Donna Freitas, The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 221pp.
A friend of mine spent twenty years in student affairs at Stanford University. When I asked him what was the biggest change that he observed across two decades, he didn't hesitate: "Students today don't know how to have a conversation with another person." Well, if you don't know how to talk, you don't know how to have good sex. According to Donna Freitas, the overwhelming majority of university students today experience a particular sort of very bad sex — hookup culture.
In hookup culture you have sex with a person you may or may not know, with the explicit understanding that it does not in any way include intimacy, emotion, feelings, relationship, or any sort of commitment. The only expectation is that there are no expectations, and if one person does have any expectations for anything more, and feels used and abused afterwards, that's their fault. Hookup sex is fueled by alcohol and fostered by theme parties based upon the worst stereotypes of both men and women. It has made dating non-existent. Hookup culture dominates our university culture, and anyone who tries to live otherwise finds themselves marginalized.
You don't have to be a prude to know this is not how sex works. Behind the bravado of college kids is a trail of emotional wreckage. There are many bitter ironies here for our "liberated" culture, says Freitas. Hookup sex is degrading and abusive. It's repressive, because it requires people to deny their emotions and feelings. Where is the feminist fight for agency and autonomy in hookup sex? What is sexual assault or consent when the explicit goal is to suppress your inhibitions? In her lectures around the country Freitas observes "so much sadness" about hookup sex; she's convinced that most kids really do have an "intense longing for meaning."
Hookup culture need not be inevitable, and Freitas is working hard to change the national conversation and encourage meaningful alternatives. She has a chapter on virginity, and another one on abstinence. In 2005 students at Princeton who were tired of the degradations of hookup culture founded the Anscome Society, which supported abstinence. The following year a similar movement started at Harvard, and the year after that a national Love and Fidelity Network went nationwide. Freitas laments that liberals and even moderates dismiss abstinence out of hand.
Her most interesting chapter was on efforts to bring back dating, which she's convinced many kids want. Imagine — talking to a person, knowing and respecting them, before you sleep with them. This new book "reiterates and refines" her previous book Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America's College Campuses (2008). It's based upon her 2006 survey of 2,500 college kids at seven universities.