When sex holds pleasure as its primary motivation, when sex objectifies someone’s body, when sex requires neither respect nor companionship, only desire and a private—but that’s not even necessary—space, meaningful relationships cannot form.Maybe participants in the hook-up culture recognize that there are deeper levels of intimacy than hooking up, but just want to enjoy college while they still can.I’m at Annenberg, talking about morality, when I hear, “What is that, philosophy?Sounds stupid.” As the stranger sitting across from me begins to tell me that you live and you die and life is just about living the most before then, I ask him what living the most entails if he’s never thought about these important questions. While few people take casual sex to this extreme, the hook-up culture at college is no rarity; 72 percent of us will hook up before we graduate. Combine free condoms, distance from home, minimal responsibility, plentiful alcohol, and parties every weekend with the fact that sex just feels good and you have an equation for casual sex. The hook-up culture may seem like an elegant solution to the college life style—reap all the benefits of an orgasm without the commitment of a relationship—but it distorts and perverts our capacity to value each other.Furthermore, every touch, every kiss, and every orgasm releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which increases desire for something.
I would have thought it was a joke if he hadn’t begun reviewing the previous night’s expedition with his friend—two hangovers have better memory than one. Oxytocin makes us trust one another and form deep, affectionate bonds.Harvard puts a lot of faith in the decision-making abilities of its students; it presents all of these issues not by taking a stab at what is ethically right and wrong, but rather what is safe and not safe, legal and not legal. By participating in the hook-up culture, we reinforce the idea that the emotional energy required for sex is no different from that required for self-pleasure or pornography, we reinforce the belief that genuine relationships come second to an orgasm, we reinforce the notion that sex is just an emotionless, mindless, physical act. Sex becomes a deep, romantic, beautiful thing when combined with love and trust.