Another day, another long story about the sexual habits of America’s young people. This time, Rolling Stone regales us with stories about polyamory, the college hook-up culture and virgins who are blow-job sluts.
Just what you needed to brighten up your day.
One suspects that the magazine is exaggerating. One does know that there is less hooking up than one has been led to believe. Polyamory has its own television show, but it has not, for most people, become a viable lifestyle choice.
And yet, there is much more hooking up and many more unconventional couplings than there were a couple of decades ago. The trend, such as it is, is moving toward what I would call rulelessness.
To my mind, such as it is, the real story is the way young people are trying to develop relationships in a world without rules. Rolling Stone allows us to understand that, while the young people are happy to exploit the many possibilities that rulelessness offers, they are just as often dazed and confused.
Obviously, you cannot be a moral being if you live without rules. Morality and ethics involve following rules.
And yet, these new arrangements are not immoral either. Today’s young people are not breaking rules. If there are no rules, you cannot break the rules.
And, these new behaviors are certainly not animalistic. When animals have sex, they do so for a reason and with a purpose. Animals do not have massive amounts of recreational sex.
In truth, today’s young people are living in a world where, in the absence of rules, they are slaves to their whims and their urges. They do what feels right, now and again.
Those who live in a world without rules or norms suffer anomie. One might try to overcome anomie by finding a culture that does have clearly defined rules and norms, or one might try to enjoy the anomie. For more and more young people the latter seems to be the most desirable solution—assuming that they feel that they have a choice.
An Alabama sorority girl named Laura, the first of her friends to be engaged, offered the article’s money quote:
Laura’s hopes and romantic aspirations might be just the same as those of her mother, who'd also been in a sorority, but there was suddenly no guidebook, no etiquette, no rules to dictate how those aspirations would be accomplished.
The founders of a website called Gaggle are trying to help young women deal with this new “reality:”
Rebecca Wiegand Coale and Jessica Massa, co-founders of the website the Gaggle, have launched a campaign to help women navigate this changing sexual landscape. “We really feel like the first step to embracing the post-dating world and having a great time and finding love within it is just accepting that basic premise that all the rules are off,” says Coale,
Another young woman, Leah is living in a polyamorous relationship. She is living with one man but has negotiated the right to spend an occasional evening with another. The man, of course, has the right to shack up with other women.
One senses that they are making it up as they go along:
Leah’s is a generation that has been raised with the concept of sexual freedom and without solid guidelines for how to make monogamy work. That some brand of non-monogamy would appeal to large numbers of them is thus unsurprising. And in this, Millennials realize that they’re pushing the boundaries of the sexual revolution beyond what their parents might have expected and their grandparents could even conceive.
Interestingly, Rolling Stone calls theirs an “arrangement.” It feels like the blind leading the blind. They may be right that commitment to a single individual will inhibit their sexual freedom, but they do not seem to understand that there are certain advantages to such a commitment. Strangely, in the name of sexual license they have thrown away romantic love, along with dating and courtship.
Of course, these are not what we would call relationships. They are designed to maximize sexual pleasure. Like worshippers at the altar of Aphrodite these young people seem to have defined relationships down to the point where there is nothing left but bodies and organs going bump and grind in the night.
Sex for the sake of sex… should be the mantra. Or better, sex as mental hygiene. Commitments are neither expected nor necessary. Rules and roles do not exist. Emotional connections are unnecessary. They might even inhibit the full realization of one's orgasmic potential.
Rolling Stone explains the sex lives of college students:
And those college kids are now pushing the trend further to today’s standard in which commitment and emotional connection of any sort are both unnecessary precursors to sex. Such a development has been bemoaned as the fall of mankind and lauded as a necessary step forward in the long slog toward gender equality. But what it isn’t is an indication that Millennials as a group are sexual deviants, veering off into a carnal wasteland.
Which means that Millennials are pioneers in their own right, navigating a wide-open sexual terrain that no previous generation has encountered – one with more opportunity, but also more ambiguity; less sex, but potentially better sex, or at least sex that has the potential to exist as much for its own sake as it does for any other. Ideas of whom one can sleep with and how, and what that means in terms of one’s sexual identity, have never been more fluid. The possibilities have never been so undefined.
Witness Kristina, a college girl who is living her sexuality, she believes, to the fullest. She is thrilled by the number of sexual conquests she has made-- as though it's that difficult for a young woman to persuade a man to accept free love. She definitely wants to get married one day, but cannot imagine herself dating. She is looking for something that would resemble a arranged marriage.
Kristina is independent and autonomous; she thinks that she owns her sexuality, more so since she is giving it away for free. Neither she nor any of her friends would ever break the first rule of feminism: never compromise with a man:
Kristina isn’t even nostalgic for a time when dating roamed the Earth. She is adamant that hookup culture suits her just fine, that she for one doesn’t want a boyfriend right now. She says that while she certainly knows women who in theory do, she doesn’t think many of her friends would prioritize a relationship over other life advancements. “I was actually talking with my sorority about this. Like, if you had a promotion but you had to move across the country, away from your partner, would you stay with your partner or move? Most of us said we'd move. Having a guy hold you back? It's ridiculous.”
Like, I'm obsessed with the idea of getting married, but I want to skip the dating part and just know who I'm going to marry.” She believes hookup culture might actually make this possible for her generation. “We'll be so experienced in all the people that we don't want, when we find the person who we do want, it's just going to happen.”
Kristina is correct in one sense. When it comes to the age-old question: How do I get from here to there?, she doesn’t have a clue.
If you have never dated, you will not know how to date. It’s not as though you will suddenly learn it after spending your college years involved in nothing more significant than hooking up.
Older and wise souls have also cast doubt on this exercise in amorality:
And yet the societal prevalence of sex without emotion has implications even in cases where emotional connection is very much present. Or, as the sociologist Armstrong puts it, “There is a question about whether people who have been doing a lot of hooking up for a lot of years are going to find monogamy such an easy thing to do.”
The question then becomes how to navigate these aspirations in a post-dating landscape. “The hookup culture is a real problem for folks who are trying to transition out of that into something more exclusive,” says therapist Lair Torrent. The Gaggle may be a way of rethinking one’s dating life, but as of right now, no one can predict what the ultimate outcome will be.
One can, however, anticipate the damage. No one begrudges young people their fun or even their efforts to reinvent the wheel. After all, they have separated sex from reproduction and have diminished—so they think—the risk of STDs.
What’s left, young people think, is the pleasure.
But, whose pleasure is it anyway? If there are no rules and no roles, there are no social beings involved in the sexual interactions. It’s a body to body, organ to orifice exchange. It’s as though we had decided to separate food consumption from formal or informal dinners, from table manners, even from preparation.
If food consumption is merely about sustaining an organism, this organism loses its identity, its place in society. It cannot affirm itself as a social being if it is not participating in a social ritual, with rules and roles.
Human beings who engage in these forms of amoral sexual release might feel that good sex is mental hygiene. And yet, if they are not involved as social being, the enjoyment they experience is never really theirs. It does not belong to them.
They are not connecting to another human being, but are acting out a simulated connection that will make them feel less alone, for a time, but which will not solve the problem of anomie.