The New York Times published a story Friday on the college hookup culture, Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too. The headline conveys that college women are enthusiastically enjoying what has traditionally been viewed as a male game–trying to hook up without real relationships. But the more of the article I read, the more I came away with the impression that the headline should be less about who can play the game and more about who is winning and losing in that game. The article opens by describing the relationship of a junior at UPenn, who texted her “regular hookup,” he responded by inviting her over and then they had sex. Here is how she describes their relationship:
Their relationship, she noted, is not about the meeting of two souls.
“We don’t really like each other in person, sober,” she said, adding that “we literally can’t sit down and have coffee.”
She chooses to hookup because of its “low risk and low investment costs,” as she claims she is too busy to find a romantic relationship. The article continues by describing the busy lives of college women today. Interviews with over 60 women at Penn were conducted over the school year.
Typical of elite universities today, Penn is filled with driven young women, many of whom aspire to be doctors, lawyers, politicians, bankers or corporate executives like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg or Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer. Keenly attuned to what might give them a competitive edge, especially in a time of unsure job prospects and a shaky economy, many of them approach college as a race to acquire credentials: top grades, leadership positions in student organizations, sought-after internships. Their time out of class is filled with club meetings, sports practice and community-service projects. For some, the only time they truly feel off the clock is when they are drinking at a campus bar or at one of the fraternities that line Locust Walk, the main artery of campus.
These women said they saw building their résumés, not finding boyfriends (never mind husbands), as their main job at Penn. They envisioned their 20s as a period of unencumbered striving, when they might work at a bank in Hong Kong one year, then go to business school, then move to a corporate job in New York. The idea of lugging a relationship through all those transitions was hard for many to imagine. Almost universally, the women said they did not plan to marry until their late 20s or early 30s.
In this context, some women, like A., seized the opportunity to have sex without relationships, preferring “hookup buddies” (regular sexual partners with little emotional commitment) to boyfriends. Others longed for boyfriends and deeper attachment. Some women described a dangerous edge to the hookup culture, of sexual assaults and degrading encounters enabled by drinking and distinguished by a lack of emotional connection.
Relationships are described as another extracurricular activity that these over-scheduled students just can’t fit into their busy schedules.
But Elizabeth A. Armstrong, a sociologist at the University of Michigan who studies young women’s sexuality, said that women at elite universities were choosing hookups because they saw relationships as too demanding and potentially too distracting from their goals.
In interviews, “Some of them actually said things like, ‘A relationship is like taking a four-credit class,’ or ‘I could get in a relationship, or I could finish my film,’ ” Dr. Armstrong said.
Increasingly, she said, many privileged young people see college as a unique life stage in which they don’t — and shouldn’t — have obligations other than their own self-development.
Women say, “ ‘I need to take this time for myself — I’m going to have plenty of time to focus on my husband and kids later,’ ” Dr. Armstrong said. “ ‘I need to invest in my career, I need to learn how to be independent, I need to travel.’ People use this reference to this life stage to claim a lot of space for a lot of different kinds of things.”
Something is wrong here. Read this article. After you read it, do you think women are winning by joining this game or losing?