Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings

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"Hooking-Up" Can Unhinge You

Can women reconcile "hooking-up" with "morning after" self-reflections?

A recent New York Times article noted the current inclination of college females to de-emphasize relationships, and to just “hook up” instead (Taylor, 2013). Based on lengthy year-long interviews with 60 women, this behavior was attributed to career aspirations, especially among women from middle and upper class families—a drive to succeed professionally as opposed to finding a boyfriend or husband. According to some of the women interviewed, being a “feminist” is equated with not being overly involved in a relationship, and, rather than look for boyfriends, women are looking to find “hookup buddies.” Not surprisingly, such behavior is linked with the use of alcohol or drugs, sometimes leading women to experience such encounters as “rape.”

In response to the New York Times article, a hedge-fund manager circulated an email and blog posting that was publicized in the New York Post (Whitehouse, 2013). Whitney Tilson, the founder of Kase Capital, suggested that his own daughters, if ever in a situation where a guy tells them to “get down on [their] knees” should respond with behavior where they “walk away” or, to the extreme, “bite it.” Further, the news article reported that he would ask his girls to “come home and tell me his name so I can buy my first gun and…well, you get the idea!”

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I was especially intrigued by the articles because of the number of women in my practice who have expressed shame and regret upon becoming intoxicated and “hooking-up.” Conversely many young adult men also have told me about their “hook ups” but revealed them without guilt, and without the hope that many of the women seem to have that something more significant will come of the relationship.

The disinhibiting effect of alcohol associated with “hook-ups” is a typical precondition for both men and women in that process as an avoidance of shame (Nathanson, 1992; Zaslav, 1998). Alcohol masks and reduces shame because it is, as Nathanson (1992) describes it, a “shamolytic” agent—whatever reticence based on shame that prevents a person from action is reduced by its ingestion. The probability of “hooking-up” clearly would be minimized by sobriety, yet excessive alcohol consumption and substance use is glamorized and socially acceptable.

Although Mr. Tilson’s paternal instincts are to do away with any young man who has a casual sexual encounter with one of his daughters, I wonder about the woman’s responsibility in entering the world of sex that is devoid of commitment and carries with it the risk of the now-epidemic HPV-caused oral cancers (Denoon, 2013), aside from the usual sexually transmitted diseases. His comment implies that men hold all of the responsibility. However, if women want equality shouldn’t they also accept the responsibility for how they choose to conduct themselves? Woman used to be considered the gatekeepers when it came to controlling sexual impulses, and thus they held all of the responsibility in that regard.  Perhaps the new feminism, like aspects of the old one, is for women to become more like men rather than evolve into more self-actualized versions of womanhood and hold men accountable for their own self-actualization, including a responsibility to control impulsive behavior.

 “Hooking-up,” under the guise of feminism can serve a defensive function by masking conflicts arising from a woman’s need to repudiate aspects of herself; namely, her identifications with devalued aspects of femininity (Lamia, 1995). Thus, by trying to gain power by emulating men, women are actually making themselves powerless victims. The fear of being unloved or unlovable may lead women to behave in ways that guarantee attention, such as exchanging her reputation for power with men; and what men gain in sexual experience with women for whom they are only marginally interested, they lose in empathic relatedness (Nathanson, 1992).

Even more concerning is the ways in which a woman reconciles her “hooking-up” behavior with her “morning after” self-reflections. She may experience shame or guilt because of her choice to violate her moral code. She may focus her self-disgust onto the possibility that she has subjected herself to diseases or judgment. Yet her greatest distress may be the incongruence between her sexual behavior in an intoxicated state and the sober view of who she wants to be—a mild dissociative state that is experienced as being detached from reality. Ultimately, one may find that “hooking-up” can unhinge you.

 

(For information about my books, please see my website: http://www.marylamia.com

 

References

Denoon, D (10/13/10) Virus behind oral cancer epidemic. Web MD. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20101013/virus-behind-oral-cance...

Lamia, M. (1995). The defensive aspect of feminism and its resistance function in psychoanalysis. Journal of Clinical Psychoanalysis, 4(3), 343-359.

Nathanson, D. (1992). Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self. New York: Norton.

Taylor, K. (2013). Sex on campus: She can play that game, too. The New York Times.  Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/fashion/sex-on-campus-she-can-p...

Whitehouse, K. (2013). College sex pushes hedgie dad’s buttons: ‘If a guy tells you to get down on your knees – bit it!  New York Post. Retrieved from:  http://www.nypost.com/p/news/business/college_sex_pushes_hedgie_d...

Zaslav, M. (1998). Shame related states of mind in psychotherapy. The Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, 7:154–166.

 

 

 

Mary C. Lamia, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Marin County, CA.

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