In the hookup culture, what separates us from mammals or other creatures in our sexual behavior?
Shawna Rohrman, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, said, “It depends on what part of sexuality you are focusing on, obviously with humans we have emotions, so that plays an important part in sexual behavior.”
The Huffington Post cites Jared Diamond’s book “Why Is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality” to back up the claim that dolphins and bonobo monkeys have sex for pleasure. Among the evidence offered is the idea of having sex even though the female is not fertile.
If emotion is one of the key components to the equation of what makes us different from other animals, then what are hookup apps doing to that distinction?
“We can convey these emotions really easily without really having to talk about them,” Rohrman said. But is this making us less able to emote? “If you ask a millennial they would say probably not, but if you ask someone who is older, maybe a little cynical about young people, they would say young people are monsters.
“I think that apps like Tinder do depersonalize the process somewhat,” Rohrman said. This can be beneficial depending on your goal. If the goal is to not have a lot of attachments, then depersonalizing sex would be a positive part of an app experience. If the goal is to experience emotion or have a connection, then it can detract from the experience.
The depersonalization may factor into the cultural differences humans have regarding sexual activity. Depersonalization may also have effects on power dynamics in relationships. She cited a project in which students put on a pregnancy suit and set up a Tinder profile to see if people still wanted to hook up, and not only did they get positive results but the messages they got were “quite disgusting.” The explicit sexual behavior with someone that they had never spoken to before.
The anonymity implies that you act in ways that you wouldn’t act in person. A perceived power dynamic between men and women may be exaggerated through anonymity. The expectations of a heteronormative relationship can get taken too far, Rohrman said. “But if your not in a face-to-face relationship, who cares? What’s to stop you from being as obnoxious as you can possibly be.
“What do you have to lose if no one knows who you are?” she asked.
Rohrman said in regards to the hookup culture, “for females in particular it’s a way to have a relationship without impeding their career path as casual sex is more binding for women.” She notes that there is a stereotype of women having to potentially quit a career if they are pregnant.
“So, the hookup if it is safe,” according to Rohrman, “allows women to explore that sexuality in the way that men have traditionally done, without imposing a relationship.” She continues, “It allows them to still be independent.”
Sex was considered negative in the Victorian era. In the mid-1800s sex outside of marriage was frowned upon. A food was even invented to reduce sex drive: the graham cracker, named after Sylvester Graham. A sobering thought for the next round of s’mores by the campfire.
“A male losing semen was worse than losing blood,” professor John Zenchak said. Sex gradually got less restrictive in the ’20s until the ’30s and ’40s, then the sexual revolution happened. Fast forward to the late ’70s and early ’80s there was an AIDS epidemic and now we’re on an upswing. The theme in repressing sex culturally has to do with fear and a lack of knowledge.
Zenchak says you can trace these cycles back to the 1500s. He argues that people were even working harder to prevent sex in the 1800s than now, without being more successful.
Culturally, we are different from other animals. In the United States alone, you may engage in a different type of sexual behavior based on what religion you grew up with. As far back as the ancient Greeks and Romans Zenchak says, societies would cycle back and forth on sex. Religion provided a sort of counter to the Roman idea of promoting sex. Religion introduced the idea that sex wasn’t for pleasure only. People became afraid of it in a sense as something that might lead to sin.
So to think that this upswing of relative sexual freedom is limitless is not necessarily the case. A new STD may arise or a form of religion that ideologically limits sexual freedom may become increasingly popular.
Time is not the only determining factor for how sexually repressed or free a culture or society is. The values of the culture matter. To what degree is sex is promoted or repressed? Zenchak provides the extreme example where in some cultures sex would be encouraged at age 10 or 11, where sex would be taught by an older member of the opposite sex. “In our society, we’re not aware of that for the most
“In our society, we’re not aware of that for the most part,” Zenchak said. In American society, relationships or hookups with older people can be demonized, with labels such as cougars and cradle robbers for those who pursue relationships with relatively young but legal individuals.
“We in society have the concept that our sexual attitudes and behavior are innate,” Zenchak said. Animals do not have this. “If you look at rats, rats don’t have the cultural impact, so the sexual behaviors of rats in this society would be comparable to in a European rat group.”
If value is placed on hookup culture, people will act accordingly. Whether that be at a nursing home or a dorm room: s’mores or no s’mores.