change. SM, a writer – a Swarthmore student writing a column on relationships for college students – simply wants to avoid using a pronoun that readers might be unfamiliar with. Now you may argue that SM and all DG writers begin using “ze” for the sake of progress and change, but, again, is this really the forum for that? It might take away from the purpose from the column – SM’s ultimate concern.

    I want to end with one last point, and though I hope it doesn’t bring about another DG comment battle, I feel it needs to be said. Several times throughout the article SM mentions the taboos unjustly associated with sex in America. Unfortunately these taboos restrict our discussions and understandings of the act to something vulgar when oftentimes the act is a beautiful expression of love. The only way to bring sex’s association with love is to push thoughtful, honest discussions of the topic in the manner SM has done here. Yet it is difficult to hold such discussions when one risks being called out as has been done in the posts before mine. Such attitudes contribute to the very taboos that make sex uncomfortable to discuss and in my opinion make change harder to achieve. SM has done a great thing: they have taken the subjects of relationships and hooking up and addressed them seriously and candidly. As such we should appreciate/applaud their efforts rather call them out, as has been done above.

    The article made me reconsider many of my thoughts on the issue, but had I stumbled upon it simply because I saw a comment fight brewing I might have missed those opportunities of illumination.

  11. 0
    Stephan Lefebvre says:

    @ Serial Monogamist

    Overall your article was very good. Here are a few comments about issues that are admittedly peripheral:

    "Ze" is often used as a gender-neutral pronoun by trans people and queers. I understand that it might be new for you, but saying that you "hate using ze because I find it really awkward" is kinda' problematic. It comes across as you rejecting vocabulary/concepts created by marginalized people because you find it awkward. I would say that gender-neutral pronouns aren't something that you should feel negatively about, just like you shouldn't really feel negatively about someone identifying as genderqueer, trans or whatever. It is something you take in, learn about, and try to start using. Resisting to change one's linguistic practices like that is not so different from issues with male pronouns used as universals.

    On the other hand, there are many ways to try to make language gender neutral. Switching-off is pretty standard. You say "unfortunately i that paragraph there ended up only being one example" – I don't really think it was chance/fortune, I kinda' think you had control over what you were writing about, so I think Susana's comment still stands.

    Lastly, you reference bases when talking about hookups, you say: "Your ideas about what constitutes a hookup, how many bases you are willing to round within the context of one…".
    The whole baseball metaphor for sex is quite misogynist and homophobic. It puts a lot of emphasis on penetrative sex (home run), and almost always implies a male perspective (a male touching a woman's breasts is often considered 2nd base). I think misogyny/homophobia is pervasive in society, so please just take this as a gentle reminder to be on the look-out for those tendencies in common phrases, especially the ones about sex!

    On the other hand, you might 'catch'' me using such euphemistic metaphors as batting for the other team, switch-hitting and pitcher/catcher… i bet there is a thesis somewhere about the sexual economies of baseball, haha.

  12. 0
    The Serial Monogamist ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    @Susana, It's an issue. I hate using ze because I find it really awkward and so I generally try to switch off from example to example, and unfortunately in that paragraph there ended up only being one example, so it reads badly. In every case of pronoun use in any of these articles, it applies for all people: male, female, or nonidentified.

  13. 0
    Susana ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I don't love the use of gender pronouns in this article. I understand we can't just go around say he/she/it/aack all the time, but particularly in the paragraph regarding consent, it would have been nice to offer an alternative to female nonconsent.

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