It’s time to start talking about the dark side of hookup culture

If only it was always fun and games

Hookup culture is one of the most defining characteristics of modern social life. You got out every weekend or maybe even every night if you’re a fresher or an older student that’s given up entirely on trying to get that 2:1 (or 1st, but who’s really trying for that?) and get completely smashed. You take him or her home and get things on. Mission accomplished.

That’s the goal of a night out for most people, find someone to make out with while your friends start cheering around you. This is in no way a bad thing and certainly is not a new phenomenon though apps like Tinder, Grindr and Bumble makes hooking up far easier than ever before when it was paper messages in toilets, letters or house phone calls. Hookup culture can be great. You live your life to the full, experience so many different things and types of sex, meet so many nice people. Now you no longer have to live until you’re 30 before you’ve found yourself someone who knows what they’re doing under the sheets.

But in order to sleep around with whoever you like, you have to open yourself up – and that makes you vulnerable. Seedy men and women have always existed and sought to take advantage of people’s vulnerabilities. You just have to look at the current news coverage to realise how deep this corruption goes. Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, even in our own Parliament. Women do it too though as sexual harassment is always about power and dominance, it’s much rarer but no less disgusting.

Friends of mine constantly have their butts groped in clubs, their boobs grabbed by force. Some of them have had men intimidatingly try to separate them from friends. Angry responses when someone says that surprisingly they might not be interested. I’ve had a friend who’s had to stand in a road in the centre of London as that was the only place he wasn’t having his crotch grabbed by a group of girls. Why? Because our hookup culture acts like everyone is up for grabs on a night out and not surprisingly some people take that as a reality.

By leaving people vulnerable, hookup culture allows them to end up in situations where agency is removed, where one’s safety is threatened. I’ve had my own experiences at the receiving end of this. You’ve come back from a night out with them, you’ve gone over to their house and for whatever reason, you’re not up for it. You feel ill, hungover or not feeling the attraction. However because the other person is making moves on you, kissing you, grabbing you down there, you just go along with it. Just give them what they want, it’s easier than to protest. That’s how our modern society treats sex.

While sex can be a great way to end a night, too often and for too many people it ends up ruining it. You have a great time with your friends, you’ve got your Halloween outfit all sorted. All that effort you put into your costume has paid off and you feel flawless (or disgusting depending on what you’ve gone for). You’ll find someone on the dance floor who strikes you as really hot. Their outfit suggests they’re your type, all you want to do is go home with them. That’s what you do.

However the makeup comes off and you’re greeted by a completely different man from the one you went home with. You have no attraction to him at all. You’re alone though with this person, their flatmates are out. Your friends are still in the club or stumbling on their way home, you’re on the other side of town miles from anything you’re familiar with. You are completely at their mercy, it’s unlikely that anyone would hear anything if you shouted. This is a complete stranger. How are you supposed to know how to react? Has anyone ever told you how to avoid sexual harassment? Has anyone told you how to negotiate your way out? No, because sexual harassment was never a part of your sex education. Apparently just being able to put a condom on a banana is far more important than telling you how to avoid situations like this.

In this situation, I did not know what to do. You sit down on the bed hoping that your purposeful distance might show you’re not interested. You’re terrified about what might happen. He grabs your face and starts kissing you. Instead of feeling like you want more, all you feel is repulsion and a desire to breakdown and cry. But you don’t do that, you don’t want to show weakness. He moves your head where he wants it to be and you go along for your fear the consequences of what might happen if you don’t do what he says. Where he touches you it feels like a mark on your skin, a brand that you wish you could erase. All through this time you wish for it to end.

Eventually it does and the person falls asleep, they’ve had their share of you. You lie there waiting for them to sleep. You wish you could sleep too but you’re dreading having to go through the motions again when he wakes up in the morning. He pulls you into a cuddle and all you want to do is get out. You slowly move his arms off you, his fingers making your skin feel like it’s no longer your own. He pulls you in tighter. You wait another hour listening to him breathing down your neck. You leave quietly knowing any noise you make might wake him up. Once you’re out of the room, you get out of the building as quickly as possible because the cold night air is better than what’s inside. You eventually make it home but the dirt he leaves on your skin no soap can remove. You feel like a whore selling your body. Every hookup you have after that just reminds you of that night, you no longer feel safe. Your body was up for grabs and it was taken.

As horrible as my experience was, I know I was lucky. While watching a Buzzfeed live stream of people coming forward with their sexual harassment experiences, I realise how much worse my situation could have been. This does not make it excusable. We need to talk about these things however uncomfortable they may be. We need to teach people, both men and women and anyone else how to avoid situations like this. We need to eradicate the predatory nature of cruising in our nightlife.

If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that we need to talk about this dark side to our hookup culture.

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University of Leeds