The End of Sex

I love reading books for review, and I was instantly intrigued when I saw the title of Donna Freitas’ new book, The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy. Now that I’ve finished this book, I feel like I have many new ideas about how I want our family to approach the topic of sex.

Donna Freitas uses The End of Sex to describe the findings of her research on hookup culture on college campuses. Hookup culture is defined by the absence of relationships and emotions in sexual encounters, with a hefty dose of alcohol added in for good measure. ;) Freitas uses the students’ own words to explain how college students are expected to hookup, and the huge pressures within the culture for students to have no feelings for the person with whom they are hooking up. The students explain how dating no longer happens on campuses. In the majority of cases, students either didn’t know anyone who has ever been on a date or they only used the term to describe “serial hookups”, where you hookup with the same person, but still don’t spend time with them when you aren’t intoxicated or having a sexual encounter.

She polled students in a variety of settings — public and private secular colleges, private Catholic colleges, and private evangelical Christian colleges. The results of her study were fascinating. With the exception of private evangelical Christian colleges, the hookup culture was virtually identical on college campuses. Freitas found that private evangelical colleges have an alternate scene – a purity scene – which was filled with its own quirks. Having attended a private evangelical college, I didn’t need any further explanation. ;) She does, however, suggest additional resources for people who want to read more about the culture of purity.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book is that Freitas looks at many different angles of the subject, including ways that different students have attempted to “opt out” of the hookup culture, and programs that have worked (and failed) at college campuses across the country. One of her biggest points is that students realize that they want to have GOOD, meaningful sex, but often don’t know how to get it in the midst of hookup culture. Young men are encouraged to act out macho roles, pretending that they only care about getting a lot of random sex. Young women are encouraged to play out fantasy roles, inspired by pornography, at theme parties every weekend, and feel extreme pressures to neither appear “needy” nor to want more than semi-anonymous sex.

I feel like I am walking away from this book with a much stronger understanding of the sexual attitudes that I want to teach my kids. Freitas’ research shows that students who feel empowered to make a stand to wait for meaningful, good sex are much more likely to avoid the depression and emptiness that many describe as part of hookup culture. She encourages the reader to not only reconsider religious, conservative abstinence-only programs (which do not influence a majority of college students), but to equally scrutinize the far-left curriculum which focuses primarily on avoiding STIs, pregnancy and rape as opposed to being selective about sex. She feels that there is a need for education that shows students that there is a middle ground, and that it is important for both sides to adjust the rhetoric for the sake of the students.

I really enjoyed this book, and I’d recommend it to any parent. It has not been many years since I was in college, but I know that the culture has shifted a lot in a short time. This book adds much to the conversation about young adults and sex, and it is well worth the read.

As I mentioned, I received an electronic copy of this book to review for NetGalley. I was not otherwise compensated, and I was under no obligation to give a good review.

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  1. As someone who’s been teaching college students since the mid-90s, I haven’t seen the culture shift much at all. Unsurprisingly, there is a sizable contingent of students who continue to drink and party heavily, which tends to lead to poor choices. This is particularly true at large state schools and any school where the parent has the money to foot the bill (and thus, the student doesn’t feel a whole lot of responsibility when it comes to say, passing classes or graduating right away). However, compare that to what we saw in the 1960s and ’70s (“Love the One You’re With,” anyone?), or the ’80s, or the ’90s and it seems there has been a pretty regular pattern involving young people, alcohol and drugs and casual sex.

    There has also been a regular pattern of students who come to college seeking a degree and a mate. They come to class, study hard, often work part- or full-time jobs and aren’t drinking heavily or sleeping around. I’m surprised the author wasn’t able to find these students, but perhaps it would have meant she would have had to go to the library where students were studying rather than the parties where they weren’t? (In fairness, I haven’t read the book but I find her conclusions to be vastly removed from my own experiences as a university professor or for that matter, as a university student.) I greatly question her sample size. Why are there no private Protestant institutions included? Catholics and evangelicals are only part of the religious spectrum. Also, are community colleges included? Or universities with commuter campuses?

    The problem might lie in the assumption that there is one dominant culture that students need to “opt-out” of, when in fact there have also always been a number of cultures in high school and college. Yes, there are the jocks, the nerds, the ones who are just keeping their heads down and getting their degree so they can live their life, the frat boys and sorority sisters, and the ones who just want to party. As a proud member of the nerds, I never felt like I was opting-out of anything. Yes, I knew where the parties were, both as an undergrad and in grad school. I had no interest in parties (or sororities) and for that matter no time owing to a continuous overload of classes and part-time jobs. Neither did my friends. And that’s the crux of it: when all your friends are the kind who are more focused on their work and whose “light” reading consists of scholarly books in the subject they are interested in (think Hermione in the Harry Potter series), hook-up culture and party culture and jock culture don’t exist. You don’t know anyone there and you have no interest.

    I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but merely pointing out that it’s something that’s existed for a long time and is not much more pervasive than it was 50 years ago. The opportunity to drink and party one’s way through college is reserved for those whose parents can afford to pay for 5 or 6 years, not for those students who have to hold down jobs and keep their grades up so they won’t lose their financial aid–and that is the reality that more college students than not find themselves in these days.

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