“The digital generation” would perhaps be surprised to learn that the cultural mores around sexual relationships have an ebb and flow to them—that “hookup culture,” as it’s commonly referred to now, is similar to the way things were back in the 1960s.
The difference can be found in the underlying motivations. While the ’60s were about breaking the shackles of a conservative society, the current wave of promiscuity seems to be a factor of boredom, of not having a template for what a “relationship” means, and of the barriers around pornography dropping as the Internet grows. Freitas (Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America's College Campuses, 2008, etc.) explores her experiences with college students who, she suggests, are fed up with the emptiness and trivialization of the hookup culture. Pornography has gone from an illicit pleasure to something more akin to “research,” and the constant access afforded to the always-connected youth has resulted in a sort of expectation that the roles in pornography are the roles males and females should play if they want to fit in. Freitas examines the dogged persistence of the boys-will-be-boys stereotype that starts at an early age and is reinforced throughout childhood and adolescence; the stigma of college virginity; and the informality and “relaxed” nature of hookup culture, as opposed to the formal dinner-and-a-movie first date (or any date). She questions the role of the HBO show Girls, with its portrayals of the sex lives of women as sources of boredom and depression—is the show simply mirroring culture, or is it also reinforcing it? Freitas poses more questions than she answers, and the “practical guide” of ways to affect change only amounts to a scant few pages in an appendix, with little attention to the role of technology and the narcissism perpetuated by social networking.
It’s good to sound the alarm, but having a plan to go with it would be welcome.