Hookup Culture Is a Thing Rich White Kids Do

We already knew that hookup trend pieces were boring and overwrought and full of fear-mongering, but there's another, even more concrete reason they should be ignored: like many trend pieces, they're only about white people.

Researcher Lisa Wade (whose work has been republished on this site), has previously written some great take-downs of the idea that hookup culture is everywhere/a new thing/notable, etc. She's particularly targeted Laura Sessions Stepp's annoying book, Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both, noting that in Wade's own research, "About 80 percent of students hook up, on average, less than once per semester over the course of college" – a far cry from the rampant sex orgies being depicted in books like Stepp's. That being said, Wade also takes issue with the idea that the casual relationships that do develop are inherently dangerous. In a 2010 paper, Wade wrote that:

Media panic over hooking up may be at least in part a result of adult confusion about youth sexual culture—that is, not understanding that oral sex and sexual experimentation with friends are actually some young people’s ways of balancing fun and risk.

Now, in a piece for Slate, Wade writes that this is also a panic assigned by the media specifically to wealthy white kids, though perhaps for good reason: those are the kids that are participating in more casual sexual activities in the first place. Wade notes that many young black kids have a desire to disprove the historical assumption that black people are "hypersexual" and therefore are more careful about their sexual activities. She also writes that at college, the differences between historically white and historically black fraternities have created environments for white students that foster a community that's more accepting of hooking up.

Wade also points out studies done with working class students that indicate that those students are more focused on getting through school successfully than having sex and partying. That's an interesting development, given that Kate Taylor's now infamous New York Times piece essentially argued that high-achieving women at serious four-year institutions were engaging in hookup culture for the same reasons – because they needed to focus on school.

Taylor and Wade have actually cited some of the same research, which found that, in Taylor's words, "women from wealthier backgrounds were much more likely to hook up, more interested in postponing adult responsibilities and warier of serious romantic commitment than their less-affluent classmates."

Wade writes that "what we are seeing on college campuses is the same dynamic we see outside of colleges":

People with privilege—based on race, class, ability, attractiveness, sexual orientation, and, yes, gender—get to set the terms for everyone else. Their ideologies dominate our discourses, their particular set of values gets to appear universal, and everyone is subject to their behavioral norms. Students feel that a hookup culture dominates their colleges not because it is actually widely embraced, but because the people with the most power to shape campus culture like it that way.

People with privilege are the ones writing the trend pieces about people with privilege. When the Times publishes a piece about the rampant popularity of hookup culture, and includes one anecdote pointing out how hookup culture is really just a thing to worry about among white women, it manages to make it appear as though it's saying something deep while actually saying the same thing all over again: You should be worried about our young white girls. What will happen to society if they're the ones who fall apart?

The Hookup Elites [Slate]

Image via Israel Leal/AP