American HookupThe New Culture of Sex on Campus


Book Reviews{ W. W. Norton & Company }
Released: January 10, 2017
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This article appears in our 2017 Spring issue, Family Values. Subscribe today!

What is a hookup, anyway? That’s exactly where Lisa Wade comes in with her new book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus. Her non-fiction foray into the world of college sex looks at the experiences of Wade’s students, who participated in a journaling exercise on their campus sex lives for her sociology and sexuality classes. From there, Wade follows their romantic and sexual exploits, chronicling their highs and lows from the start of college to their post-undergrad years.

Wade, who works from both a sociological standpoint and a feminist one, breaks down some of the most difficult questions about college sex by looking at the history and statistics behind men’s and women’s hookups. From sexual and romantic behavior in the 1920s, to the gay enclaves of Chelsea and Greenwich Village in the ’70s, Wade reveals why a “hookup culture” has emerged in university settings, how people both engage and abstain from it, and why it pressures people to “have fun” and play by the “rules” of having sex—which, more often than not, benefit men over women. American Hookup doesn’t just explore these problems with a close lens on gender and sexuality studies. Wade lets her students share their sex lives in their own words, capturing what it feels like to live in a culture where hooking up is all that matters.

American Hookup works through a cisgender and heterosexual dynamic, meaning there isn’t much in the book about hookup culture in queer or trans communities. And when queer hookups do appear, it’s mostly in relation to gay cis men. This is particularly troubling, because LGBTQ partners are very likely to experience some form of domestic violence in their lives across the letters, including 35.4 percent of women and 34.6 percent of trans partners, according to The Advocate. Wade is pretty conscious of the fact that she doesn’t have much trans or queer info to work with—and, when the opportunity arises, she even emphasizes the experiences of queer and trans students who feel left out. But because American Hookup is more interested in the heterosexual-dominant climate at college parties, there isn’t quite enough data in Wade’s work to round out the picture of hookup culture as it extends into non-heterosexual life inside and outside of academia.

But Wade’s work is masterfully written nonetheless. She tackles some of the most complicated problems within undergraduate sexuality, from the wish for sexual desirability to the sheer double standard between oral sex for men and women. American Hookup doesn’t just understand the way college men and women get down, it provides an alternate feminist argument that makes room for multiple kinds of sexual communities and expressions beyond getting drunk and texting “u up?” In short, Wade’s work is a must-read for any student—present or former—stuck in hookup culture’s pressure to put out. Just don’t expect a thorough look at queer and trans sexuality.

This article was published in Family Values Issue #74 | Spring 2017
by Ana Valens
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Ana Valens is a freelance journalist and writer. Her work has been published in The Toast, Kill Screen, ZEAL, The Mary Sue, and Truthout. She can be reached on Twitter at @SpaceDoctorPhD, where she tweets about her upcoming zine, "Bell."

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