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No Strings Attached

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What is "hookup culture"? And how does it influence the sex we have ... and the sex we don't?

Since the term “hookup culture” first became part of our collective vocabulary, we’ve been led to believe that casual sex is the standard for young people. But while it’s true that hooking up might be the norm on some campuses or in certain small communities, this idea of an overarching, large-scale hookup culture doesn’t appear to exist – at least not in the way we once thought.

In this episode, host Anita Rao speaks with writer and researcher Sophie Aaron, whose undergraduate thesis project explored the effects of COVID-19 on hookup culture at Oberlin College. Atlanta-based counselor and sexual health educator Dr. Cherlisa Jackson discusses the relationship between hookup culture and our self-esteem, as well as how the expectations for casual encounters might look different depending on your culture, gender or community.

Also joining the conversation is motivational speaker and TikTok user Cindy Noir, who has spent periods of her life abstaining from sex as a way to reclaim her body and sexuality from hookup culture. Through a discussion of Celibacy TikTok and the healing power of abstinence, Cindy explores some of the reasons why hookup culture is being sworn off by those thought to be its most enthusiastic participants.

Thanks to Joseff Inspiration, Jordan Jeppe and Single Woman Chronicles for contributing audio to this episode!

Three Myths about Hookup Culture … Busted!

Myth: The term “hookup” means penetrative sex.

Fact: As a term, “hookup” is intentionally vague and can refer to all kinds of casual sex, including (but not limited to) penetrative sex.

Myth: To be sexually liberated, you have to be comfortable hooking up.

Fact: Not everyone enjoys casual sex, and that’s okay. Sexual liberation means having the freedom to identify your own sexual likes and dislikes … which may or may not include hooking up.

Myth: Everybody’s doing it.

Fact: There are actually far fewer people participating in hookup culture than we’ve been led to believe. Online spaces like Celibacy TikTok demonstrate that not only are many young folks abstaining from hookup culture, they’re abstaining from sex entirely.

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Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist and the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content.
Audrey Smith is a writer, educator, and temporary producer of "Embodied" based in Greensboro, NC. She holds a Master's degree in Secondary English Language Arts Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (2018) and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Nonfiction Writing from Oregon State University (2021).