Empowering or Confining? … The pressures of hook-up culture at university.

Is casual sex liberating or actually just a patriarchal convention?

Imogen Clarke
10th November 2021
Image: IMDb
“Sex is as easy as swiping right”. But should it be? Too many of my peers are settling for hook-ups instead of something more. Are we being conditioned to think that’s all we deserve? And, in a dating culture that undeniably caters towards men, we can’t win. We disagree with hook-up culture, then we’re “slut-shaming”, we’re “vanilla”, we’re “prudish”. We play into it and even enjoy it, we’re “easy”. Are we agents of the patriarchy by condoning hook-up culture? Or are we removing female sexual empowerment by criticizing it?

I often wonder how dating apps are so successful when men don’t know how to take a photo (we're all guilty of the “he looks better in real life I promise!”). Yet as expected, Tinder and other akin dating apps enjoyed a “surge” in usage during the pandemic, much to the financial gain of their creators. We’ve used these apps to make sex instantaneous and people are profiting from this immediate gratification. But quicker isn’t necessarily better. Yes, during the pandemic meeting people wasn’t so easy. But now we’re through the other side, it looks like the new popularity of dating apps is here to stay.

So, how does hook-up culture at university affect us? A male friend said he felt obligated to get on with someone in real life if he’d already been talking to them online. Dating apps create a middle-man in any relationship that doesn’t need to be there. Yet a female friend said the main pressure for her was feeling like she "owed something" to the person she’d been talking to when meeting them. This pressure of sex is so deeply engrained in university dating society that making a genuine connection with someone on a dating app seems impossible. And how could it be any other way when we’re judging someone’s suitability based on a few photos?

We might find casual hook-ups fun and liberating, but are we still catering to the male gaze just as much as if we “make him wait”?

However, hook-up culture can be just as imprisoning for men as well. Young men are celebrated for their body-count as much as women are shamed for theirs. And thus hook-up culture is normalised. Typically this pressure is coming from other men, rather than women, but that’s not always the case. And, why are we all so scared of commitment? Hook-up culture at university has meant that, even when you meet someone at a social or in a bar, they immediately say “I don’t want anything serious” before they even know you! Girls, let me tell you, what he’s really saying is, “I just want to have sex with you a few times, that’s it.” Do not hold out hope. And this kind of interaction is actually good by our standards. If you’re unlucky, hook-up culture means he won’t even tell you what he wants, he'll sleep with you, and never text back (Carol King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" comes to mind). Again, women can’t win. We might find casual hook-ups fun and liberating, but are we still catering to the male gaze just as much as if we “make him wait”?

So, has hook-up culture become too normalized? Or am I just being dramatic? One thing’s for sure though, you shouldn’t be able to make dating decisions while swiping on the loo.

Food for Thought…
"Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it's all a male fantasy: that you're strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren't catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you're unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur."
-Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride.

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