Does hooking up hurt our future relationships—and should we be adjusting our private behavior for a potential audience?
Who gives a fuck about the Fuck List? Well, everyone. In the past few weeks, the so-called Duke Fuck List—a comprehensive “study” of 13 undergraduate men and their bedroom behavior—has become so sensationalized that even the New York Times and the Today Show have picked it up.
The story stirs up the sometimes dormant, but always present, fear that monogamy is in dire straights and the demise of monogamous relationships among today’s college students is a—key word—trend.
This is not the kind of trend that tricks you into buying a pair of orange plaid pants that ends up in the Goodwill pile. This is the kind of trend that is felt, a silent threat to the social order.
So let’s indulge the trendophobes, and ask: What exactly are the trends signified by the Fuck List, and what do they mean?
College students have replaced monogamous relationships with hookup culture. Their focus is on a continuous stream of hookups, not on dating and building long-term relationships.
There’s a pervading notion that habitual hookups will stunt future relationships. How will students develop relationship skills beyond buying drinks or batting their eyelashes?
I think this problem seems worse than it is. Relationships and hookups can closely resemble each other: they both involve highly gendered roles, and revolve around a principles of sex and attraction.
As the word itself indicates, relationships encourage us to see ourselves in relation to others. As the needs, demands, and desires of our partners change, we must constantly reposition ourselves. When our words and actions deeply affect those we care about, we begin to understand the necessity of self-reflection and personal accountability.
None of this is to say that these lessons can only be learned—or, for that matter, are always learned—in the context of a monogamous relationship, or that hookups cannot provide the same opportunities for growth. Hookups provide opportunities to explore and fulfill desires. They can help to develop and understand one’s sexuality.
Admittedly, pleasure on demand is not very conducive to communication and introspection. If you examine the Fuck List, however, the author actually demonstrates self-reflection. She writes of feeling self-conscious or mentally unprepared for sex, and explores how these feelings impact and limit her sexual pleasure. In her “findings,” the author confronts and examined her complex sexuality; the fact that the whole saga is presented as a thesis indicates that something was learned.
This leads us to the second trend: Women are having sex for pleasure—and thinking about it.
While decades of feminist efforts have promoted the acceptance of women’s sexual desires and pleasures, the response to the Fuck List indicates that it’s still not commonplace. Society still struggles with the idea of women getting pleasure from sex.
For men acting in hookup culture, the attractiveness of a woman is enough to signify the quality of the sexual encounter. Hook up with a hot girl? Way to go, dude. Whether the sex was good or not is secondary: male pleasure, it’s assumed, comes from the ranking of his partner’s appearance and the thrill of having possessed it.
But men’s bodies are not as readily available as eroticized objects. For a woman to validate a sexual experience, she must discuss, analyze, and evaluate the tiny details.
This is the unspoken discourse embedded in the Fuck List chatter: discomfort with the author asserting herself as an independent sexual being and giving some male partners poor evaluations. And this is what strikes me as the root of the issue.
If the Fuck List had been called the Date List, and included evaluations of the men’s bodies and behaviors in equally explicit terms—except in the context of a polite date—I can’t imagine the story would have gone viral.
Similarly, some have said that what’s buzz-worthy is the mere act of a woman gloating of promiscuity. And in some cultures, this behavior is certainly frowned upon. But imagine this: if the author had given all her “subjects” glowing, gushing, fawning reviews, would it have really gotten the same reaction?
No, the author’s pleasure per se isn’t threatening. The issue is that she declared her dissatisfaction with her male partners’ regard for her needs—she asserted that a man was not good enough.
There are valid critiques of the Fuck List’s scientific method. It is unacceptable that the men involved did not have the chance to provide consent before their names and faces were publicly attached to private and personal information. No one deserves that treatment.
Some may argue, citing Ariel Levy and her book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, that the Fuck List isn’t doing women any favors: it’s simply endorsing the male “raunch culture” and facilitating an atmosphere where women can be more freely objectified. The HarperCollins editor who called the Fuck List author “the female Tucker Max” wasn’t helping her case. To be sure, the crude objectification and even cultural bigotry make for some awfully cringe-worthy moments.
The invasion of privacy is another major issue. Is the Fuck List a natural development from our public life in the Facebook era? Should we no longer be surprised when intimate details from our private life go public? When those details do get out—and they will—are we prepared to rethink our sexual behavior for public consumption? Should we be reevaluating our actions—sexual or otherwise—knowing that our privacy is no longer a clearly defined right?
This is the discussion we should be having. Criticizing the author and the generation she represents is counterproductive. Instead of fretting about the state of our emerging adults, we must examine what our society’s reactions say about gender roles and sexuality, the dissolution of our private lives, and how our behavior—now documented for the world to see—must evolve to confront both of those things.
If anything, what the Fuck List brought about was a wake-up call to anyone sexually active. Behave like you’re being judged—you probably are. Put a toe, or anything else, out of line and the private is put up for public examination.