Last Wednesday, I found myself sitting in a room of at least 50 students, eager to engage in a meaningful and productive discussion. Instead, people shifted around in their seats as the conversation was overcome with awkward silences and anxious laughter. The conversation topic: Hookup Culture.
A panel of students asked questions and shared opinions on the topic as other students could anonymously submit questions and thoughts that were then projected on a screen, where they could be seen and addressed. The panel did a fantastic job at facilitating the discussion, providing multiple opportunities for students to voice their opinions and encouraging everyone to feel comfortable being open and honest.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of people did not voice opinions, and clearly did not feel comfortable being open and honest. Everyone who spoke seemed willing to dip their toes in the water of sharing their honest feelings about the sexual culture on our campus, but no one seemed to feel substantially comfortable, minimizing the impact and depth of the conversation.
At one point, one of the students on the panel asked who in the room was a huge fan of hookup culture and wouldn’t change a thing about it. No hands went up. She then asked if anyone completely hated it. No hands went up. Based on conversations I’ve had with my friends in smaller group settings, people have strong opinions on hookup culture; they just don’t feel comfortable sharing.
Talking about hookup culture is common among close friends, but taboo in the greater CC community that creates the culture.
This leads me to wonder, if a “Courageous Conversation” that allows for anonymous questions and statements is incapable of breaking the silence and awkwardness surrounding hookup culture, where is the safe space to talk about it? People can discuss feelings with their friends, but where can they hear from a more diverse group of people who might have different, influential feelings? Where can we get a better sense of the general college community’s feelings on hookup culture?
Hookup culture discussions can lead to interesting and important conversations about more specific topics including rape culture, the involvement of alcohol in hooking up, the impact hookup culture has on sexual assault, the gender and sexuality spectrums and their impacts within hookup culture, the experience of being a minority and the level of inclusion or exclusion minorities feel within hookup culture, the various definitions we have for the what it means to “hook up” with someone, and much more. These conversations demand to be had in a respectful, open, honest and safe setting.
These topics were all touched upon by the student panel, but people didn’t seem to feel comfortable enough to open up and allow for a real discussion to take place. This leads me to the greater question: Why is it so difficult for us to talk about?
Clearly, hookup culture pervades our campus and probably college campuses in general. Why does sexuality in general seem to be such a shameful and embarrassing topic? Why is it that being inside of someone’s body can be so easy and casual for so many people, but making eye contact or saying hello to a partner the day after a hookup can be so difficult?
This shame and embarrassment not only causes us to feel uncomfortable, but also creates dangerous situations. If people don’t feel comfortable sharing their feelings, they’re less inclined to know what to do and how to voice their feelings in the situations of actual hookups, promoting unclear consent and regrettable decisions.
It’s no shock that people feel more comfortable facilitating a hookup under the influence of alcohol: it can seem like the only way to relieve anxiety and awkwardness surrounding sexuality. Unfortunately, it is impossible to consent under the influence of alcohol, and inevitably leads to more regrettable decisions. Worse yet, if shame and embarrassment surround conversations even about positive sexual experiences, how do we expect victims of negative sexual experiences, like assault, to ever feel comfortable opening up?
This culture of awkwardness and discomfort surrounding sexuality is one that we contribute to, and one that we have the power to change. Despite the genuine efforts of the facilitators, “Courageous Conversations” may not have been the right setting for that change to take place, though the willingness to acknowledge the existence of hookup culture as a topic surrounded by differing opinions was definitely a start.
As the conversation came to a reluctant close without seeming to have accomplished anything substantial, the last point everyone seemed to agree on was that there should be an ongoing venue for the conversation to continue. Suggestions included an anonymous Facebook page or a section in Cipher devoted specifically to hookup culture at CC. Both of these seem like promising continuations that should be initiated, but not final answers.
A general culture change needs to take place; we need to create a safe space for people to share experiences and voice opinions about hookup culture in the same way that we need to create a safe space for people to talk about mental health. This begins with you and I. If we can attempt to break the taboo, talk about sexuality and hookup culture, and ask people who aren’t necessarily our best friends about their opinions, we can gradually alter the culture. This goes beyond SOSS and Orgasmic; sexual positivity (talking about sexual experiences openly, honestly, and positively) rather than sexual shame and embarrassment is something we all should be invested in, if not for our health and safety, at least to make the four years we spend here a little less awkward.