For many of us, the decision to attend Penn is a choice which forces us to forgo easy access to a serious relationship in college. The “Social Ivy,'' with all of its many charms, is known for building professional repertoires, not romantic ones. Its prolific hookup culture was covered in an all-encompassing exposé in The New York Times back in 2013, “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too,” which, despite the nine years that have passed since its publication, could have been written yesterday. The piece focused on anecdotes from 60 interviews of female Penn students, offering a grim outlook on the prospects of long term relationships at Penn.
This is not necessarily a situation unique to Penn — 91% of college students reported their lives to be dominated by hookup culture. Nevertheless, our campus environment no doubt has slightly different reasons for why this culture persists to such a degree. Penn’s hyper preprofessional environment often teaches people that careers and monetary success are paramount over everything else, an issue brought up by many of the girls interviewed in the New York Times piece. This drive, although it places us among the highest earners in the Ivy League post-graduation, leaves little room for what is often perceived as the time commitment or burden of dating.
The ambitious anti-relationship phenomenon can more heavily impact women, who are frequently reminded that they deserve to be equally as successful as their male peers and don’t “need a man” to be happy. Younger people are getting married less and less, and highly educated women, facing the declining number of men in higher education, often have more difficulty finding a male partner. It’s hard to know whether having a husband will be a beneficial addition to our illustrious career goals or not, making marriage an increasingly unlikely prospect for women.
All these factors are compounded by the traditional college pressures of hormone-filled binge-drinking party culture, a weekly occurrence which has been perfected at Penn. It’s no doubt that college and its accompanying social opportunities can be a great chance for students to explore themselves further through their newfound independence, but on the flip side it can quickly squash many students’ hopes of finding a steady partner in a new pool. While for some, hookups are lauded as “empowering,” this narrative often overlooks the role of alcohol and prevalence of sexual assault in these situations. For many women, especially those seeking to embrace their sexuality, hookup culture can also be a repetitive reinforcement of patriarchal sexual stereotypes. A piece in Indiana University Press even went so far as to say that the culture “undermines the freedom, equality, and safety of women on campus.”
These problems are also matched by overall dissatisfaction among the participants in hookup culture. A study of 200 college students found that 72% of men and 78% of women regretted their last hookup. For many women in particular, their sexual experiences are often better in stable relationships as opposed to casual ones with strangers. Research also found that people who had engaged in casual sex in the last month reported lower levels of self esteem and had higher levels of anxiety and depression.
If the physical, emotional and psychological impacts of hookup culture are so negative, then it begs the question: Why haven’t things changed?
Part of this issue is the perception that everyone in college is participating in hookup culture and that if you don’t then you are, in fact, the only one looking for something more serious. This often leads young women especially to believe that subscribing to hookup culture is their only option. But in reality, more students are abstaining than you might expect. A poll of college seniors found that 3 in 10 had never “hooked up” with someone in college. Harvard’s annual survey of its outgoing class alludes to similar results, with one in four students saying they had never had sex.
These students, who disengage romantically altogether, equally miss out on something very valuable about the college experience. Susan Patton, a Princeton University alumna, in her controversial letter to The Daily Princetonian (which has now since been unpublished) as well as her subsequent book, “Marry Smart: Advice for finding the one,” claims that students who simply hookup as well as those who completely refrain from romance face a missed opportunity. In her book, Patton argues that women in particular should not shy away from the fear of the “MRS. degree,” or graduating with a husband, but instead should seize the moment in college to find someone of comparable intellect and values who they may be interested in sharing their life with.
This does not mean that marriage right out of college is the answer. It does mean that we should take our opportunity to meet potential partners seriously. If you do find hookups rewarding, more power to you! It’s important, however, to make sure that we don’t fall into the trap of accepting singleness or serial hookups as our only romantic options at Penn.
So, this Valentine’s week if you’re single and interested in a friend, ask them out. Chances are they might be looking for a good old-fashioned date and companionship as much as you are. The hookup culture starts and ends with us.
LEXI BOCCUZZI is a College sophomore studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Stamford, Conn. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.