Hook-Ups or Hooked Up? The Evolution of Lesbian Sex
Recent studies that show casual sex is the norm among college-age women have sounded an alarm among conservatives and have generated much analysis among progressives. Women like casual sex as much as men, According to a study conducted by University of Michigan psychology professor Terri D. Conley published recently in the "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology."
But according to the results of a 2008 survey, large numbers of women still had regrets about one-night stands. This study claims that 80 percent of men had positive feelings about casual sex, while only 54 percent of women did. Where women felt used, underappreciated, or worried about their reputations, men felt more confident than ever after their casual encounters.
Journalists like Slate’s Meghan O’Rourke takes issue with studies that deride these casual hook-ups as a sure path to unhappiness, pregnancy, and STDs. In a 2007 article O’Rourke picked apart Laura Sessions Stepp’s book "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both." Of the book, which is based on Stepp’s own version of these ubiquitous campus studies, O’Rourke writes, "Stepp claim[s] that ’sex on campuses for young women today is a series of joyless encounters engaged in without either short-term pleasure or long-term reward.’
This pointless hedonism, in Stepp’s view, turns young women into "jaded depressives unable to trust or love anyone, secretly wishing Mr. Right would show up on their doorstep with flowers and a fraternity pin." O’Rourke said that "If there is a problem, it isn’t that young women are separating love and sex. It’s that they are blurring sex and work," turning hook-ups with hot guys into a status-seeking achievement.
When it comes to casual sex among women, everyone seems to have an opinion, a statistic, and evidence, be it anecdotal or scientific. And no one is sure how "lesbians" and "lesbian sex" are qualified and quantified in any of these research missions. There are the girls who are "gay until graduation," those who are bisexual or hetero-flexible, a lot of talk about gender fluidity, and much experimentation among young women having sex with other women. Are these the "lesbians" being studied? All of this uncertainty leads to problems in quantifying ultimate happiness.
But as lesbian sex (and acceptance of homosexuality in general) becomes more normalized, the popular perception of young lesbians as voracious consumers of casual sex is countered by the reality that most younger lesbians are opting for more traditional relationships. Like the routes their straight counterparts followed for years, lesbians today are expressing a desire to follow the path of long-term monogamous relationships: marriage, a traditional home, and children.
"I really don’t have any friends who aren’t in a relationship or looking to be in one," declared a 20-something marketing consultant who lives in Brooklyn. "No one I know just dates, and when they do, it’s always to find someone."
Natasia, 27, is an entertainment features writer for a lesbian news and entertainment website. She’s married and has been with her partner since she was 21. "Before we met, marriage wasn’t something I had ever imagined myself doing," said Natasia. "I guess it took the right person coming along to put marriage on my radar." Getting married also made Natasia’s sexual orientation more palatable to her family, she said. "My family members who stopped talking to me after they found out I was gay pulled it together for my wedding. It changed the conversation to love instead of sex."
The legitimacy of a long-term relationship, and even more so marriage, makes lesbians more acceptable. "It refocuses people’s attention from ’she has sex with girls’ to ’she’s in love with a girl’," explained Natasia, who lives in Manhattan. "It’s just a much less intimidating space to approach people from."