Reflecting on Donna Freitas’ Talk on Hookup Culture at #QNashville

Another presentation that I find myself thinking a lot about is Donna Freita’s “Hookup Culture.”  Feel free to psycho-analyze – I have been too.

She’s the author of  The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy and she sees answering the hookup culture as a “justice issue.” While I have never thought of it in that light before, I certainly think exposing the damage of things like the hookup culture potentially contributes to the common good, the betterment of society, and better-lived lives.

The first line of her talk:
“I feel like I have to warn you, I’m Catholic. We have the Catholic explaining hookup culture.”

IMG_3465 Rest of my notes:
Young adults believe they are supposed to be casual about sex in college.

The official social contract of the hook-up:
1. Anything from kissing to sex
2. brief
3. feel zero emotion so you don’t get attached
4. Alcohol – that last one is unofficial

The stats on college student attitudes about their hookups:
41% are profoundly unhappy
23% are ambivalent (the “whateverists”)
36% are more or less fine

Please note we have a growing population of “whateverists.”

Hookups are efficient.

Students often believe that hookups are their only option.
There is a lot of suffering, alienation and shame.

Romance and dating:

  • both women and men (yes: men) yearn for romance
  • both women and men (yes: men) wish for old fashioned dating
  • T/F Quiz: The proper response to hookup culture is teaching that abstinence is the only way.

    Responding to hookup culture is a several step process:

    • teaching young adults to slow down
    • Pressing “pause” on participation in hookup culture (maybe even only for a weekend).
    • Start talking about romance, love, dating, intimacy, and overall relationships skills.

    “Christianity is bigger than its teaching against pre-marital sex”
    “The Good Samaritan” approach
    if you see someone lying in the road, don’t just hold up a sign (abstinence until marriage) as you walk by
    Set aside your sign and go to them

    If you find they are deaf, stop shouting
    Don’t give up if you realize they can’t hear you. They are still lying there, waiting for someone to respond
    To extend a hand, try something new be creative, meet them where they are
    Creative attention restores dignity
    Allows you to see them for who they are and where they are.

    My Commentary:

    Was mesmerized by the statistic that 41% are profoundly unhappy and 23% are ambivalent (the whateverists”) and a third are “fine” with it.

    Would have loved to have seen the male/female breakdown – I bet it’s in Donna’s book.

    Appreciated what constitutes as a ”hookup.”

    Struggled a bit with:

    • “both women and men (yes: men) yearn for romance
    • both women and men (yes: men) wish for old fashioned dating”

    BUT, if I can throw off the generalization (it was an 18 min. presentation afterall), I can concede there’s probably something there, particularly to how men see serious relationships. That old cliche of men classifying certain women as those they “have fun with” and others they marry may be offensive but contains truth.

    Further,  I am grieved on a number of levels:
    I feel for the young women who are objectified and hurt.
    I feel for the young men who grow up with a perverted view of love, relationships and sexuality.
    I feel for our teenagers who aspire to live out these fantasies.
    I feel for our pre-adolescents who have their perspectives informed on any level through their casual observance.

    A bit of personal critique on a presentation that was well-researched and well-delivered.
    but if I may nitpick:
    I got a little lost/bored around the T/F quiz and the line, “Christianity is bigger than its teaching against pre-marital sex.”

    It could be where we are in the Northeast, we think abstinence well and good, but it’s not a helpful starting point for this conversation. Most of whom I know prefer to talk about healthy sexuality, sustainable relationships, purity, the refusal to objectify and “use” the other and try to figure out what love actually is. In a Christian framework, some of us are asking, “What does it look like to have our lives fully surrendered to Jesus.” (this includes our understanding of time, money, success, sex, relationships, our future, our past, you name it.)

    I am sure I would be told, “You’d be surprised by the number of people who need to hear this” and this certainly may be true for traditional types who are locked into that way of thinking. But it didn’t match the rest of the quality of Donna’s presentation at Q.

    I did appreciate the Good Samaritan metaphor and absolutely loved: 
    “Creative attention restores dignity
    Allows you to see them for who they are and where they are.”
    Amen and amen.

    Lastly, I don’t think it’s fair to lay the blame at the marketers or the cast of Jersey Shore, or at parents or the church or the porn industry or whatever one may suggest. Donna did not do this but I often hear some form of this blame game. If there’s blame here, we’re all to blame on some level.

    To respond to the hookup culture, we need to offer our teens, pre-teens, young adults, and society in general a better narrative of love, relationships, sex, friendship, marriage, and what a well-lived life can be (I believe this is Donna’s third point). This will all look different from one life to another but a healthier narrative rooted in love and respect will not only reduce pain but lead to greater joy.

    As a pastor and as a friend, I find myself talking about relationships, love, dating and sexuality quite often. I found Donna’s framework very helpful and am grateful for people like her. She certainly came off as more than a professor/researcher – I found her to be very caring and supportive. I keep thinking about the research and her tone and I look forward to reading this book one day.


    1. If you’re interested in reading an additional book on the subject, you could check out “Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both” by Laura Sessions Stepp
      It was eye-opening & saddening. :-/ …and interesting, since she took a more journalistic/research approach to the topic.

    2. *I’m not actually comparing her approach to Donna’s when I use the word “more”! I haven’t read Donna’s book…

    3. Thanks Andrea, this book keeps coming up. You sold me, I’ll add to my ever-growing Amazon wish list.

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