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by Donna Freitas
Basic Books, 2013
Review by Hennie Weiss on Oct 1st 2013

The End of Sex

The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture Is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy is an extension of Freitas previous work titled Sex and the Soul. In The End of Sex the focus turns to the characteristics of college hookup culture, how students navigate hookup culture, and also what students really feel about hookups. Freitas argues that the basic rules of hookup culture, hookups with no strings attached, no emotional connection, and encounters largely infused with alcohol, are leaving students feeling embarrassed, ashamed, lonely and empty. Contrary to our cultural focus on and (often times) celebration of hookup culture in college, Freitas states that women and men are yearning for a deeper emotional and physical intimacy that is not possible when adhering to the rules of hookup culture.

As common as hooking up is on campus, students often refer to the need to drink alcohol in order to find the courage of confronting a possible hookup. Alcohol is therefore described as one of the key ingredients in making hookup culture possible for college students. But there are other beliefs that students need to adhere to and adapt to in order to buy into hookup culture, such as sex not being a big deal, that hookups are part of the college experience, that nearly everyone on campus are casual about sex and that getting rid of ones virginity is important in order to fully assimilate and fit in when at college. As most students clearly become invested in hookup culture, the assumption is that their peers are even more invested and believe that the characteristics of hookup culture are important to adhere to. As such, students also help create an atmosphere where many accept and follow the rules about sexual behavior, but it is simultaneously an environment that contributes to making them feel unhappy and unfulfilled, and students are unlikely to speak up about their ambivalence regarding hookup culture.

Even though both women and men are likely to feel that hookup culture has negative effects, experiences are typically gendered. For example, Freitas states that the sexualization of women and the assumption that women are sex objects, intensified by the mainstreaming of pornography, contributes to putting women in demeaning and role based situations on campus. For instance, Freitas writes in detail about theme parties on campus, and how they often depict women as submissive while men are portrayed as being in charge. Role-playing parings depicts this in detail in scenarios where women are supposed to play the part of sluts and hos whereas men are depicted as CEOs, Professors and pros. In such situations, we expect women to adhere to raunch culture, but not to go overboard, making the distinction difficult for women to carry out. As much as women are being sexualized, men are most often depicted as animals and sexual predators expected to show no emotions while they treat women as commodities and trash. Living up to expectations about masculinity on campus leaves men feeling anxious about living up to sexual standards and expectations, but they are unlikely to express such emotions.

The sexualization and objectification of women, as unfair and damaging as it is, is well documented, and has been thoroughly identified by feminists for decades. Studies concerning men and masculinities is somewhat newer, and Freitas manages to include an important discussion of the pressure felt by men to live up to hegemonic standards of masculinity, even when it leaves them feeling anxious and wanting more than simply sexual encounters. Freitas explains that even though men might seem to gain more from viewing women as sexual objects, emotional repression is damaging as well: "The idea fostered in American culture that young men are hypersexual is largely false, and therefore a destructive stereotype to maintain. It not only perpetuates hookup culture on campus but also stunts the ability of young men to grow emotionally. It teaches them to silence their real feelings and desires, which also keeps them from finding fulfilling romantic relationships" (p. 114).

Freitas adds that hookup culture might be more negative for men than for women; "Within hookup culture, no one really wins, but perhaps men lose most of all" (p. 115). It seems difficult to assess who is "the winner" in terms of the damages caused by hookup culture, when women are sexualized and objectified to a greater extent, whereas men are unable to display and discuss their emotions in comparison to women. Perhaps we can state that the consequences both women and men endure are different, but equally important.

Freitas writes in an eloquent and easy to understand matter. Her research touches on and explains current (and also already well documented) gendered relationships and sexual norms. As such, she brings both women's studies and men and masculinity studies to the forefront of her research. Her focus on both the physical, emotional and psychological tolls of hookup culture provides an insightful and nuanced debate of gender and sexuality that pertains to current events and norms on college. The target audience is not only those interested in or studying gender and sexuality, even though the book is a valuable contribution to gender studies, women's studies, masculinity studies, and studies about sexuality, but it also provides a platform for discussion and reflection for students ready to go to college, for their teachers and for parents who might find hookup culture difficult to understand. 

 

© 2013 Hennie Weiss

 

Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.