Does hookup culture destroy love? Part 2

Genesis 2:24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

In the first part of this topic, I wrote about how hookup culture affects men and women differently. In the second part, we’ll examine how hookup culture undermines marriage – in terms of marrying later or avoiding marriage altogether. One well-researched blog post asserts that the percentage of college students active in the hookup culture is actually quite low – not even 20%. (I love Susan Walsh’s blog – I don’t agree with some of it but she’s doing amazing things). This confirms what I observe anecdotally. But the perception exists that almost everyone is hooking up. And because the hookup minority represents the top of the social hierarchy (the best-looking and most charismatic people), hookup culture affects the marital prospects of the remaining 80%.

Aside from the biblical evidence, marriage is important for society. In every culture, a married man and a woman is the best context for raising a children. The evidence is overwhelming. Marriage is the only way civilizations thrive over time. The health of marriage is a key indicator of the strength of a society.

And there are two ways hookup culture undermines marriage: 1) allows men easy access to sex 2) gives women unrealistic expectations

First, hookup culture allows both men and women easy access to sex. But this affects men much more. Let’s examine a cliché: Women use sex to get love. Men use love to get sex.

The truth is much more complicated than this but the cliché helps. Both men and women are wired for intimacy but seek it in different ways. Physical intimacy is pleasurable for women but they want something much deeper and more meaningful than a feel-good moment. Men are also wired for profound connection but physical intimacy is one important means by which we experience closeness.

So here’s the issue: If a man can have all the sex he wants, why would he want love?

The truth is, he doesn’t. Sex, in a real sense, means love to him. That is the implication of Genesis 2:24. In God’s eyes, sex IS marriage. The physical union is not only symbolic of marital union, it actually replicates the marital union in a physical way.

Therefore, the best chances a woman has in securing a quality husband is to be extremely selective about who she sleeps with. Susan Walsh has a terrific post about these dynamics at her site. It all sounds like a pretty good argument for sex only within marriage. But anybody who wants to have credibility among the millennial generation would dare touch the sacred cow of postmodern, post-Christian Western society.

Now I recognize there are hybrid versions of commitment that will work and make sense. Where you mix elements of the hookup culture (premarital sex) with some kind of commitment. You know when people say “I want to have sex with someone who understands me blah blah blah”. I sort of get it. I know people who have gotten married this way. But the inherent contradictions in the hybrid system cause many to delay marriage because they haven’t “found the right person”; as if hopping from bed to bed constitutes “searching”. And is the hybridized, compromise version really necessary?

In the online dating article, Kaufmann proposes doing LoveSex – whatever that is. It sounds like a new age thing. Somehow we’ve got to introduce an element of commitment into hookup culture. And the commitment must proceed before the sex. It’s as if the sexual union is the basis for every other type of union. Truly radical.

That’s exactly what marriage is. Marriage is LoveSex – the definition of marriage based on Genesis 2:24. Kaufman is advocating for a soft form of marital commitment – the very thing Europeans (and Americans) have been so eager to dispense of.

The bottom line is this: men don’t want marriage if they can have sex without it. Marriage means exclusivity and responsibility (limited freedom and having a job). In an earlier time, men would be willing to pay that price because sex was expensive. Not any more. Sex is on clearance.

Second, the hookup culture also affects women’s expectations. Because of women’s rights and the sexual revolution, women now have the freedom to be like men in terms of sexual promiscuity, education, and earning potential. One of the consequences of this freedom is a change in what women perceive they want in a life partner. Coupled with the positive self-esteem movement, it’s amazing women tolerate men at all. Hypergamy is a person’s desire to be with a partner of higher social status. Female hypergamy is the phenomenon of women having unrealistic expectations about the kind of husband they want.

A woman wants a man who is a good-looking, well-educated, and ambitious yet humble, jerk but nice guy who is cultured and worldly yet down-to-earth. This is a walking contradiction. A woman may feel entitled to this kind of man because she sees herself as an independent, ambitious, smart, cultured woman who is also grounded, dependent, and submissive. This is also a walking contradiction. You can’t have both. Men don’t want both. Nor can anyone – man or woman – successfully embody all masculine and feminine qualities.

Scripture points to man and woman having complementary temperaments. Men are purposeful initiators who derive meaning from work. Women are nurturing companions who derive meaning from relationship. And yes, many of these characteristics (though not all) are exclusive. Everyone can be gentle but you cannot be both nurturing and aggressive, dependent and independent, and intellectual and down-to-earth. (well, ok maybe Jesus is all that but women aren’t interested in him since he didn’t go to college, hangs out with losers, and is allergic to cats).

The truth is, most men are not attracted to women who are more ambitious and aggressive than they are. And an ambitious woman who is looking for a man with more ambition than her is looking for a painful journey towards divorce (exhibit A: Gavin Newsom).

The bottom line is this: Hookup culture, whether a woman participates or not, sets up women for disappointment. Women are disappointed because men aren’t compatible to what they think they deserve. They’re disappointed because men aren’t as masculine as they are. And they’re disappointed because men certainly aren’t feminine enough either (well, maybe but more on that later). Thus women are continually disappointed until they revise their expectations about who they are, who they’re after, and what marriage is about. This adds up to further delay in getting married or no marriage at all.


  1. Hmm, if hookup culture disappoints women regardless of her participation or lack thereof, doesn't the problem go beyond her own expectations -- namely, that men, also regardless of participation, are shaped by the same culture? (P.S. have you seen the YWAM-affiliated "Sex + Money" documentary?)

    On an aside (outside the context of hookup culture), I wonder if the church has another responses to culture besides telling ambitious women to settle, give up her own sense of calling, or justbesingleandcontentwithyourlot, because that's not too different from secular pop culture advice =/

    1. 1) Stephanie, yes indeed and what's sad is men are trying to conform to these unrealistic expectations and when they do, women still aren't attracted to them and when they don't, well, same thing. Cue cliche here. 2) That's a great question - we are the church and I have a response and I'll be writing about it for men. We'll see if I'm courageous enough to suggest a different calling for women.


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