Hookup culture: the danger of ambiguity and following a ‘sexual script’

Briana Hatch and Ava Maurillo

Hookup. “A lingering kiss.” “Making out and a little more.” “A one-night stand.” “I don’t know.” “There’s a peck, and then a kiss which is a little bit longer, and then a hookup is longer than everything.”

In the 21st-century, we are living in hookup culture—but while teenagers and young adults frequently engage in this type of relationship, it’s taboo to talk about. And as our conflicting student definitions of “hookup” show, no one really knows what it means.

So, we set out to talk about hookups. According to WHS students, hooking up means something different to an eighth grader compared to a college graduate. “For eighth graders, hooking up probably means just more than a peck,” said a WHS senior girl. A WHS junior girl continued, “As you get older, after college, hooking up is definitely sleeping with someone.”

While everyone seemed to agree that the definition changes with age, opinions changed when it came to gender. When asked how peers would react, some believed males and females would treat the news of a hookup differently.

“I feel like there’s a double standard. If a guy hooks up they’re like ‘Oh wow, nice job,’ but if a girl hooks up it’s more scandalous,” a WHS freshman girl said.

“Girls tend to ask more questions,” a WHS junior girl said. “I feel like a lot of different girls define it in a different way, depending on what they’ve done and how much experience they have.”

Whether a girl or boy, a freshman or senior, the most obvious reason to hookup according to a WHS junior boy is: “Peer pressure. Straight up.” And he is not alone in this sentiment either. Most WHS students reported that one incentive of hooking up is rooted in wanting to be a part of the hookup culture that surrounds them.

A WHS freshman boy agrees that peer pressure has influence, but there might be something more. “Your friends might not pressure you, but you’ll see everyone else doing it and you’ll pressure yourself into doing it,” he said.

Due to the ambiguous nature of the term, there are many consequences that arise from hookup culture, beyond peer pressure. Gossip is nothing new, but when talking about hookups, the truth gets lost in translation.

“Rumors get blown out of proportion,” a WHS junior boy said. “Even if you just kissed someone, after twenty people hear it, it sounds like you’ve had sex.”

How other people view the hookup is a problem, but another more important problem is how the people involved perceive it. The state of a relationship after a hookup is just as ambiguous as the term itself.

“Sometimes it’s like you’ll never see them again, or it’s like ‘Wanna date?” Or it’s like ‘I want you to meet my parents,’” a WHS senior girl said. In a study conducted by Garcia and Reiber, they found that 29 percent of men and 42.9 percent of women wanted a real romantic relationship after their hookup, but very few expected it (American Psychological Association).

To know yourself and learn about yourself, you have to be honest and vulnerable and talk about it, and be with someone you trust.”

— Ms. Rebecca McGrath

Relationship status is unclear following a hookup, which allows individuals to mask their true feelings behind this unclarity. “People hide behind hooking up,” said a WHS junior girl. “If one of them likes the other person, then they might be like ‘Oh, I know they don’t like me and they only want to hook up,’ instead of telling them how they feel.”

Miscommunication is a problem on all fronts when it comes to hookup culture. People are quick to believe the definitions for “hookup” made by their peers, and use it as a guideline for their own experience. “We live in a town where everyone talks about absolutely everything, so if one thing happens with one person, everyone’s going to know what happened,” said a WHS junior girl. “So you’re going to know what to expect if anything happens with that same person.”

But, there might be some drawbacks to this way of thinking. Women’s Studies teacher Rebecca McGrath’s primary worry is that when people allow societal expectations of what will occur to override communication, they give in to their “role” in the “sexual script” and enjoyment of the experience is threatened.

“Young girls, or people that don’t really fit in to the script of what a good hookup is, might go for a long time without feeling any pleasure—without feeling equal, feeling empowered, feeling happy—in a sexual encounter,” McGrath said. The solution, according to McGrath? Communication.

“To know yourself and learn about yourself, you have to be honest and vulnerable and talk about it, and be with someone you trust,” she said. “You don’t have to be in a relationship, but you’ve got to trust that person, to some extent.”

The consequences of premarital sex as described in the 1976 issue are clear—unwanted pregnancy, STDs, damaged reputation. Yet, the ambiguity of “hookup” allows the word to hide behind a facade of innocence, as if there are no consequences. No matter how awkward or confusing the conversation may be, without communication the repercussions are dire.