The Longing Lab

Sociology professor Lisa Wade on the rules of hookup culture and how it stemmed from a stalled sexual revolution

October 31, 2023 Amanda McCracken Season 2 Episode 17
The Longing Lab
Sociology professor Lisa Wade on the rules of hookup culture and how it stemmed from a stalled sexual revolution
Show Notes

Episode 17 Sociology professor Dr. Lisa Wade takes a deep dive into the history and results of hookup culture on American college campuses based on her research. She reveals the unspoken rules of hookup culture and how the stalled sexual revolution contributed to hookup culture (and in turn young adults having less sex than their parents). 

Dr. Lisa Wade is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Tulane University. Dr. Wade's publication record includes work on college hookup culture, the sociology of the body, and U.S. discourse about female genital cutting. In 2017, she published American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus based on her research derived from 101 college students’ journals where they wrote about sex and romance on campus.  In the book, Wade maps out a punishing emotional landscape marked by unequal pleasures, competition for status, and sexual violence. She discovers that privileged students tend to enjoy hookup culture the most, and considers its effects on racial and sexual minorities, students who “opt out,” and those who participate ambivalently. 

Connect with Lisa through her website 

In this episode, (in order) we talked about…

*The pain, danger, freedom, and selfishness involved in hookup culture

*The rules of hookup culture

*How by the sexual revolution never succeeding in convincing society to value feminine traits it contributed to the creation of the hookup culture

*Why hookup culture is distinctly American 

*How the erotic marketplace and differences in religiosity and economics play a role in who can participate freely in and who is invited and valued into hookup culture 

*Why being called desperate is worse than being called a prude or a slut

*Virginity on campus

*What college students are longing for: genuine options


“Most of them (college students hooking up) have this desire for connection, for meaningfulness, for sex that feels  emotionally intimate—those feelings are thwarted by hookup culture and the lack of accountability and ambiguousness is sustained by everyone pretending not to care about each other or actively not caring about each other.”

"In America fun and being carefree is really tightly connected in our imaginations. But, in order to have sex where nothing you do can come back upon you and require you to take care of others, you have to have it be careless as well as carefree. This is a tricky thing to accomplish given that we know sex is often extremely emotional."

"You can flirt and be friendly before a hookup, but during a hookup sex should be hot but not warm. Extended eye contact, caressing, and slow kissing (traits considered feminine) is off script in hookup culture. Sex is supposed to be great but not sweet. 

“By far the most heartsick people in my research were a couple guys, a straight guy and a gay guy, who really desired to have emotional experiences and struggled to find them.”

“Students hookup less and have more criticism of hookup culture as they go through their college experience.”

 "When the daughters of the women who were young adults in the 60s and 70s got to college in the mid-1990s, they applied the logic that women’s liberation is the right to do anything men do. You apply that to sexuality and you get hookup culture."

 “There really isn’t a pathway for a relationship that doesn’t go through this hookup period." 

 “Hookup culture isn’t about hooking up with someone you like. It’s about hooking up with someone your friends are going to be impressed by. It’s about status.”

“If you have to jump into the deep end to have sex at all, then it makes sense that people are having less sex than before because it’s scarier.”