A common belief among college students is that sexual relationships are harmless, and this belief is often associated with higher levels of acceptance of the rape myth. But what does it mean to be part of a culture of encounters? Is participating in a system that places intimacy even on the scale of rape culture? Does connecting in any way involve the risk of violation? Even in such a supposedly sexually positive time as this, the culture of sexual relationships can still seem like something to avoid or be ashamed of, especially if you're a woman or a member of the LGBTQ community. During your time in college, you're likely to hear casual dates that involve any type of sexual behavior called “hooking up.” In general terms, we think of the culture of sexual relationships as one in which we can have the freedom to have sex without the pressure of commitment. The prevalence of the culture of sexual relations as a daily norm among young people has supposedly skyrocketed; however, there are still a number of stigmas that pervade the way we think about and refer to casual sex.
There are many other terms that are widely used to describe intimacy, and not all of them are positive. Phrases such as “screw”, “nail”, “hit” or “hit”, to name just a few, are examples of language that is used as frequently for sexual behavior as for onslaught or assault. It's understandable then, how hooking up can come to be seen as more than a little negative in our minds. And it's this negativity that can make it so confusing to try to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable.
We live in an environment where the act of flirting — having sex with another person, whether for the first time for the hundredth time — is still considered a questionable option and, all too often, is abused as a defense for perpetrators of sexual assault. If sex and sexual relationships are inherently bad, how can we respond when perpetrators “defend a violent act of sexual assault as a simple regrettable connection, a lack of communication, or those murky waters between sex and violence? The intersection between the culture of rape and the culture of sexual relations is what makes it so difficult to hold perpetrators accountable. The moment we begin to stigmatize other people because of the way they are sexual, or we use shameful and degrading language to describe sexual activity, this is what helps perpetrators of sexual assault get away with harming other people. For those of us committed to encouraging healthy and consensual interactions, making the culture of sexual relationships act as a scapegoat for violent and criminal behavior can be overwhelming and can cause feelings of shame or even helplessness.
But it's important to remember that hooking up doesn't have to be negative, and it certainly should never be violent. It's time to outline the difference between the culture of sexual relationships and the culture of rape, and that harmful and stigmatizing area in which the two collide with each other once and for all. The next time you're not sure where your experiences, habits, or beliefs fall on this spectrum, consider what the Hook Up culture should look like and then consider what rape culture is. A person who encounters the culture of sexual relationships, whether they participate directly or not, can be a person who creates change.
Every day you have the opportunity to normalize healthy behavior. This can be as simple as using positive language to refer to sexuality. It may be empowering each other, rather than invoking shame, by the choices we make about sex. It all comes down to making sure you include respectful communication in your love life, establishing consent, defending those who have had their choice taken away from them.
And it's everyone's responsibility, not just sexually active people, to maintain a positive culture of sexual relationships and ensure that consent and respect are the norm. Do you want to raise awareness about a culture of healthy connection on your campus? Check out our program The Hook Up from Catharsis Productions. Our mission is to change the world by producing innovative, accessible and research-backed programming that challenges oppressive attitudes and changes behavior. What someone can expect from a romantic relationship or a loving relationship can vary dramatically from person to person.
Many parents don't talk about the positive aspects of healthy sexual relationships; instead they emphasize only on its dangers. Like other parents, I've heard stories about chance encounters, sexual calls, unknowing sex, sexual assault on campus, and other creepy facts about contemporary college life. In fact, some experts believe that many disturbing behaviors such as alcohol-fueled sexual relations, addiction to pornography and sexual assault are caused by this lack of honest and open communication about sex between young people and adults in their lives. They asked these students several questions that would help them evaluate their acceptance level for rape myths; their support for hookup culture; and how these two are correlated.
Ask them what they think about sexual encounters without emotional involvement; how they feel about having a sexual relationship rather than being in a relationship; how they view unequal structures within hookup culture; etc. A culture of sexual relations based on mutual use and lack of consequences cannot avoid leading in the direction of one-sided use of another person's body. Don't let something as healthy and empowering as consensual relationships be tarnished by something as harmful as rape culture. While I support all genders who choose to participate in hookup culture it is important to recognize its potential for reproducing unequal structures.
This debate does not mean that all cases of hookup culture are bad; rather it means that we need to be aware that there is potential for harm if we don't take steps towards creating an environment where consent is respected.