Lauren Gatta

Question: What if you don’t partake in hookup culture because it’s just not for you? What if you haven’t had sex yet? How do you relate to your friends who hook up? What if you feel like you’re doing college wrong?

Fantastic question. A lot of people submitted something of this nature — what’s the whole damn point? What if I don’t want to hook up? How do we all get on the same page about what “hookup” means, and how do we engage with each other if we operate under different definitions?

But first things first: You’re not doing college wrong. I increasingly suspect that there isn’t a right way to do college, that it’s all a bit of a mess, but a very interesting, funny, awkward and at times scary experience — however, at the end of the day, a fruitful adventure. If you decide to dash out and sleep with everyone and have a marvelous time doing so, good for you (do be safe though). If you decide not to, also good for you. If friends are judging you for choosing not to partake in hookups, that’s a problem. What you do with your body, night and college experience is entirely your business and absolutely no one fucking else’s. Take ownership of the decision not to partake: It’s valid, and it makes you happy. You have a perspective to share and a genuinely important voice to offer this conversation.

But it’s an interesting thing to think about and a question that should be addressed in a book and not 900 words. Feeling like you’re doing college wrong because you choose not to hook up implies that hookup culture has somehow defined the college experience or is viewed as a crucial element. It’s true that when we sit around with our friends, hookup stories often dominate the conversation. It’s strange that talking about these intimate experiences is integral to our other relationships, even with people we don’t know that well. It’s the first way we relate to each other. Sometimes I wonder if there’s an underlying guilt or indignation about hookup culture that makes us need to air our grievances to show we’re “chill” with it. If we can make it funny, it isn’t hard. If we talk about it — loudly, publicly — we show that we’re over it. At least that’s been the case for me sometimes.

There’s an explosive messiness to hookup culture, and we talk about it with the hope that we might talk through it. Someone asked what is the point of a DFMO, a Dance Floor Make Out, and my friends and I sat around brunch debating it for hours. What are we looking for? Sometimes it’s just fun. I don’t think we have to overanalyze everything we do, looking for underlying insecurities or desperate grasps at agency. It’s fun to have someone want to kiss you. When you’re on the dance floor, with the lights and the music and the drinks, there’s something intoxicating and electrifying about being that close to another person. So maybe that’s the point. But it hints at future intimacy in the most public format possible, and then it often fails to follow through.

Someone else asked what it means to hook up: Depending on where you get your information, the definition varies wildly from a casual courtship to intercourse. If we’re going to be talking about it so much, we should probably figure out what we’re talking about in the first place. Or at least be on the same page about the fact that it’s varied and entirely reliant on every individual’s level of comfort, experience and attitude on any given night.

I’m a big fan of deliciously honest, open conversations, and I suspect these conversations are the best — if not the only — way to get on the same page. It took me a long time here to feel comfortable setting boundaries with others, mostly because I wasn’t sure what my boundaries were myself. Before you start having the conversation with anyone, it’s crucial to have it with yourself — what do I want from this night and from my college experience?

When I finally started to figure out the stuff I liked and didn’t — how I wanted my narratives to play out — things got so much better (granted, there were some terribly inelegant moments during that learning curve). Being able to articulate those ideas to the people I was hooking up with was scary but ultimately fruitful. Having the courage to follow your convictions and express your boundaries gives you a self-possession that can arm you against the complexities of this world, and I mean that for every end of the spectrum. If you haven’t had sex and don’t want to partake in hookup culture, that’s a clear and valid boundary and you can articulate that with great pride. If you’re somewhere in the middle — maybe you love a good DFMO but don’t want to have sex, or you like spending the night and doing everything but, or you really like sex and are okay with having it with as many partners as you please — those nuances can and should be not only discussed, but celebrated.

Keep talking to each other, it’s a good place to start.

Ayla Besemer .