No Strings Attached: Students Discuss the Reality of “Hook-up Culture”

No Strings Attached: Students Discuss the Reality of “Hook-up Culture”

Photo Illustration by Kate Schrage and Kristin Kuwada

Wearing skin-tight leggings and a low-cut tank top, Amanda* ‘18 tugged at her shirt to try to cover up. But after “hooking up” with a senior boy at a party, her outfit wasn’t the only choice that made her feel vulnerable and overexposed.

She heard senior girls whisper about her at the party. As a sophomore, she had never spoken to them before.

“People find excuses to make girls feel bad about themselves,” Amanda said. “I 100 percent was dressing for someone that wasn’t myself. There was a lot of pressure to look good for the older people and make good impressions on the older guys so that they would like you.”

A 2013 study by the American Psychological Association defined hookups as brief uncommitted sexual encounters between individuals who are not romantic partners or dating each other. 61 percent of teenage participants reported a sexual encounter outside a dating relationship.

73 percent of 270 students who responded to the November Chronicle poll said it’s common to hook up with someone without emotional attachments or expectations.

78 percent of respondents said girls are judged more than boys for hooking up with someone, and 65 percent of female respondents said they feel pressured to dress differently at parties.

Although Troy* ’18 said boys and girls face an equal amount of pressure to hook up with people, he has noticed that girls are expected to dress a certain way if they want to hook up with someone.

“It implies that a girl needs to sexualize herself to be looked at as attractive whereas a guy doesn’t,” Troy said. “I don’t think a lot of guys actually care. Guys aren’t promoting this culture, but it already exists from the past, and no guy is going to try to stop it.”

Troy said he doesn’t need to feel emotionally attracted to someone to hook up with them, but that it makes the situation more meaningful and enjoyable.

Even if others judged her for casually hooking up with someone, Amanda said it wasn’t meaningless for her.

“For me, there’s no such thing as no strings attached,” Amanda said. “Even if it was just a random hookup, I get with them for a reason. There are always emotions attached.”

As someone coming out of a serious relationship, Clara* ‘18 said she is only interested in casual hookups with no emotions involved. While she said it may be less emotionally fulfilling, she isn’t necessarily looking for a commitment.

“I just want to have fun and be a teenager,” Clara said. “But in the back of my mind, I always wonder if I should be disgusted with myself, because society teaches you that if you’re getting around, then you should be disgusted with yourself.”

She said girls are told to be ashamed for wanting to have fun while guys are glorified for hooking up with girls. Amanda shared similar sentiments, saying boys and girls face very different consequences.

“No strings attached for a guy is ‘so hype’, and no strings attached for a girl is ‘she’s a slut’,” Amanda said.

Upper school psychologist Luba Bek said this hookup culture is in part perpetuated by a lack of privacy. She explained that social media has led people to share much more about their private lives, including hookups, which welcomes outside judgment.

She said there also tends to be a vagueness in terms of what each person wants or expects in a casual hookup. Especially when substances are involved, Bek said decisions can be made in an altered state of mind that don’t necessarily reflect someone’s true feelings.

“At that moment, the lack of emotional involvement can be utopian,” Bek said. “It can be something that one or both of the partners just at that time believes is not present, but I don’t think that they can be hooking up without some emotion involved.”

While casual hookup culture has been widely accepted by Harvard-Westlake students, Harper* ‘19, who identifies as queer, said it’s more difficult for same-sex relationships to be no strings attached.

“There are much less gay people who are out than there are straight [people], so it’s more awkward to start something casual,” Harper said. “It could work out well if two people are completely on the same page, but that’s probably not always the case.”

Axel Rivera de Leon ’18, who identifies as gay, said emotions are automatically involved for same-sex hookups because they aren’t as common, making them feel more meaningful.

“There’s a sense of pride that you hooked up with someone because it’s more of an accomplishment than it would be for a heterosexual hookup,” Rivera de Leon said. “It’s a lot of odds that are working against you, so being able to make something out of that definitely feels like more of an accomplishment.”

Negative reactions to casual hookups often come from other people instead of those involved in the relationship, Rivera de Leon said.
Clara said she is confident enough to vocalize her expectations but also worries about what others might think of her decisions.

“I don’t feel comfortable sharing who I’ve hooked up with in a certain amount of time and fear everybody finding out because stuff spreads like wildfire here,” Clara said. “But it’s all on my terms. Everybody should be able to have fun.”

Jillian* ’17 said she was influenced by others’ opinions of hookup culture, but not in a negative way. After breaking up with her boyfriend, her friends encouraged her to hook up with other people and see what “felt right.”

She eventually got back together with her boyfriend, but she said the nature of hooking up in her relationship changed.

“It doesn’t feel like something that matters anymore because I did it with two people that I couldn’t care about less,” Jillian said. “Once it became normalized with a couple of other people, it sort of became meaningless with my boyfriend.”

While she was single, Jillian said the casual hookup culture seemed completely backwards. She said that it wasn’t something special that she did with someone who she liked, but instead a way to test the waters with someone to see if she could potentially develop feelings.

“A lot of people don’t have an interest in just sitting and talking for hours with some random girl,” Jillian said. “But if you hook up with them first it gives you a way in and a reason to talk, and then you can start liking each other.”

Amanda said she used to feel a similar pressure to hook up with older boys as a way to get to know them and feel better about herself.
But now she said she tries to ignore slut-shaming and believes girls should hook up with people if that’s what they want to do, not because they feel like they’re supposed to.

“You shouldn’t need a boy’s attention or a boy to want to get with you to make you feel like you accomplished something,” Amanda said. “I see the sophomores and the juniors going through what I went through, and I just want to go up to them and tell them it’s going to get better.”

*Names have been changed.

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