Bold Moves to End Sexual Violence: Separating Hook-Up Culture from Rape Culture


Ms. is a proud media sponsor of the 2018 National Sexual Assault Conference, co-hosted by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. This year’s NSAC theme is “Bold Moves: Ending Sexual Violence in One Generation.” Leading up to the event, we’ll be posting pieces by presenters and major speakers highlighting their plans to make those moves right here on the Ms. blog. Click the banner image above or this link for more Bold Moves posts.

What does it mean to be part of a hookup culture—to be sexually active in any way, shape or form, to participate in a system that puts intimacy on the ladder to rape culture? Does hooking up somehow invite the risk for violation?

During their time on campus, chances are that college students will hear casual dating involving any kind of sexual behavior referred to as “hooking up.” We think of hookup culture as one in which we can have the freedom of engaging sexually without the pressure of commitment. But even in a time as supposedly sex-positive as this one, hookup culture can still come off as something to be avoided or ashamed of—especially if you are a woman or belong to the LGBTQ community.

The prevalence of hookup culture as an everyday norm among young people has supposedly skyrocketed, yet there are still a number of stigmas that permeate the ways we think of and refer to casual sex. There are plenty of other terms used widely to describe intimacy, and not all of them are positive: “screwing,” “nailing,” “hammering,” “banging” or “hitting that,” to name just a few. These phrases are used just as readily to insinuate sexual behavior as describing an onslaught or act of aggression; it’s understandable, then, how hooking up can come to be seen as more than a little negative in our minds.

This kind of stigma doesn’t just reap shame for sexual beings—it makes it more difficult to call out rape culture when we see it.

Feminists around the world push back on rape culture at SlutWalks meant to spread sex-positivity. A protestor at the 2012 SlutWalk in Singapore held a sign reading “my dress is not a yes.” (Tamara Craiu / Creative Commons)

All too often, we’re told that rape itself is “hard to define,” because it’s associated with these muddy waters of sexual behavior and hooking up in general. This is especially true when we shame people for enjoying sex. We live in an environment where the act of hooking up—of being sexual with someone else, whether for the first time for the hundredth—is still viewed as a questionable choice, and too frequently leveraged as a defense for perpetrators of sexual assault.

If sex and hooking up are inherently bad, how can we respond when perpetrators “defend” a violent act of sexual assault as “just” a regretted hookup, miscommunication or those muddy waters between sex and violence? The intersection between rape culture and hookup culture—the moment we begin stigmatizing others for the ways in which they’re sexual, the moments where we use shameful, degrading language to describe sexual activity—contribute to a landscape in which perpetrators of sexual assault get away with harming others.

For those of us committed to encouraging healthy, consensual interactions, having hookup culture act as a scapegoat for violent, criminal behavior can be overwhelming and may even lead us to feel powerless. But hooking up doesn’t have to be negative—and it certainly shouldn’t ever be violent.

It’s time to delineate the difference between hookup culture and rape culture (and that harmful, stigmatizing area where the two bleed into each other) once and for all.

At Catharsis Productions, we’re not here to promote or discourage any kind of choice in sexual behavior; that choice is yours, and yours alone. What we are promoting is a hookup culture that respects everyone—one free from negative stereotypes, where choices to participate in any form are respected.

The next time you feel unsure of where your experiences, habits or beliefs fall on this spectrum, consider what hookup culture is supposed to be like—and what rape culture is. It’s the responsibility of everyone—not just sexually active folks—to keep hookup culture positive and ensure that consent and respect are the norm.

We all have the opportunity every day to normalize healthy behavior. We can empower each other, rather than invoking shame and slinging stigma at each other, for the choices we make about sex.

We can use positive language to refer to sexuality. We can involve respectful communication in our dating lives. We can declare and demand consent in our own sex lives. And we can stand up for those who have had their choice taken away.

We can stop something as healthy and empowering as consensual hookups from becoming clouded with something as harmful as rape culture.

Catharsis Productions‘ mission is to change the world by producing innovative, accessible and 
research-supported programming that challenges oppressive attitudes and shifts behavior.

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The post Bold Moves to End Sexual Violence: Separating Hook-Up Culture from Rape Culture appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.



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