What does it mean to be part of a hookup culture? To be sexually active in any way, shape, or form today? That having sex is somehow bad? To participate in a system that puts intimacy on the ladder to rape culture even? Does hooking up somehow invite the risk for violation?

Even in a time as supposedly sex-positive as this one, hookup culture can still come off as something to be avoided or ashamed of – especially if you are a woman or belong to the LGBTQ community.  

During your time in college, chances are you’ll probably hear casual dating involving any kind of sexual behavior referred to as “hooking up.” Broadly, we think of hookup culture as one in which we can have the freedom of engaging sexually without the pressure of commitment. The prevalence of hookup culture as an everyday norm among young people has supposedly skyrocketed – yet there are still a number of stigmas that permeate the ways we think of and refer to casual sex. There are plenty of other terms used widely to describe intimacy, and not all of them are positive. Phrases like “screwing,” “nailing,” “hammering,” “banging,” or “hitting that,” to name just a few – these are all examples of language that’s used just as commonly for sexual behavior as they are for onslaught or aggression. It’s understandable then, how hooking up can come to be seen as more than a little negative in our minds. And it’s this negativity that can make it so confusing when trying to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable.  

This not only makes sexual behavior seem stigmatized and somehow negative – it makes it more difficult to call out rape culture when we see it. All too often, we’re told that rape itself is hard to define, because it’s associated with these muddy waters of sexual behavior and hooking up in general. This is especially true when we shame people for enjoying sex – women in particular are often labeled as sluts or whores for having hooked up at all.

We live in an environment where the act of hooking up – of being sexual with someone else, whether for the first time for the hundredth – is still viewed as a questionable choice, and too frequently abused as a defense for perpetrators of sexual assault.

If sex and hooking up are inherently bad, how can we respond when perpetrators “defend” a violent act of sexual assault as a mere regretted hookup, miscommunication, or those muddy waters between sex and violence?

The intersection between rape culture and hookup culture – i.e. the moment we begin stigmatizing others for the ways in which they’re sexual, or involving shameful, degrading language to describe sexual activity – this is what helps perpetrators of sexual assault get away with harming others.

For those of us committed to encouraging healthy, consensual interactions, having hookup culture act as a scapegoat for violent, criminal behavior can be overwhelming, and may invoke feelings of shame or even powerlessness. But it’s important to remember that hooking up doesn’t have to be negative, and it certainly shouldn’t ever be violent.  

It’s time to delineate the difference between hookup culture and rape culture, and that harmful, stigmatizing area where the two bleed into each other once and for all.

The next time you feel unsure of where your experiences, habits, or beliefs fall on this spectrum, consider what Hook Up culture is supposed to be like, then consider what rape culture is.

The muddy waters we're talking about here happen when something harmful belonging in the category of rape culture passes instead into our hookup culture.  

At Catharsis Productions, we're not here to promote or discourage any kind of choice in sexual behavior. Ultimately, that choice is yours and yours alone. What we ARE promoting is a hookup culture that respects everyone, is free from negative stereotypes, and where choices to participate in any form are respected. (Psst psst we have a whole program that talks about this, check it out)

A person encountering hookup culture –whether participating directly or not– can be a person who creates change. You have the opportunity every day to normalize healthy behavior. This can be as simple as using positive language to refer to sexuality. It can be empowering each other, rather than invoking shame, for the choices we make about sex. It can come down to being sure to involve respectful communication in your dating life, to establish consent, to stand up for those who have had their choice taken away. And it’s the responsibility of everyone – not just sexually active folks – to keep hookup culture positives and ensure that consent and respect are the norm.

Don’t let something as healthy and empowering as consensual hookups become clouded with something as harmful as rape culture. You’ve got this!

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Want to bring awareness about a healthy hook-uo culture at your campus? Check out our program The Hook Up.


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Catharsis Productions

Catharsis Productions' mission is to change the world by producing innovative, accessible and 
research-supported programming that challenges oppressive attitudes and shifts behavior.