on women’s participatory roles in hookup culture at elite universities, citing evidence from recurring lengthy interviews with female undergrads at UPenn. I began writing this piece before the verdict, but then understandably couldn’t justify returning to it for a while. It recently became relevant to my life again, though, and so I thought I’d finish it.—-
In my opinion, the article is pretty meh, seven pages of ‘driven female undergrads think relationships aren’t worth it,’ ‘men are still driving the culture and women “adapt” to it sometimes reluctantly,’ ‘there’s a thin line between hookups and rape,’ and ‘not everybody’s doing it.’ I kind of identified with one woman, referenced in the article as “A,” who can’t envision herself seriously tied to someone romantically until they are both settled in their careers and goals, but otherwise the article seemed fairly droll to me, like it’s presenting exactly what people-who-aren’t-sexually-exploratory-female-undergrads expect sexually exploratory female undergrads to say about their sexual activity and its circumstances. Yawn.
As an introduction to the comments section, though, the article asks,:
How did your romantic and sexual experiences in college shape the relationships you’ve had since then?
And this is a question worth tackling, I think.
First, my sexual history in a nutshell: In college, I was in one relationship, which lasted for about half of one academic year. Prior to this relationship, I held hands with and once made out with one other gentleman in college, and danced with a few guys at parties. I was generally the found-lots-of-guys-interesting-but-never-had-the-courage-to-do-anything-about-that type. During this relationship, I made my debut into the wonderful word of sex (#virginityisastupidconcept). After this relationship ended, I continued to explore sex and my own sexual orientation with a small number of casual partners, all but one of whom I had personal relationships with outside of the bedroom. I’ve had a handful of people of multiple genders in my bedroom/in other sexual situations since graduation, but until recently, no actual intercourse and nothing in the way of a relationship.
An additional piece of basic but critical information: I do not regret a single sexual or romantic experience in my past. Granted, some endeavors worked out better than others in the long run, and some bonds were strengthened and others weakened by my partners’ and my various sexual choices, but I am comfortable with all of the sexual choices I made given the information I had at my disposal when making them. I do not believe that anyone, myself included, has been harmed by any sexual choices in which I was involved.
And now for a bit of terminology breakdown: For the purposes of this blog post, let us agree to the following definitions:
- Making out (v.): Sexual activity characterized by kissing, groping, and possibly removing the shirt(s) of involved partners, but which does not involve any genital contact.
- Hooking up (v.): Sexual activity characterized by any/all of the above plus genital contact, but which does not involve genital-to-genital contact. Oral sex can happen within the contact of hooking up.
- Sex (n.) Sexual activity characterized by any/all of the above plus genital-to-genital contact. For complete transparency, at this point of my sexual career, all of my sex has been one-on-one with male cis-gendered heterosexual partners.
Physicality, be it sexual or purely platonic, has always been extremely important to me. I’m a hugger, the type who puts her hand on your arm/leg when we’re laughing about something, the type who taps you on the shoulder instead of saying something to get your attention, the type who responds to complaints of sore body parts with the offer of a massage. But because even the most platonic of my friendships include half-naked cuddlepuddles not-infrequently, it is perhaps not unreasonable to infer that I’ve never really been good about appropriate timelines of physicality when things get sexual. I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 18, but we went from a cautious first kiss to dry-humping in a period of about 15 minutes. #noshame Once I actually had sex and realized it wasn’t this magical thing that solidified bonds of love and wanting-to-be-together-forever-ness, but was a really fun recreational activity to share with people I enjoy, all bets were pretty much off. If I was dancing with a stranger at a party and he kissed the back of my neck in that way that makes me melt, I could take him home with me. And I did. It wasn’t a big deal to go from grinding with a guy I thought was hot to making out with him on the dance floor. I even developed a semi-long term sex buddy for a little while, and it was awesome–I got to spend all my time with my friends without feeling like I was neglecting other parts of my life, but I still got to get laid.
I guess the most serious take-away I learned from my relationships and sexual activities in college are that I can have the latter with people I have all sorts of relationships with, or with whom I have no relationship at all, without any existential damage. I let myself explore my sexuality more than I’d ever done before, in terms of both actions and orientation. I gave myself the freedom to find out what I liked via trial and error. My romance/sex life in college taught me that sex is fun, and that having sex doesn’t necessarily drastically change the relationship you have with the person you’re having sex with.
Some of the things I learned about sex in college didn’t seem quite so applicable in the real world. I learned that it’s not as easy to invite someone over for a casual rendezvous when that involves taking the metro across the river instead of just a 5 minute walk up the hill. I learned on LO’s birthday that dance floor makeouts, something I witnessed nearly every night I went out on campus, are seen as pretty scandalous when they happen at bars in Adams Morgan, or at friend’s friends’ weddings. I learned how to talk to friends about when they’d crossed the line. I learned that I sometimes make bad decisions when I haven’t gotten laid in 9 months.
I learned that socializing doesn’t work the same way IRL that it did on an almost entirely residential campus. There are no awesome communal spaces that me and all my friends can hang out in. Inviting people over to your place is somehow a big deal. I was suddenly quite thoroughly out of low-pressure environments in which to meet and get to know people, which seemed to signal the swift death of the seemingly organic relationships and hookups of my past. I learned how to go on a first date with a stranger. I learned how to develop a text-based relationship with a man I’d never met. I learned to factor space and time and work schedules and commutes into my own social life and the feasibility of meeting up with other people, and found that my suddenly open after 5pm erryday schedule led to me being busy in a way I wasn’t in college. I learned that as a person who has to work to maintain one open day on her calendar every week, I didn’t feel like I had the time or the energy to devote to seriously looking for a Relationship.
A year out of college, I found myself still craving the same balance I craved on campus: feeling satisfied equally in the arenas of kicking it with my friends and having good sex. I missed having an array of potential people to hook up with who felt “safe” in that I knew them or knew somebody who knew them. I was quick to let guys that I talked to know that I wasn’t looking for a relationship in the real world, just someone whose company I enjoyed to talk with and spend time with sometimes and hey, sex is nice. I learned that that’s harder to set up than it might seem.
Recently, things have become a little clearer. I’m learning that when you are open and honest about what you want, especially when it comes to romance and sex, things are more likely to work out the way you want them to. I am learning how to transition from sending late night campus “Do you wanna come over?” texts to making plans to have sex days in advance. I am learning more about the possible forms relationships can take. I am learning what it feels like to make out and have sex sober, what it feels like to not be able to keep your hands off someone just because of the vibe between the two of you. I am learning that adding a sexual component to an established relationship can do wonderful things to that relationship. The article says “she can play that game too;” I’m learning that it doesn’t actually have to be a game.