Friday, September 17, 2010

The Eclipse of Dating

A campus psychologist and head of the Sexual Assault Prevention & Response at a major university had seen an influx of mostly women in her office with serious complaints: physical, emotional, and mental, in response to their involvement with the hook up culture. Her friend Filmmaker Denice Ann Evans was inspired to make a documentary about this.

When the university involved pulled the funding from the project in the final hour, Denice went on to make the film herself over the course of three years. The feature length was screened at film festivals and a 35-minute educational version was made for classrooms.

Denice talks to True Feminism about Spitting Game: The College Hook Up Culture

SD: What is a Spitting Game?

DE: Spitting Game is a term used by, mostly college age men, referring to the lines they use to pick up girls. At the beginning of my film I have the Urban Dictionary definition, which is: To use charm, wit, humor, or other means to verbally let a female know that you are interested in her. Often includes compliments and other forms of flattery that will hopefully end in a phone number which leads to a date, which leads to hot sex.

SD: How common are hook-ups in Colleges?

DE: I can’t give you an empirical percentage on just how many students are hooking up, but I can tell you that hooking up has eclipsed traditional dating. Having sex without commitment or even the notion of having a committed relationship is the normative social standard on all types of college and university campuses across the United States.

SD: Can hook-ups lead to serious relationships, as indicated by a study conducted at the University of Iowa?

DE: Anything is possible. It is possible that I might win the lottery if I keep buying lottery tickets. But, it is not very probable, nor should I plan my financial future on winning the lottery. So with that being said, I think that most students who are hooking up are not seeking serious relationships, so in that respect I agree with the findings of the Iowa study. However, I also believe that a good majority of students who would prefer a serious relationship will not admit it and are influenced by the enormous amount of peer pressure to accept the “straight to sex, no strings attached” model that is so pervasive on campuses.

Additionally, I think the ability to get in touch with one’s deepest desires is complicated by the emotionally numbing effects of alcohol. The truth is that most hook ups are done under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Why do students need to be drunk to hook up? That is a whole study in itself. Basically, the college women or men who are just hoping a serious relationship will result from a hook up are setting themselves up for failure.

As far as the Iowa study goes, it was based on a “survey” of only 642 adults, hardly enough people to claim any significant findings in my opinion. How many college students are having their first experience and continued experiences with drunken hook ups? A lot more than 642. There is no way to quantitatively determine the future success of long term relationships based on delayed sex or hook up sex. Quite frankly, we have not even begun to see the social aftermath of the hook up culture. Give it another ten years, then do a thorough comprehensive study.

It is funny to me that people write about the hook up culture and use the term “casual sex” as if students are all just experimenting with their sexuality and enjoying the benefits of having great sex without the emotional or time demands of a committed relationship. That is a huge misnomer in my opinion. There is a big difference between casual sex and “hook up sex.” Most students, from the hundreds I have actually talked to tell me that their hook ups are usually drunken romps that they may or may not remember the next morning and that most of the “casual sex” that takes place during the hook up is male-centric, meaning it is focused on the guy’s pleasure, not the woman’s. So, for those reading this that will challenge this status quo, let me say that I believe there are some students who can have hook up sex without commitment and enjoy their liberation and go on to have fulfilling long term relationships (if that is what they choose,) because like I said at the beginning of this…anything is possible.

SD: How can parents/teachers be more vigilant about what goes on in the lives of their children/students?

DE: This is a great question. First and foremost parents and teachers need to open up the lines of communication. Parents need to educate themselves on up to date sexual standards. They need to understand the social world their children are entering into. It is not the same socio-sexual environment they had when they were growing up. The media is more hyper-sexualized than ever and the availability of sexually explicit material on the internet is staggering. Parents need to start educating their children with age appropriate levels of sex education from the time they are able to understand it. I started speaking to my sons about sex and relationships when they started asking me questions and that was around age 7. Too many parents shy away from talking about the subject of sex and sexuality. This is a huge mistake. Many high school students are going into college with a lack of accurate information about sex and relationships because they are told having sex period is wrong.

The reality is that the majority of high school and college age students are going to experiment with sex. It is a natural part of human relationships to want to have sex. Instead of making it taboo, parents need to establish open lines of communication and back it up with real world real applications that are current and relatable. Even if some parents believe in abstinence only, they can and should back that belief up with clear, concise, current sex education. Sending your son or daughter into a hot bed of hook ups and alcohol fueled parties on college campuses without the proper sex education is dangerous. If parents really want to protect their children they need to educate them. If a student has a trusted parent they can rely on, then they are more apt to share their experiences in high school or college with that parent.

One of my sons is now in college and I told him that no matter what he hears from his peers or the media, that I am in fact, the person he can absolutely trust to tell him the truth above everyone else. I encouraged him to come to me first if he was ever confused about something or just needed more information. I know my son listened to me, because one day when we were just chatting about relationships and about a particular girl that he liked, he told me point blank that he wanted to know more about HPV. He said he wanted to know everything about it and so I told him everything I knew and that was a lot! I also guided him to certain websites that I knew to have factual and accessible information. I felt very honored that my son came to me first instead of getting his knowledge second hand.

As far as the schools & teachers are concerned, they need to become more progressive in providing prevention materials and trainings for their administration and students. They especially need to focus on engaging their male athletic departments and fraternities. Most schools are based on a risk reduction model and have turned the problem of sexual assault into a “woman’s issue.” It is not exclusively up to women to reduce their risk of sexual assault while they are attending college. Men need to be made accountable as well. The notion that women just need to “watch where they go at night” and “be careful not to drink too much” or “wear skimpy clothing” is just antiquated advice that takes the burden off men and shifts it to the women. Colleges and universities also need to start disclosing the fact that sexual assault DOES happen on their campuses and then show prospective students and their parents what their school is actively doing to prevent it. Parents need to put the colleges on alert by questioning schools about their sexual assault policies before they send their children there.

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