Sex at First Sight: Understanding the Modern Hookup Culture

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Three years ago, I heard a speech delivered by an Ivy League rugby coach. He was talking about relationships and at a certain point said, “When I listen to my players talk about their sex lives, you would think they are participating in a double X-rated movie.” Then he said, “I am afraid we are going to lose this next generation of kids.” I am not exactly sure what he meant when he said “lose” them, but I shuddered when I heard those words because I have three children in this very generation.

After extensive research, I’ve learned about the sexual escapades on today’s college campuses, which is referred to by experts as “the modern hookup culture.”  As a recent female graduate at the University of Virginia explains it, “Sex pervades almost every aspect of dorm life that I have experienced. I have seen ‘dorm incest’ where the entire floor hooks up with everyone else on the floor.”

If you are not familiar with the term “hookup”, it is most often used to refer to when two people accept and participate in casual sexual encounters that involve no type of relational commitment or emotional bonding. For so many college students, sex is just another form of recreation, with neither boundaries nor expectations.

Parents are shocked when they first hear of this and naturally, they ask, “How did this happen?”

Here are the four powerful forces that have come together to create this modern hookup culture:

  1. Pornography.  Its use is rampant. Today, internet pornography is just a click away and available 24 hours a day.
  2. Binge drinking. It is not the fact that college students are drinking, but the amount they are drinking. Frequent, heavy intoxication.
  3. Peer pressure is also a powerful force, particularly for freshmen. If they are unwilling to participate, they are considered unaccepted and abnormal.
  4. Finally, there is a new modern view of morality. There are no absolutes, and everyone has to create their own moral code. Therefore, you follow your heart, your feelings, your desires, and your passions, wherever they lead you.

As discouraging as this may sound, it is reality. And of course, a most obvious question is: “Where is this leading? How will it impact the lives of college students five, ten, even fifteen years from now?”

The Consequences

There are major problems that result from this hookup culture — including sexually transmitted disease, abortion, sexual assault, and date rape.  Clearly, when human beings have little sexual restraint, it has overwhelming consequences on the culture.

Those in the social sciences who work with college students are greatly concerned, not only because of the physical consequences, but also the emotional consequences they are seeing. Our young people are not finding the happiness and quality of life they are seeking by having numerous sexual liaisons.  To the contrary, it is leading to a great deal of emptiness and depression. 

Dannah Gresh has spent a large part of her adult life picking up the pieces of girls who are in deep pain because of the wounds of their sexual encounters with young men. So many of them have needed months or even years of intense counseling because their sexual relationships have left them hollow and broken. In seeking fun and desiring to be accepted, they conformed to what everyone else was doing. However, after the hookup experience, they were left with the sober reality that they had been used.

Equally as sobering is pornography’s powerful impact of the minds of our students. Over time, it causes sexual desire and functioning difficulties, and it often shapes one’s sexual interests in destructive ways.  I had a counselor tell me about a young, married couple who were both virgins on their wedding night. On the first night of their honeymoon, however, the husband could not perform sexually. He confided that he had been hooked on porn for years. I do not know how this story ended, but what a devastation this must have been to each of them as individuals and, more importantly, as a newly-married couple.

The Purpose of Sex

From a Christian perspective, it only seems logical that if human sexuality was God’s idea, He must have a blueprint that leads to the ultimate sexual experience.  What I have found, however, is that for most college students, no one has ever explained God’s purpose for sex. 

In looking at the Old Testament, when a man has sex with his wife, the English translation generally is, “he lays with her.” But the actual Hebrew word for sex in the text is yada. In English, yada is a noun for “boring or empty talk.” But in Hebrew, it is a verb: an action word that means “to know, to be known, to be deeply respected.” Using the Hebrew definition, sexual intercourse is not just for pleasure, but rather its function or purpose is to know or be deeply known by someone.

There is also a frequently used Hebrew word that is parallel to yada.  It is the word hesed, which means “deep friendship and loyalty.” Clearly, God designed sex so that two people could experience intimate love with their very best friend.

In the New Testament, Jesus says “…a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh” (Mathew 19:5).  Cleave is an interesting Hebrew word that means “absolute union.” God made sex for cleaving in marriage. He designed sexual intimacy so that one person could say to another: “I belong completely, exclusively, and permanently to you! All of me!”

I first heard this from Dr. Tim Keller many years ago. He says that this is why you marry – to give someone else your entire being. When two people follow this teaching, their sex life will soar. 

Christ desires for us to follow Him. For those experiencing guilt and shame from their past: Christ wants to forgive, heal, and restore you. If you let Him, He will give you the very best.

*Richard Simmons is the author of Sex at First Sight: Understanding the Modern Hookup Culture 

Join us for Rooted 2015, an intimate youth ministry conference, where we will explore how the good news of God coming to mankind in the person of Jesus Christ offers student ministers and teenagers, hope, healing and connectedness.  

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