On Tuesday, the Pomona Student Union sponsored “The Hook-Up Culture: Why We Don’t Date,” a panel discussion held in Edmunds Ballroom. Wilfred McClay, a historian from Pepperdine University; Roger Friedland, a cultural sociologist from UC-Santa Barbara; and Pomona Professor of Politics Susan McWilliams each commented on the topic, and then answered audience questions.
Friedland, who spoke first, focused on the statistics of a series of surveys he conducted at UCSB and Pomona and on Facebook, asking students questions about their sex and love lives. Specifically, he looked at hook-ups versus longer-term sex partnerships, and he compared data along gender lines. He found that men were much more likely to be having hook-ups than women. Among women participating in hook-ups, 60 percent hope to have a relationship come out of it, while the majority of men do not. Friedland argues that “F—ing is a feminist issue.” He also brought in religious ideas, noting that individuals who believe in God, while not less likely to have sex, are more likely to find it difficult to separate emotions from the sexual act.
Professor McClay was the most critical of the hook-up culture. He defined two opposing views of sex—one where sex is used merely for physical pleasure. The other is that “sexual arousal is a process of the soul.” The most poignant point he made was his analysis of rape victims. If sex was merely an animalistic physical encounter, sex without consent would be simply a nuisance. However, since sex for humans is invested with personal connection, assault becomes a violation of personhood.
McWilliams—the youngest of the three speakers—seemed to be the most in tune with students’ experiences. Unlike the other two, she admitted that the hook-up culture had its roots much earlier, and attributed the trend to changes in America’s socioeconomics. American kids today, she argues have been conditioned to deal with transience. Mobility is the norm: we detach ourselves from high school friendships when we start college, which only lasts four years before we move on again. Even our technology, our cell phones and laptops, are designed for portability.
After the general forum was finished, students posed questions to the speakers. One interesting observation that a student made about the event was the higher proportion of women in the audience. The exact reason for this is open for debate. Overall, the students that attended did seem to get a lot out of the debate.
Gabe Dayley PO ’12 was particularly stirred by Professor McWilliams’s parallels between mobility in American society and the shifting sexual culture.
“It seemed that what she was suggesting was that we have this underlying culture of mobility and that culture is manifested in different ways…Sexual behavior is just one manifestation of that underlying cultural trend.”
In Dayley’s opinion, the transformation occurred in the 70s and 80s, when the American economy transitioned from a source of exported goods to one of the major importers. The alteration in sexual practice is based on the development of “a society in which we are defined and we define ourselves by what we consume rather than what we produce.”
The other two speakers made valid points for him as well. Specifically, they addressed the issue of religion and its interrelation towith sexuality.
“While our culture in the U.S… seems very religious the two speakers… impl[ied] that the current sexual climate…is a reflection of a lack of genuine spirituality in our culture.”
PSU Member Nina Vertlib PO’11 explained that the group plans events according what students will find most relevant. Overall, she was “really happy with the event.” The speakers ideas managed to avoid redundancy in their ideas and provide considerable insight.
On the one hand, the event represents a bold step for PSU. The subject is somewhat taboo, although the risk may have been mediated by the liberal environment of the Claremont Colleges. Vertlib described her motivation for arranging this lecture by noting that “We already do a lot of coverage of starkly political issues, but I’d like to branch out to more organically arising issues.”
She mentioned that one event for next year that is already being planned is on marriage and its presence in the current day and age. Future discussions are contingent upon the view of the board members and the goals of PSU.