Is “Hookup Culture” Really a Myth?

Image- g.p.macklin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

I’m usually suspicious of the “slippery slope”—that logical fallacy in which the arguer suggests that things just keep getting worse and worse. Most of the time, it’s used as fear tactic to keep genuinely good things from happening.

That’s why I was, at first, mildly encouraged by the news that “hookup culture” is evidently a myth. That’s right—according to a paper presented at the American Sociological Association by sociology professor Martin A. Monto, there is “no evidence of substantial changes in sexual behavior that would support the proposition that there is a new or pervasive ‘hookup culture’ among contemporary college students.”

At first, this news may seem like a relief to Christians who are concerned about popular views of premarital sex – while it may not look like cultural repentance, it at least means that things aren’t worse now than they were twenty years ago.

But this all starts to fall apart when we take a look at how Monto seems to define “hookup culture.” According to the Chronicle of Higher Education piece that first broke the news, Monto’s study discovered two main things about today’s young people:

  1. They are not having sex more often.
  2. They are not having sex with more people.
Image- wbaiv via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In other words, Monto is measuring sexual activity in quantitative terms: how many and how often. This is the news that’s making the headlines—that young people are having quantitatively as much (or as little) sex as their forebears.

But there’s a problem here. For those who were and still are concerned about “hookup culture,” the damage never centered around quantitative measures. Rather, the problem is a qualitative one, involving the nature of what sex means. And in this area, Monto’s research actually discovered something troubling:

“Surveys show that today’s sexually active young adults are more likely to report that one of the people they had sex with over the past year was a friend or someone they hooked up with via a pickup or casual date…Today’s young people are also less likely to be married or to have a regular sexual partner.”

Amazingly, this portion of Monto’s findings received very little press attention, even though the “casualness” of sex has always been a cornerstone of the hookup-culture theory and the the major source of Christian concern. For most Christians, sex isn’t “casual” – it maintains a high, sacred place in human life. It’s a sign of marital covenant, a form of worship, a way of selflessly honoring one’s spouse, and a dim-but-lovely shadow of the pleasure of divine love. Those ways of perceiving sex, however, seem to be losing ground.

It seems, then, that Monto’s thesis is only partly true. In fact, “hookup culture” is alive and well inasmuch as it is communicating that sex is just another form of harmless recreation. Moreso than twenty years ago, sex is viewed as nothing special. And that actually should give us pause.


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