Hooking Up | Overthink Podcast with Ellie Anderson and David M. Peña-Guzmán

Check out Overthink Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • The practice of hooking up raises a lot of philosophical questions related to feminist theory, queer theory, and ethics
  • The philosopher James Rocha defines a hookup as a sexual encounter by two people not in a committed relationship
  • The roots of the hookup culture can be traced to the rise of fraternities in American universities in the mid-1800s and the rise of women liberation movements in the early 20th century
  • In recent decades, women have been encouraged to pursue their sexual desires more openly. They are rejecting the purity culture
  • “In a sense, what hook up culture does is extend the traditionally masculine form of sexual activity to women”Ellie Anderson
  • There is a strong feeling of pressure to compete in the hookup culture, or what Lisa Wade calls “the erotic market place”
  • The hookup culture is unforgiving to those who are excluded from the “market” due to cultural or religious differences, or low social capital
  • Hookup culture’s norm of “radical casualness” undermines basic human decency
  • “I think I would like to see a future where we move towards much more anarchic, respectful, and ambiguous ways of engaging in casual sex that doesn’t have the kind of contradictions endemic to the idea of hooking up”Ellie Anderson
  • Because there is no end goal, hooking up is a form of resistance towards the logic of nuclear family; first love, then marriage (What Lauren Berlant calls a love plot)

Key Books Mentioned

Intro

  • Ellie Anderson (Pomona College) and David M. Peña-Guzmán (San Francisco State University) are philosophy professors and hosts of the Overthink podcast. The philosophy podcast you’ll actually want to listen to
  • In this episode of the Overthink podcast, Ellie and David chat about the history, theory, and criticism of the hookup culture. Topics covered include sexual ethics, the power imbalance between women and men, and the conservative critique
  • Hosts:

Lascivious Lust of Sexual Liberation

  • Madonna-whore complex
    • Polarized perceptions of women as either chaste and pure (Madonnas) or as promiscuous (whores)
    • Women are categorized as one or the other, or sometimes as both
    • The alternatives for their sexual identity are limited
  • The distinction slightly shifted because we no longer expect women to be Madonnas
    • Women are expected to have hookups, to be sexually liberated but only to a certain point
  • Reality television series like FBOY Island exposes our society’s preoccupation with sex and sexuality
    • These shows are only possible in the context of hookup culture
  • There is a weird norm in heterosexual hookup culture – women are not allowed to be clingy or desperate
    • But they are also assumed to be secretly expecting a relationship when they hookup
  • The practice of hooking up raises a lot of philosophical questions related to feminist theory, queer theory, and ethics

What Does Hooking Up Mean?

  • Hookup culture is a relatively new cultural phenomena
  • James Rocha defines a hookup as a sexual encounter by two people not in a committed relationship
    • The definition is ambiguous because the term “sexual encounter” is very subjective
    • It can be a make-out session, sexual intercourse, or just spending time with someone else
  • Does hooking up always involve sexual intercourse?
    • It is a broader category of connection
    • You don’t say a lot of what happened
    • “A hook up is a hookup, and not a lot of details are divulged”David M. Peña-Guzmán
  • The ambiguity of the term is useful because it allows people to keep their sexual life private
    • For many women, it helps them to protect their status as “good girls”
  • Hooking up is a new iteration of some previous phenomena like making out (necking and petting)
    • For most of the 20th century, the term meant to meet up or network

The Origin of Hookup Culture

  • Hookup culture started on college campuses
  • Today, it is present in pre-college and post-college life
    • High school students feel the pressure to hook up and be part of a larger social dynamic
    • People in their 30s also experience this pressure, especially in urban settings
  • Lisa Wade and Joseph Padgett trace the roots of the hookup culture:
    • The rise of fraternities in American universities in the mid-1800s
    • And the rise of women liberation movements in the early 20th century 
  • The origin of the hookup culture is a combination of fraternities and the idea that men go on a hunt for women
    • Historically, men have been encouraged to have sex with as many women as possible
    • Women had to limit their sexual activity to be “wifey material” – purity culture
  • In recent decades, women have been encouraged to pursue their sexual desires more openly
    • Women are rejecting purity culture
    • “In a sense, what hook up culture does is extend the traditionally masculine form of sexual activity to women”Ellie Anderson

The Erotic Market Place

  • There is a strong feeling of pressure to compete in the hookup culture, or what Lisa Wade calls “the erotic market place”
  • The idea that everyone is having sex but you are very detrimental
    • There is a perception students have that their peers are constantly hooking up, which is not true
    • In the book Guyland, Michael Kimmel reviews a study showing only 80% of college students had ever had sex in their entire lives
    • The hookup culture is unforgiving to those who are excluded from the “market” due to cultural or religious differences, or low social capital
  • Dating apps allow people to jump right into the hookup phase (no alcohol and party rituals)
    • They allow people a framework for expressing their interest in somebody else
    • There is some level of control (swiping, messaging) to signal if you are open to talking (as opposed to being at a party and getting approached by a stranger)
    • They can be problematic if they are used to filter people from certain communities or because of cultural identity

Radical Casualness and Meaninglessness

  • The key element of hooking up is establishing the meaninglessness of the hookup
    • It is necessary to show that the other person means nothing to you
    • You don’t acknowledge them, you don’t say “hi”, recognize them or do anything else that could be interpreted as a violation of the norms of hooking up
    • Everything must be so casual to the point of severing any responsibility to the person
  • What about basic decency?
    • Are men more interested in detaching sexual intercourse from feelings and attachment?
    • Is it possible to have no feelings about a hookup, regardless of sex and gender?
    • Hookup culture’s norm of “radical casualness” undermines basic human decency
    • Something that involves many sensations ends up being senseless
  • Sex doesn’t have to be about long term commitment
    • Confusion of commitment with feelings is indicative of our cultural ideas about sex and romance
    • You can have casual sex without commitment, but why abandon feelings
    • This comes back to the Madona-whore complex; are women hookup buddies or marriage material?

Are Ethical Hookups Possible?

  • The most common critiques of hookup culture are typically in defense of monogamy or purity culture
    • Sex without romance or commitment is fundamentally immoral
  • Here, David and Ellie take a different approach; is it ever possible to ethically engage in a hookup?
    • According to James Rocha, when we hook up with someone, we are disrespecting them because we are treating them as a commodity and pursuing our pleasure
    • The problem is not casual sex per se, it is the ritual of the hookup culture
  • “I think that within the structure that exists of hookup culture, which is highly problematic, there is an opening for possibly ethically permissible hookups, but it depends on the individual”David M. Peña-Guzmán
    • The practice of the hookup culture is interwoven with a ritual that undermines people’s ability to respect others, but that does not mean that individual hookups are always going to be like that
  • “I think I would like to see a future where we move towards much more anarchic, respectful, and ambiguous ways of engaging in casual sex that doesn’t have the kind of contradictions endemic to the idea of hooking up”Ellie Anderson
    • For Ellie, casual sex without commitment is ethically permissible, in so far that we don’t treat the other person as a commodity and negate basic human sentiments, ie. goodwill towards the person

Reenvisioning Sex and Sexuality

  • The critique from feminists is another major critique of hookup culture
    • There is a double standard in men’s and women’s experiences of hooking up
    • The hookup culture leaves women dissatisfied in heterosexual contexts
    • The dangers of hookup culture are very different for men and women
  • According to statistical data, women risk sexual assault and men risk getting into an unwanted relationship
    • Men’s sexual and emotional goals are more likely to be met in hookups than women’s are
    • Women are pressured to engage in the hookup culture, but they are expected to maintain purity
  • On the upside, the space of experiments of casual sex offers liberatory potential in resisting heteronormativity and toxic masculinity
    • Because there is no end goal, hooking up is a form of resistance towards the logic of nuclear family; first love, then marriage (What Lauren Berlant calls a love plot)
    • Hookup culture moves us away from reproductive futurism (the idea of reproducing social order via our children)
  • Queer communities offer the most innovative ethical insights because they involve more communication and resist the rigid social structures of sexual practices
  • “But I think what happens a lot in queer communities is an explicit negotiation of different norms around sex that often, although certainly not always, go hand in hand with respecting individuals as individuals and making explicit what would otherwise go unspoken because there is no sort of first base, second base, third base teleology in queer sex” – Ellie Anderson
Overthink Podcast : , , , ,
Notes By Dario

More Notes on these topics

Top Insights and Tactics From

31 Best Podcasts of All Time

FREE when you join over 35,000 subscribers to the
Podcast Notes newsletter

No Thanks