The Truth About College Hookups

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alone-girl-photography-favim-com-255027I arrived at Middlebury College with a feather in my hair and an appetite for adventure.  The tiny liberal arts campus nested in the Green Mountains beckoned me like a hippie commune.   No Greek life, no hazing.  Only love, drugs, and progressive conversations around gender and sexuality. 

Or so I thought.

Like so many incoming Freshman, I could not wait to explore my sexuality.  My first semester, I was like a kid in a candy shop. So many beautiful men—sculpted, tall, wielding lacrosse sticks or squash rackets—all up for grabs. I would wake up on Sunday mornings with the stale taste of Tequila on my tongue and a new story to share at brunch with the girls.

My love life was a delicious mess, the electric background noise to my academic endeavors and friendships. It motivated me to do my homework (going to the library is so much more fun with the possibility of running into your crush) and provided good fodder for journal entries. But the dark underbelly of Middlebury hookup culture was always there, slowly but surely wearing away at my self-esteem.  

Many of my hookups did not recognize me as a human being. Yes, I was consciously choosing to engage in non-committal sex, but I still wanted to be seen, heard, and respected. Why should kindness, benevolence, and respect be reserved exclusively for committed relationships? One time I woke up naked in bed next to a long-time crush, who had so tenderly attended to my pleasure the night before. He was laughing with his suitemate about how hung-over they were and how they had both “scored” the night before. Neither one of them acknowledged my presence. I was just an accessory to their wild night.

By Sophomore year, my reputation had caught up to me. An ex-pseudo-boyfriend of mine coldly relayed to me the details that had been shared about my sex-life in the proverbial “locker room.” The noises I’d made, the things I’d said. Soon after, someone posted on Yik-yak: “Esmé’s walk = does anal.” I was crushed, muddled with shame, and suddenly hyper-aware of my gait. I tried to walk as unlike-someone-who-does-anal as possible. I slouched my shoulders and slid through the dining hall quickly, quietly invisible.

I’m sharing my experience to shed light on a larger issue: the disrespect and misogyny that permeates college hookup culture, not just at Middlebury, but on College campuses across the country.

I acknowledge that I am privileged, white, and heterosexual, and I recognize that my perspective is limited. Yet countless research studies and testimonials suggest that my story is not an exceptional one. College women are often subjected to glaring double standards and slut shaming, which can have long-lasting and damaging impacts on mental health.

My Senior Year at Middlebury college, I had a serious boyfriend and was thus exempt from the harmful effects of hookup culture. My boyfriend treated me with respect and kindness — I could have as much sex as I wanted without being perceived as “easy” or a “slut.”  So is commitment the solution then? Should we all just stop complaining about stigma and find ourselves a significant other? Dr. Paula England—leader of the Online College Social Life Survey taken by more than 20,000 students from 21 four-year colleges and universities—confirms that women report significantly more enjoyment in relationship than via hookup sex.

But here’s the thing: relationships are extremely time-consuming. Many college students are too busy with individual pursuits, demanding academics, and friendships to make time for a romantic relationship. So instead of asking why women are forcing themselves to participate in a culture that they don’t enjoy, let’s ask why there is such a baseline lack of respect for women on college campuses. Shouldn’t women be able to engage in hookups without being judged, objectified, and shamed? Shouldn’t we be able to be treated well by men regardless of level of romantic commitment?

To any college-aged women out there who can relate to my experiences, don’t take the slut-shaming, the character-assassinating commentary, or the more insidious types of sexism personally. It’s not about you. It’s about someone else’s insecurities; it’s about someone else’s inability to handle an assertive woman with an actual libido. So hold your head up high and keep marching.

Esmé Valette is a recent graduate of Middlebury college. She is now working in Paris, France as a freelance writer and part-time teacher. Follow her adventures here!

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