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Author Lisa Wade on Her New Book, Hookup Culture, & Harvard Appearance

By Mackenzie Cummings-Grady | February 12, 2017 | Culture

Hookup culture is promoted everywhere. It is embedded in our pop culture; The Weeknd and Trey Songz sing about it, we see it in on the screen, such as Hulu’s Casual and Friends With Benefits. Yet, as popular as hookingup supposedly is, Occidental College sociology professor and author Lisa Wade claims there is nothing “cultural” about it.


Professor Lisa Wade.

Wade’s new book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus elaborates further on the hot-button topic. The main take away: Hookup culture is an illusion. We spoke with Wade about why hookup culture is the way it is, and what we can do to clear the fog. Wade will be leading a discussion on this topic at Harvard Book Store on February 9 at 7 p.m.

Boston Common: How did the idea of hooking up even originate?
Lisa Wade:
I think it has to do with social evolution. The feminist movement of the 70s wanted two things: proper nurturance and care for women, and we wanted to have access to masculine spheres. We got more of the second, and not the first. As a result, women have become sexist to anything feminine. The ideal woman is now someone who can mix masculinity with their femininity, and that comes with exploring sexuality.

But you’re saying that hookup culture is not what it seems?
15-25 percent of college students hook up fairly regularly, but most can’t stomach it. Ultimately, this idea we can be emotionless around sexuality is very aspirational. We’re emotional beings. The vast majority wants to be having sex, but the way of hooking up is what intimidates them. It’s scary to have sexual contact with someone who has no regard for you at all. That’s why if you’re looking for a relationship, it’s hard to differentiate. It’s all about peer pressure. The issue is people feel a need to be hooking up, and feel excluded or self-conscious when they don’t.


Elaborate more on how hooking up effects developing a relationship.
Hook up culture is solely dependent upon looks. It gives students excuses to be subconsciously racist and picky. It makes finding an open minded partner difficult.

You mention in a chapter on Abstainers that minorities struggle to fit into this culture. Why is that?
People of color are less likely to hook up than white students. Black women are seen as the least desirable as a result of racism, yet Asian women are some of the most desirable because we overtly feminize them. These are just a few examples.

So what’s it going to take for young people to break out of this “culture?”
It’s dependent on whether we as a society can start valuing feminized ways of loving and sexuality. Who’s going to value beauty and love and take care of our children? The young people have it in them to envision it, they just need to make themselves more vulnerable and embrace it. This culture all exists in our heads, we just need to think differently. Of course, that’s always the hardest part.

Photography by: Photography by Babs Evangelista (headshot)