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“Often ‘no emotion’ in sexual relations is the safest option in terms of protecting yourself from getting hurt,” says Wade.

But it’s also a way of preserving the future, which is fitting for a generation who are studying more and partying less as they nurse a fierce motivation to get ahead."You'd think they'd be focused on sleeping around, but really what they’re focused on is getting ahead," confirms Dr.

An uncertain world In the context of the hook-up cultures Wade has researched, the prospect of an emotion-free sex life – even one that’s repressed – might seem, at the very least, to be a simple existence. “One of the students I interviewed after she graduated from college said that she felt like there was ‘no ground beneath her feet’,” says Wade, “because she never knew which script was being used by her partner, or when the script might flip.” Wade uses the term ‘script’ to refer to the sets of behaviours and rules that are followed by the participants in any culture. It’s very confusing.” Perhaps this could help to explain the 40 million American adults who suffer with some kind of anxiety disorder.

“When you have both a dating app like OKCupid and a hook-up app like Tinder, you’re dealing with two competing scripts,” she explains as an example, ”These are scripts about what people are expected to be doing without one another.” And if every channel via which people interact involves a different ‘script’ or set of behavioural rules, it makes sense that, both on campus and off, there’s a growing sense of confusion and uncertainty around how people are supposed to interact with each other – romantically, and otherwise. Because, as a species, humans don’t do particularly well with uncertainty – especially not in a post-internet world.

Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist who’s Chief Scientific Advisor for Match.

“It’s a strong individualism that hook-up culture represents,” agrees Wade.

“The core idea is that students should want to engage in casual sex that has no emotional significance,” explains Wade.

“It’s a set of ideas,” says Wade, "about what’s right or wrong, good or bad, normal or abnormal; a set of rules for interaction – guidelines for how people would interact together; and an institutional context that facilitates hooking up.” So where does this leave us with hook-up culture?

They also have to monitor their own emotions to make sure that they’re obeying these cultural expectations.” Emotionless sex is – literally speaking – an impossibility. There’s a whole constellation, a universe of feelings that we have that come up during different sexual encounters.” The idea is that students should want to engage in casual sex that has no emotional significance.

“To say that we can have sex without feelings is like saying we can have sex without bodies,” says Wade. I’m not saying that those feelings have to be love. To participate, students have to perform disinterest in an effort to demonstrate to their sexual partners and friends that they aren't emotionally invested And this is where we begin to see how hook-up culture has gained a bad rap – because it’s part of a broader popularisation of the idea that emotions are something to be ashamed of.

The internet has transformed sex beyond recognition, but whether this change is for the better or worse is still open to discussion.

We sit down with Lisa Wade, associate professor of sociology and author of that condemned Tinder, hook-up culture, and the ‘dating apocalypse’ that they’ve caused.


  1. May 9, 2015. Millennials may have popularized hookup culture and the notion of "friends with benefits," but social scientists have made a surprising discovery about the sex lives of these young adults — they're less promiscuous than their parents' generation. The average number of sexual partners for American adults.

  2. Feb 10, 2017. In my newly released book, American Hookup The New Culture of Sex on Campus, I show that hook-up culture is now at the center of the institution of higher education. It's thick, palpable, the air students breathe; and we find it on almost every residential campus in America large and small, private and.

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