The practice of “hooking up” is a modern phenomenon that is still loaded negatively for women. From our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge, 2017) Doris Silverman writes: Before I present issues involved in the practice of hooking up, I need to mention that for many it is a vague term with different meanings for each of the sexes. The Online College Social Life Survey, which is a collaborative endeavor among a number of colleges, interviewed both sexes about their hooking up. It covers a multitude of behaviors including: “kissing and non genital touching (34%), oral sex but not intercourse (15%), manual stimulation of the genitals (19%) and intercourse (35-40%). It can mean going all the way or everything but” (Kimmel 2008, p. 195).
I am reading a Sunday Style section article from the New York Times called “Modern Love” by Ali Rachel Pearl (October 18, 2015). The author is in her mid twenties; a working woman. In part of her story, she described a sexual experience she had with a man she had met eight days before. She explained that he is a “stranger” She did not know him and thus to have sex with a stranger she needed to drink a half bottle of bourbon before they met.
Although she did not label their interaction, she was hooking up. She found the experience quite pleasurable. She described it in detail including their spontaneity and lack of hesitation it was “fun, invigorating and kind”. Their first sexual experience on that eventful evening took place on a “wooden swing near a river in the trees behind the barn”, and the second time occurred that same evening and took place in the barn. They were both pleased with the experience and she described it as “romance and a whirlwind; It was sweat and sweet” on a humid summer evening. What is relevant is her willingness to describe her hook up experience. She is open and direct about her sexual proclivities, that is, when she finds herself abstaining from sexual intimacy and when she is free to engage in it.
Sufficient cultural change has occurred so that there is acceptance of a woman offering her private confidences and intimacies in a public forum. What may have been once seen as a moral code of confidentiality even secrecy about one’s sexual intimacy with a stranger, is now brazenly overturned. It has much in common with sexting. Hook-ups can be considered an extension of sexting in but it involves more than just the visual. The increased frequency of both experiences appear to be a function of a number of factors: the more relaxed sexual attitudes of the past half century, the feminist movement, accessibility to pornography, the media and technology, all probably contributed to their development, .
As with the practice of sexting, there are positive features about hooking up and the personal narratives they give rise to. The sense of stimulation and excitement, the freedom in the moment of decision, the pleasure in the sexual act, and even for some, temporary romance can be part of hook ups as it appears to be for Ali Rachel Pearl.
Casual carnal sex has been with us for a long time, although not necessarily communally supported. For many women hook up experiences provide a sense of self assertion and exploration, a positive expression of their own sexual vitality and femininity, an affirmative feeling of their sensual-sexual selves which they wish to freely exhibit and communicate and their appreciation of men’s responsiveness to them. It expresses, as well, women’s own equally lustful feelings toward another with the possibility of a hook up leading to a relationship. Those who view themselves as affectionate and warm, uninhibited and direct about sex are also likely to engage in hook ups (Manthos, Owen & Fincham, 2014). Hook ups have certainly increased and are fairly wide-spread among college students (I will report on one high school commentary). It is he college age group that is typically investigated by researchers (England, Schafer, & Fogarty, 2007; Manthos, Owen & Fincham, 2014; Kimmel, 2008).
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.