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.
This week, DG Roundtable is discussing hook-up culture at Swarthmore. This week’s guest is Laura Hyder ’16, a Sexual Health Advocate on campus.
avishwanath (Arjun Viswanath, Opinions Editor) [6:38 PM] Hi everyone, this week we will be discussing “hook up culture” at Swarthmore. The term has a number of different meanings to different people, and we want to explore those differences along with the effects of “hook up culture” for Swatties and the types of relationships that Swarthmore creates generally. Joining us for this week’s chat as a guest is Laura Hyder ’16.
isabelknight (Isabel Knight, Managing Editor) [6:55 PM] Here are my general thoughts: while I am sure there are ways to hook up with someone in a healthy way, I personally think the widespread conception that Swarthmore has such a strong hook up culture can be constricting. There are some people who find it liberating in that you can get physical intimacy without commitment, but I don’t know if that is what the majority of us really want. But because we assume others either don’t have the time for a commitment or friends with benefits, etc. we hook up. This isn’t based off of anything scientific, this is the sense of Swarthmore that I get from casual conversation and Yik Yak. But my read might be totally skewed.
allisonhrabar (Allison Hrabar, Co-Editor in Chief) [7:00 PM] It’s interesting that you mention time commitment, Isabel, since it was my first consideration when we decided to talk about hooking up/dating at Swat. I hate to talk about “hook-up culture” because it so often turns into generational fear mongering, but I do think there’s something particular about Swat’s environment that encourages either casual hook ups or Swat marriages, and very little in between.
avishwanath [7:15 PM] It’s also important to remember that, mathematically, the people who hook up are likely to do so multiple times, so that a majority of hookups are committed by a minority of individuals who are hooking up (think the 80/20 rule). But I have to say that I’m not sure that repeated hookups offer a true release to the stress of Swarthmore. I am not saying that hooking up is inherently wrong, but I think hooking up often leads to more stress – before (Saturday at 8 PM) and after (Sunday at 11 AM), such that I am not sure that hooking up provides a real happiness. Of course, this is not to say it can’t at all, but as a general rule, I’m fairly skeptical.
isabelknight [7:22 PM] Yes, our professors assign us a lot of work, but I think our sense that we never have any time is largely self-imposed, and I think it’s a big problem in a lot of different ways, not just dating/hooking up. We never feel like we have the time to see the lecture or go to the workshop, etc. and I think our community is worse off because of it. So we don’t think we have the time to go see a play with a friend or potential significant other/whatever you want to call it. But I think it’s a fantasy and we could totally have the time to do those things.
I also think we see things as being too black and white. If we are hooking up with someone, we are afraid they might think it weird to actually watch Netflix or just hang out and talk because we see ‘hooking up’ as having such narrow confines. Adding to what Arjun said, I also think hooking up might not necessarily make us happier, and probably part of that has to do with the fact that there often seems to be no in-between. That seems to cause a lot of our anxiety, because each of those comes with a set of norms that we don’t necessarily want to accept wholesale.
isaacl (Isaac Lee, Assistant Opinions Editor) [7:28 PM] I wouldn’t say hook up culture is caused by stress or a lack of time to commit to a relationship. If anything having too much free time would also make people have more time to party and hook up. I would say it has to do with morality and customs, and so it is indeed a generational thing. Increasing secularism, popular culture, and technology augments this phenomenon as society breaks away from the nuclear family model.
allisonhrabar [7:31 PM] I’m gonna disagree with that in the strongest possible way: I don’t think casual sex is anything new (and Scientific American would back me up). That said, I think there are differences across cultures and technology has changed both the way we hook up, and the way we talk about it.
isaacl [7:42 PM] I’d put this article here.
“One big way they have changed is that today’s students are more likely to report having had sex with a friend (71.0%) compared to past students (55.7%).”
I think that’s the key point about why we think hook up culture exists. It’s not about frequency of sex, but about whether you’re doing it with someone you’re in a relationship with or not.
allisonhrabar [7:44 PM] That’s a really good distinction to draw, thank you.
anniet [8:01 PM] Just to echo some of what’s been said, I don’t think it’s so much that Swat has a huge hookup culture so much as there’s no casual dating culture: it’s Swat marriage or hookups and not a lot else in between. And those are both pretty extreme experiences in their own ways.
lphyder (Laura Hyder ’16, Sexual Health Advocate) [8:02 PM] Hi guys! Thanks for inviting me to talk about hookup culture tonight! Something I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand is the transition from one-time or even “casual” hookups to friends with benefits situations (or other consistent hookup dynamics, which are all, to me, a type of relationship, regardless of the presence or absence of a romantic component). Maneuvering these transitions can be stressful in that they require very careful communication. It seems to me that there is often a lapse in communication, when one person tries to initiate the transition and the other is “scared away” or “reads into it.” I think a lot of swatties would love a more stable (and perhaps stressful in a different way re: Allison’s question) relationship with a sexual partner without the time and emotional commitment of a romantic partnership. But since this sweet spot seems to be so illusive and if obtained, pretty volatile, I see swatties leaning towards hookup culture (read: partying+hooking up).
lphyder [8:05 PM] Annie, I definitely agree with you about the absence of casual dating culture. I think my thoughts on non-romantic hookups relates to casual dating as well. Unfortunately, a casual date, which is supposed to be “low key,” ends up requiring a lot of communication– going on a date doesn’t have to be “I love you, I want to be with you” but the idea someone might feel this way in response to a dinner invitation is stressful and possibly/probably(?) aversive.
kkakkar1 (Keton Kakkar, Webmaster) [8:10 PM] Is there a way we can imagine a space that would make the social scene more conducive toward casual dating? I.e. alternatives to dance floor type parties that are still nighttime social spaces.
lphyder [8:13 PM] I would say the reduction of participation in hookup culture each year isn’t really a product of an increase in relationships but more related to finding satisfaction and stress in other places (e.g. more investment in your own interests, friends, and even alone time). Also, despite what I said about causal dating, it seems to me that it does increase to some extent by senior year.
allisonhrabar [8:20 PM] Do we think the social scene/work load would have to change to shift the way Swatties date and hook up, or is Isabel right and we’re all just creating limitations in our heads?
kkakkar1 [8:27 PM] It’s probably a bit of both. The way we as a campus structure work and social lives on some level has to affect the way people interact, but there definitely exist ways to get around structure and just do what you want.
isabelknight [8:41 PM] I don’t think the work load would necessarily have to change. I do think we should have a lighter workload but not because I think it would have a big effect on dating culture. I think centrally what I would like is for people to have the bravery to exist outside of the rigid social boundaries we set for ourselves. A lot of people think substances like alcohol might be a way to solve this problem, but I strongly disagree. I think often it makes us more awkward or we use it as a crutch to do things we are afraid to do in real life, and then when we are sober we are even more inhibited. But I think I am very much in the minority in this opinion, given that I am one of the few seniors who don’t drink here. No idea how to accomplish any of this though.
allisonhrabar [8:44 PM] I think Laura does have a point: I’ve seen more and more students casually date as they reach junior and senior year. Maybe Swatties shed some of their social awkwardness with time?
kkakkar1 [8:45 PM] Isabel, I think that’s true. Though, it’s probably better here than at other institutions, frankly. Maybe the fact that swat is known for being awkward diminishes the anxiety around awkwardness and somehow makes it less awkward?
anniet [8:47 PM] I definitely agree that Swatties get more comfortable over time, I definitely see more juniors and seniors going out on dates than underclassmen. And I feel like freshmen are more likely to be at parties and thus hooking up.
isabelknight [8:49 PM] @kkakkar1: I do like your idea of having fewer nighttime social events centered around alcohol, and I appreciate the fact that the OSE is making an effort to provide more dry events since students never seem to want to organize them (which I find sad, but I am a hypocrite in this regard because I don’t organize school-wide dry events either).
allisonhrabar [8:50 PM] So: Swarthmore students overthink sex and romance, but that improves with time. Are those of you who staked out an anti-hook up culture place at the start of this discussion still concerned?
lphyder [9:03 PM] I’d say that’s fair, Allison. Hooking up at Swat is an overwhelming experience, in both positive and negative regards. That on top of an already overwhelming academic and social environment produces ebbs and flows in our desires for physical and romantic commitments. While I can’t speak to the numbers, the trends I’ve noticed tend to rely on our ability to adjust to the variety of stresses we face and the manifestation of that adjustment in our social behavior.