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The Book That Terrified Me!

  Parents Need to Be Informed

As a parent, my goal has always been to work myself out of a job.

As parents, we spend 18 or 19 years preparing our kids to step out into the world, to live out the beliefs we’ve instilled and to make good decisions.

However, a lot of the statistics surrounding millennials don’t leave Christian parents feeling very confident. Not only are millennials dropping out of organized church in droves, but they are also espousing beliefs very different than their parents.

On a recent trip to the library, I saw a book entitled, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus. Having one son who is a freshman in college and another who only has two more years of high school, I felt like I should probably read it.

I will warn you, this book is NOT written by a Christian. The author, Lisa Wade, is a professor of sociology at Occidental College with a string of degrees behind her name. The text contains not only swear words, but also a pretty blunt discussion about the sexual activities of college students.

Despite the rather raw contents of this book, I highly recommend Christian parents get over their squeamishness and read it!

A Look At American Hookup

Wade used a group of her first-year students as case studies. The students had to collect data about sex and romance on campus, writing as much or as little as they wanted about their own experiences. The students then recorded it in a journal that was submitted every Tuesday. The project lasted through the semester. Wade hoped that the students would consent to allow her to share their facts and quotes in her research.  Out of 110 students, all but nine consented to have their information included. While Wade keeps the students’ names confidential, their stories make up the backbone of the book.

The two things that stood out to me the most were the widespread and accepted view on drinking (even under age) and casual sex. According to Wade, the prevailing attitude that you haven’t done college until you’ve drank until almost blacking out and had sex with as many people as possible is present on all college campuses. This includes even denominational campuses, with the exception of those that are evangelical and Mormon. It didn’t seem to matter if it was an Ivy League school or a state college, partying and hooking up were not only accepted but expected.

While hard partying is not actively sponsored on campus, I think it could be safe to say that most colleges appear to turn a blind eye to the amount of drinking and drug use that goes on at campuses across the United States. One researcher coined the word Drunkworld to describe the corporate state of drunkenness encountered at most parties and events. One girl said that she went to a concert sober and described the experience as, “horrible and awful and no fun.”

How Hooking Up Works

The drinking on campus is one way the students facilitate hookups. Hookups don’t necessarily include actual sex, and can be anything from kissing to intercourse – and often anything in-between. The rules for hooking up include six steps that Wade outlines in detail. I’ll just give you the highlights.

  1. Pregame – basically this is when students get ready for a party and get a bit drunk so they are in the “right frame of mind” to party. This is also the time when girls dress in outfits that are designed to show they are up for anything sexually.
  2. Grind – grinding is dirty dancing. Basically, the women get in the center and the men circle around the outside. The men come up behind a woman they are interested in and grind their pelvises against the girl’s backside. The women usually have no idea who is behind them.
  3. Initiate the hookup – they will ask their friends if the guy is “hot.” If he is, the girl will turn around and look at him. Looking at the person grinding against you basically “seals the deal,” according to a girl named Miranda.
  4. Do…something – as I stated before, a hookup can be anything from kissing to actual intercourse and anything in-between.
  5. Establish meaninglessness – According to a student named Ruby, the goal in a hookup is “fast, random, no-strings attached sex.” Unfortunately, this idea of meaningless often translates to partners being cold and callous toward each other. Kindness to the person you are having sex with is seen as a form of weakness. To facilitate that the encounter was indeed meaningless, students engage in several steps. First, it’s important to establish that you were completely drunk when this hookup occurred. According to Wade, “When students talk about meaningless sex on college campuses, they are almost referring to drunk sex.” It’s also important that two people don’t hook up too many times. Otherwise, it might mean something.  Another way students enforce the idea that the hookup was meaningless is to create emotional distance afterwards. Wrote Wade, “After it’s all over, students confirm that a hookup meant nothing by giving their relationship – whatever it was – a demotion. The rule is to be less close after a hookup than before, at least for a time.” Interestingly, being nice to someone you hooked up with immediately afterwards is considered rude since it might give that other person the wrong idea.

The Dangers of Hookup Culture

I don’t know if this information is new to you, but it was certainly eye opening to me! I mean, I was aware that partying took place on campuses, but the prevalence and expectation has changed. Despite Wade’s progressive views on casual sex, even she points out the inherent hazards and pitfalls of this hook up culture.

Even students that “opt out” for whatever reason, have the hookup culture shoved into their faces. One student, Jimena, opted out due to her faith (yeah, Jimena!). However, her roommate was often visibly drunk when she left for parties. Her roommate also brought guys back to the room and had sex – even when Jimena was in the room. The result was that Jimena felt like an outcast in her own dorm room. She often had to go elsewhere to avoid the culture that had invaded her personal space.

Sadly, even students who started by opting out to the hookup culture, ended up capitulating in the end. Wade did say that those students who regularly attended church services were less likely to end up opting in. For parents, we need to really encourage and helping your college student to find a good church nearby!

Knowledge Is Power

As a parent of one college-aged son and one in high school, I found this book not just terrifying. I also found it important.

As parents, we can’t stick our heads in the sand. For many students, especially those who have grown up in a church culture, campus life will come as a shock. We need to prepare our kids for that.  Acting like somehow partying and casual sex won’t effect our child doesn’t just isn’t an option.

How are you preparing your child for the culture shock of college life?  I’d love to hear about it!

2 thoughts on “The Book That Terrified Me!

  1. This should be a wake up call for churches too. Good college outreach is so important. I went to a state college in a small college town and found a church with a strong and thriving college ministry. I remember our college pastor (10+ years ago now) talking about how many kids from Christian homes and church backgrounds fall away during their college years and how essential it is to reach both these kids as well as the unchurched kids during college. But this was in a small town where much of life revolved around 2 state colleges (in different states) within a few miles of each other – where churches were used to ministering to college students. I’m not sure I’ve seen the same outreach to college-age where I am now, in a bigger town with no major universities but still a real population of college-age kids who are either working, going to community colleges or commuting to universities farther away. When “youth group” ends, these kids need somewhere else to stay plugged in that is specific to where they are at in life. Church (as a whole) is great and necessary – but college-age specific ministries (within and/or outside the church) are important too.

    1. You are so right, Shannon. I didn’t even think of that – mostly trying to get my head around this kind of info as a mom of kids this age! But it IS important for churches to concentrate on college-aged students and ministries. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing this!! 🙂

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