Written by

Lisa Wade headshot

Lisa Wade is an associate professor of sociology at Occidental College. Her newest book, American Hookup, is about the emergence and character of the culture of sex that dominates college campuses today. Rising above misinformation and moralizing, she situates hookup culture within the history of sexuality, the evolution of higher education and the unfinished feminist revolution. Wade's new research maps out a punishing emotional landscape marked by unequal pleasures, competition for status and sexual violence. She also considers its effects on racial and sexual minorities, students who "opt out" and those who participate ambivalently. Before receiving her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wade earned an master's in human sexuality from New York University and a bachelor's in philosophy from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has authored more than a dozen academic research articles and a textbook on the sociology of gender. She also actively contributes to media, writing extensively for non-academic audiences and appearing on television and radio.

Her campus lecture and book discussion on Jan. 31, "American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus," was sponsored by the Whitman College Office of the President, Associate Dean of Students, and Department of Sociology.

What are three ways that campus hookup culture has changed in the past decade or so, and what are the main factors that might help us understand these changes?

Hookup culture probably started to take over residential college campuses in the 1990s. Of course, there had always been hooking up on campus, but hookup culture is different. Prior to the '90s, hooking up was an option; now it's an imperative. Casual sexual contact has become a central way in which students get the "whole college experience."

One reason has to do with the feminist movement of the 1970s. The feminists of that era wanted two things: 1) they wanted women to have access to the valued, masculine domains of life (the jobs, leisure pursuits and personality characteristics associated with men) and 2) they wanted everyone to sit up and notice that the things women had been doing were valuable, too.

They got the first thing, but not the second. So today, most men continue to try to enact valued masculinity... and women do, too: most women mix masculine traits and interests into their personalities and occupational trajectories. They apply the same logic to sex: It's okay to be girly, but the women who really earn other people's respect are a little bit boyish. Add to that delayed marriage, the need to prioritize education and work to ensure economic well-being as an adult and pop cultural depictions of college life (which go all the way back to the frat boy of the 1920s, but also reflect Animal House in 1978 and the millions of dollars liquor companies spent to convince us that college students should drink in its aftermath) and you have a recipe for the idea that college should be a sexy good time for all.

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