If you Google “hookup culture,” you’ll read some version of the following: We would have clean energy by now if we spent as much time banging away at our laptops as we spent banging each other. And, the next time you feel tremors in your body you’re probably causing an earthquake somewhere.
You’ll also read that hookup culture is a good thing, giving men and women more choices about whom they’re with and when and where. You’ll hear about the girl who doesn’t have time for a relationship, or the guy on Tinder who loves it but still feels kind of weird about it. You’ll probably feel slightly sad and slightly annoyed and slightly like you can relate to it.
Everyone seems to write about hookup culture’s long-term impact on society. But who really cares? What even is a hookup? Everyone has their own personal definition, which makes sense, since aren’t hookups supposed to be inherently selfish anyway?
Despite the subjectivity of “hookup,” there seems to be some collective understanding of what the term refers to — and it’s generally considered an okay thing to do even if you do it really, really badly.
People are supposed to be gaining some kind of skill when they hook up, some sort of “experience.” So then why are people so bad at having sex — and even worse at navigating their ensuing emotions?
Sometimes casual sex is fun, but many times it’s not. There can be casual sex that is great, nurturing, caring and fulfilling, just as there can be public buses that can be comfortable. You can find them, but only if you’re really lucky. You can get great casual sex, but only if you hit the lucky jackpot, or if you’re skilled, yourself.
How do you become skilled? People learn from feedback. The problem is that giving feedback is scary. When people have sex, they are very vulnerable. Almost by definition, the people involved in a hookup don’t know each other very well (or, at least, they pretend that they don’t). It’s much easier to mask your emotions than to be vulnerable. And it’s much easier to forget that you witnessed a microexpression than to ask what’s up. There’s a reason to hide how you’re feeling with somebody new — you have no idea how the other person will react.
One way to have better sex is to communicate what you want. But during hookups, people are generally uncomfortable giving direct feedback. They rarely care enough to sacrifice their own mental comfort to help the other person grow, especially when it will be over in two minutes anyway.
Without verbal communication, we are left to rely on body language and subtle cues. Unfortunately, people are pretty bad at picking up on signals, feelings and intentions. Here’s a game: Go to Commons and stare at a stranger for a bit. Round 1: Try to guess how much sleep they’ve had last night. Round 2: Try to see how sober they are. Round 3: Repeat during Finals Week. Round 4: Repeat with a close friend. The misperception is astounding. If we can’t tell how much sleep our closest friends have gotten, how are we supposed to know what our sexual partners are thinking, especially if we’ve just met them?
The only way we “learn” anything through hooking up is by trial and error — not the best way to learn. If you just pick up a book on computer programming without getting any feedback on your code, chances are your code will suck. The same principle applies to sex. There’s a lot to learn — none of which is taught in Yale’s (in)famous Froyo workshops. Sex often results in many emotional complications, which can be more difficult to navigate than the sex itself. You sleep with someone who says they’re single, and then you find out they’re dating your sister. Or that hot 28-year-old is actually a 40-year-old widower. Or they’re your professor’s ex-roommate. Or you realize you just want to sleep and so you kick them out, realizing a week later that that was pretty mean. Or they message you three times next week because it meant something to them. Or you fall in love.
The thing about learning by trial and error is that it’s one big double entendre. On the one hand, the trials are attempts. Maybe after three or four or five sexual encounters you’ll learn something. But these trials are also challenges, tests of patience, stamina and character. They involve people getting hurt.
And one of those people will probably be you.
Natalia Dashan is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .