Has Hook Up Culture Killed the Boyfriend

The Death of the Boyfriend

The Death of the Boyfriend

One of the niggling insecurities that I remember having in university was the vague feeling that not only  was everyone working harder than me  and getting better grades than me, but they were also probably having more fun and more sex too.  Turns out I was wrong – people were working harder then me but they were getting the same grades and I was having more fun and sex.

But, in this day and age, one must never let a good insecurity go to waste. You see, if you play on people’s insecurities, you can attract attention that you wouldn’t otherwise deserve, and get yourself published in the New York Times. The article in question describes, in lurid detail, the sexual hookups of a number of female university students at University of Pennsylvania. The moral of the story: young women are hooking up more than ever, but it’s not a good thing. The culprit? A new thing called “hookup culture”.

The problem is, “hookup culture”, at least as the New York Times describes it, doesn’t really exist:

A new study, which Mr. Monto will present here today at the American Sociological Association conference, challenges that picture. The paper finds “no evidence of substantial changes in sexual behavior that would support the proposition that there is a new or pervasive ‘hookup culture’ among contemporary college students.”

By comparing national survey data on two waves of young adults who had completed at least one year of college—the first wave from 1988 to 1996, and the second from 2002 to 2010—Mr. Monto found that today’s young people are not having sex more often or with more partners. They do not report having sex with more people over the past year than earlier students did. And they were substantially less likely to have sex once or more a week.

“In many generations, there’s a sense that sexual behavior is changing or becoming more liberal, or we’re in some brave new era,” Mr. Monto, a top expert on the customers of street prostitutes, says in an interview. “I was a little skeptical about that myself. Because I was alive during the ’80s, and it doesn’t seem all that different.”

What has changed, Mr. Monto argues, is the language and narrative around hooking up. From 2000 to 2006, hookup culture featured in only a handful of scholarly articles, he says. Between 2007 and 2013, it appeared in 84 articles. (The term “hookup” is ambiguous and easily sensationalized: It can refer to sex, but also to simply making out.)

Another change: Surveys show that today’s sexually active young adults are more likely to report that one of the people they had sex with over the past year was a friend or someone they hooked up with via a pickup or casual date, according to Mr. Monto’s paper, which he co-wrote with a student of his, Anna Carey. Today’s young people are also less likely to be married or to have a regular sexual partner.

Chronicle.com

As Steven Pinker puts it, “Another anecdote-driven moral panic succumbs to data“. Young people are not having sex more than ever, in fact, it appears that they’re having sex a bit less. So what appears to be happening? Well, the most interesting piece of data for me is that apparently more pickups are happening. But what also appears to be happening is that the traditional “boyfriend-girlfriend” model of relationships is breaking down into something more casual. Young people are having just as many partners, but they’re less likely to be regular sexual partners.

People aren’t really hooking up more: they’re entering into relationships less.

What we are witnessing is the Death of the Boyfriend.

So what’s driving this change? If you ask me, it’s being driven by women, not by men, and it’s being driven by pressure on young women to “succeed”, and the perception that boyfriends are an unnecessary drag on a young woman’s ability to achieve. So young women seek out casual hook ups as an alternative to a traditional boyfriend. To put it in economic terms – the market value of “boyfriend services” has dropped, due to a reduction in demand, while the market for casual sex remains unchanged. And anecdotally at least, young women don’t seem to be too happy with it.

I have to say, this really matches my experience. Young women – women in university – often don’t want a serious relationship. They’re single, they’re down to hook up, but if you come into the interaction with the naive idea that you’re going to just toss your jacket over her shoulder and make her your girlfriend – because that’s what every girl wants – you’re going to fall flat on your face. Being a nice guy no longer cuts it (presuming it ever has).

Postmodern feminists can’t compute this. They can’t reconcile the idea that casual sex (bad) and female dissatisfaction (bad) could be caused by the drive to succeed (good) and the perception that men are a drag (good). How could feminism be causing the very things that we need feminism to prevent? So they do a bit of hand waving, invoke “culture” and voila, we have an explanation for the death of the boyfriend that leaves feminist orthodoxies intact. Hookup “culture” is not the product of women’s rational choices, ideologies, or of the realities of the dating market. It’s a “culture” which means you don’t have to explain it.

Of course, this leaves unresolved the question: is this change a good thing or a bad thing? I consider myself a sexual libertarian – I think that people should be free to have whatever relationships make them happy. The only dating evils are ignorance – especially ignorance of what really makes you happy – and negative emotions like fear, anger, hate and neediness. I don’t think there’s anything inherently bad about the death of the boyfriend – in fact, I’d have to say I have benefitted a lot from the  in the form of beautiful women who give a lot to me without asking much in return. But still, I wonder…

As the winds of culture change, some will find themselves propelled to new and interesting places, and others will find themselves adrift at sea. Those that curse the change and refuse to take action will be the losers, and those that adjust their sails will find what they are looking for . The secret to dealing with the death of the boyfriend (and prospering from it) is to recognize that  old-fashioned ideas about how relationships work need to be updated to reflect the present reality. The old paradigm – the idea that men trade relationships to women for sex – is becoming less and less true. The guys who learn to bring something different to the table – good sex, confidence, fun, power – will prosper.

But I can’t help but feel like maybe, part of the problem is that young women have lost sight of what really makes them happy – and if that’s true, it’s a shame.

Chris ShepherdThe Death of the Boyfriend

Comments 7

  1. Jangali

    Thanks Chris, I also saw this report, and your analysis of it nicely strips away the faux moral outrage in favor of some more believable interpretations. As regards your last comment, I see where you are coming from, but I doubt that they ever knew what really makes them happy. They just internalized stories about it, which don’t match their experience. Both sexes have a lot to do to figure out the answer to that question.

    I am wondering, though, where this leaves the theories of attraction set out in Magic Bullets, which I think are based on a somewhat outdated paradigm. If monogamy and non-monogamy are just a matter of culture, then you can’t seriously maintain that mate selection explains female sexual behavior: it only explains social behavior. I think this is an important distinction that the PUA community needs to do more quality thinking about. In fact, dating advice shares a fundamental feature in common with psychoanalysis: ultimately it suffers from the problem that diagnosis depends on the patient and there is no consensus as to what constitutes a cure. However, if the idea of cure is left aside and the process remains open, it can lead to lots of interesting places. Whether you know it or not, you guys are contributing wisdom towards enlightenment. My thoughts on this are at wp.me/pmcZV-kw, would love to get some reactions.

  2. Post
    Author
    Chris Shepherd

    Hey man.

    Glad you liked the article.

    As for monogamy being cultural – I think there’s a tendency to overemphasize “culture” in all this stuff. I would argue that the economics of monogamy play a greater role. People practice monogamy when it benefits them, and practice it less when it doesn’t. Culture plays a role, but ultimately people are responding to incentives.

  3. A Feminist

    I agree with you that people today aren’t necessarily sleeping with a higher quantity of partners, rather just not in bf/gf situations. But I think the “moral outrage” as you call it is much more nuanced than just a judgment of sexual activity. As for that article about “feminist” women choosing to only hook-up after a cost-benefit analysis, that was without doubt a piece of sensationalistic “journalism” that attempted to blanket a whole generation using a few extreme examples, obviously begging for outraged responses of all types. (I say this given that I spent 4 years on that campus. And that career-focused, over-achieving girl? Been there done that.)

    http://www.salon.com/2013/04/04/beyond_hooking_up/
    Here is a more nuanced analysis of the pros & cons of hooking up, in an interview by (surprise surprise) a feminist who has been vocally supportive of hooking up, but as an expression of choice & experimentation, not as an unavoidable default. In a nutshell, “I have a problem with the culture of hooking up that prescribes it as virtually the only means for sexual intimacy. Because then you’re advocating a norm that’s oppressive. It’s just on the other end of the extreme from ‘people should only be dating.’” As for the argument of whether it’s propagated by men or women, and whether it benefits men or women: “I went into the research assuming, like most people do, that men would be living it up in hookup culture. I was surprised by men who said the same sorts of things the women did. However, what was distinct about the men was they felt they could never, ever say that out loud, whereas women felt they could complain about it in public. Men felt they would risk their masculinity in doing so. Participating in hookup culture is far more about proving yourself on campus to other men than about having sex.”

    As Barry Schwartz talks about in “Paradox of Choice,” people respond to an excessive amount of choice through paralysis, constantly regretting the road not taken, and essentially less happiness. Today, we have this perception that sexual choice is limitless. We can be with whomever we want, however we want. But in reality, I think the options of “who” may indeed have expanded greatly, but the options of “how” have shrunken greatly as well. And the end result is that, commensurate with our ADD & tech-driven society, more people have less meaningful relationships with each other, as exemplified in the Salon article about the loss of intimacy. The perception of quantity (if not true quantity) beats out quality. Breadth beats out depth.

    To me, hooking up is to human connection what TV is to entertainment. In other words, it’s fun, de-stressing, shallow, and can only take you so far if your goal is true personal growth. We all go through phases when we want to veg out in front of the TV and turn off our brains; ditto for hooking up. But it should only be one of many options to experience human connections, and just indulging in more and more TV, or more and more hooking up, isn’t going to make you grow as a person.

  4. Glenn

    hi chris

    I think that with each girl that comes into that age group, there is a demand of them BY GUYS to be more sexually active, i’m 25. and in a relationship for four years, my girlfriend has increased her career exponentially over that time. But we are the only two out of all our friends in a relationship.

    So the death of boyfriend i think maybe a little bit of a premature thing? but it seems that a lot of people find it harder to differentiate between working on relationships, which can cause sooo many problems if you want to focus on work, studying etc. and their own lives.

    Id be interested to know what you think about the hooking up part? As i have been involved in the UK Pick Up community previously for around 6 years, so know a lot of guys who dont ever want relationships

    Thanks

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  6. MuSt0bTa1INSKR1ll

    Everybody missed the boat here, I don’t know what is up with all you old people but it seems some of you are more lost than ever and thats just it. Trying to talk about people as a whole is just plain dumb.

    Here are three problems I run into constantly in Vancouver;
    Social Confusion, Social Pressure, Success

    There seems to be a construct, like a railroad that is missing spikes on the track’s. People are always looking at the destination, becoming time focused and failure abhorring. I know I’m a normal person but if Pickup has taught me something, it’s that certain people are confused and because they are confused they compound stress and from the stress they go into a loop.

    It’s not the relationships that are dead, far from it.

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