Hook-up Culture: What is Happening to Our Sexual Language?

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Alexandra O'Sullivan

I’m not cheap, I’m free.

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I don’t do internet dating anymore, and I had an experience recently that reminded me why. I’d met a guy in the city, he seemed nice, so I added him on Facebook. We started chatting and he called me via messenger a few times. After a few chats, I realised I felt no connection to him, and during one of the calls I told him that I wasn’t interested in dating him. He responded with a slew of insults that were so wonderfully illogical as insults that I just have to paraphrase:

‘You’re just a farm-nerd wannabe hipster, who reads books and thinks she’s so smart, but is really just a moron who lives in the country with horses and can’t even live in Brunswick, even though she so desperately wants to be sipping café lattes in the city and talking about books and shit.’

That’s actually pretty accurate.

He then proceeded to try to get me to meet up with him for sex. I cut to the chase.

‘Why do you even want to have sex with me, if I’m a lame hipster wannabe?’

‘Well, you are a woman.’

That says it all. I have the required equipment for his sexual preference. That will do. I’ve been noticing this kind of attitude more and more, amongst men and women. Modern dating is an interesting thing. With social media making everything so accessible, it seems that delayed gratification is a thing of the past. But it also seems that we have, to a degree at least, lost the need to actually connect with the other person. Sometimes even to like them. With sexting as the new flirting, there seems to be this expectation of sexual attraction, even before meeting. Are some of us just forcing ourselves to be attracted to whoever is available? What happens if you organise to meet for sex, but there’s zero chemistry when the time comes? How can we consent enthusiastically prior to seeing the other person?

As far as I know, we are the only species that have sex even when the female is not experiencing oestrous. This means that sex is more to us than procreation, more even than pleasure. Sex is a form of communication. I consider myself to be a sex-positive feminist. I am entirely for sexual liberation and against slut shaming. But being pro something does not mean that I believe it is immune to criticism. This hook-up culture, while liberating, also threatens to alter our sexuality, and not in a good way.

If sex is communication, then where do we get our vocabulary from? With porn being so accessible now and dating apps like Tinder making hooking up as simple as a finger swipe, our sexual language has become about immediacy. We expect to get sex when we want sex. But are we having sex only when we want it? Or also when we don’t really? Just because it’s there. And it’s always there. Even when it’s not there for us personally, it’s out there, in pop-culture, reminding us that we need to be having it. This hyper-sexualisation leads to shallow conversations. We are like toddlers who are always given candy no matter what, so we don’t believe we have to behave to get it. Candy has less meaning to us. I don’t think we should have to ‘earn’ sex off each other, but I do think that basic respect and attraction is the bare minimum for good sexual relationships, be they short term or long term. Commitment free does not mean without respect.

I find this particularly difficult to explain to some of the men I have chatted to on dating apps. I am open about not wanting a relationship, yet somehow that always gets confused with being disrespected. The conversation usually goes something like this.

‘So, you just want guys to fuck you and fuck off?’

‘No, I want respectful friendships that could be sexual if we both connect that way, but with no commitment.’

‘So, you just want guys to fuck you and fuck off?’

There is a tendency to understand things, particularly sexual things, in terms of extremes. Hot or cold. Love or disgust. Commitment or disrespect. But what about the middle ground? That wonderful place of freedom and respect and mutual non-commitment? That’s my favourite place. Recently, I’ve been feeling as if my favourite place is being drawn too far one way, so that I have to choose between these two extremes, neither of which really suit me.

Hook-up culture and porn don’t turn me on. They feel forced and inauthentic. According to Make Love Not Porn founder Cindy Gallop, ‘Porn isn’t dirty sex, porn is sex sanitised.’ It is edited to distort reality. It shows smooth, hairless bodies – especially women’s – unrealistic positions, women groaning in supposed ecstasy after a few seconds of demented thrusting. It shapes our sex lives, even if we don’t watch it personally. It’s like teaching people a non-existent language and expecting them to understand our real one. Hook-up culture is this porn influenced sexual conversation, and I feel like quality sex is becoming more and more lost in translation.

When sex is less of a conversation, it becomes a performance. Which surely must interfere with the enjoyment. Due to porn’s generally unrealistic image, this could lead many of us to taking a step back from the actual experience of sex, and viewing ourselves from the outside, watching, judging, criticising. This disconnection from ourselves means we are also disconnected from our partners, so that instead of having sex with complex people with thoughts and ideas, we are having sex with their genitals.

There may be people who get off from sex without connection. I have no judgement if that’s their thing and they are honest and respectful. But it’s when our sexual language becomes polarised between the extremes of romantic exclusivity or disconnected fucking that I start to worry. Because this creates binary expectations. Much like gender, sexual intimacy is a spectrum. And it is not necessarily connected to levels of commitment.

I’m all for sex without commitment. But sex without connection?

Fuck that! I don’t want to just talk. I want to have great conversations.




One comment

  1. Human beings don’t HAVE estrus. We have menstrual cycles, and there is actually a biological differences. Additionally, lots of animals, including several different species of monkey and ape, bears, and dogs, have been documented having sex outside of the estrus cycle, including same-sex sexual relations and oral sex.

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