The New York Times Sunday Styles section led recently with 170-inch story that begins with the news that some female university students are pursuing no-emotional-strings-required sex with men.
No surprise here. This practice for students and non-students is accepted uncritically in precincts wide and far these days. And that is unfortunate because the unchallenged notion that hooking up is a benign practice misleads some young women.
My experience with women and this subject mostly concerns psychological factors. For some, repeatedly hooking up creates a psychological pattern that is hard to escape when at some future date a woman decides that she wants to establish a “real” and monogamous relationship with a man. If a person’s experience is mostly avoiding and sometimes denying romantic feelings, it can be difficult to change gears.
For some, hooking up for sex is actually done with the privately cherished goal of securing a meaningful emotional relationship with a man. Skipping straight to sex with the hope of circling back later to find emotional intimacy is very hard on self-esteem. Few are able to make the ends of that circle meet, yet many continue to try.
For some women, the process of hooking up means a good deal of effort has to be expended in suppressing the display of any feelings that might be interpreted as in any way “serious.” Over time this suppression takes on a life of its own, blocking honest communication and promoting superficiality
A theme in the interviews that the author of the article conducted with students who use a hooking up strategy for sex, is that they do not have time for serious relationships. In one report, a student calculates that a serious relationship would be, in terms of time, the equivalent of taking another four-hour class. Others plan to relentlessly devote themselves to their careers until they are 30 and then think about developing a romantic relationship with someone. One college student describes her classmates as working hard to separate sex from emotion, because they believed that getting too close to someone would interfere with their work.
Why is it that many women feel that in order to be high achieving they have to cut themselves off from intimacy, connection and love from men? All along the way, these women still long to be known but tell themselves that they can’t simultaneously be in an emotionally reciprocal relationship and also excel.
Yet for many women, the feelings that produce emotional intimacy can’t be turned off and on like a switch. Emotional intimacy is not something acquired off the shelf. Young women deserve to hear public challenges to the idea that there is no down side to sex without emotional intimacy.
Of course, time is valuable. But most will discover that it is as valuable at age 30 as it is at 25 or 20. The challenge is to find balance and for most people that means making a place on the scales for emotional intimacy.
There is also the difficult issue of what a woman believes she deserves. If emotional intimacy was not a part of a girl’s early years, if all the emphasis is on perfection or achievement, if there is no audience in a family to hear a girl’s doubts, the outcome can be an adult who is not comfortable with emotional intimacy herself. In this situation, the argument that there is no time for a serious relationship may camouflage deeper issues.
Jill P. Weber, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy—Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships. Click here to follow Jill on Facebook or here to follow Jill on Twitter @DrJillWeber