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Exposed: Why the Hook-up Culture Wreaks Havoc on the Mental Health of Girls

I love when college kids come to spend an entire Shabbat with our family. Of course, they stay the same age and we keep getting older, so by now we could practically be their parents (we actually could be their parents), but never mind. I still identify with them so much.

After dinner, I often retreat with my young female guests to our study for what my kids somewhat sarcastically refer to as the “DMC”; the Deep Meaningful Conversation that is an inevitable byproduct of spending time with me I guess.

But as far as I can see many of these young women are hungry for real conversation and for shedding some light on some of the vexing real life issues they face. Mind you, these girls are pretty much all high achievers, physically stunning and wired (by their parents and by cultural expectations) for academic and material success. These girls have it all, at least by societal standards.

And while some of them are making healthy and wise decisions, so many of these girls are in real pain, and they can’t put their finger on the reason.

Here’s my hunch as to what’s behind their raw emotions:

they leave high school and enter into campus life, where they are thoroughly unprepared for the emotional fallout of the “anything goes” hook-up culture, which pretty much follows this chronology: depressed college girl

  1. Get drunk
  2. Hook-up and have sex
  3. Remain alone, with no commitment whatsoever
  4. Pretend you don’t care
  5. Start again

There is no dating, no giving, and absolutely no commitment whatsoever. After all, why should boys bother to take girls out when it’s so easy to get sex without the effort?

The Lies Behind the Meaning of Female Power:

It’s simply a lie that girls can engage in casual sex with absolutely no commitment and not experience emotional havoc. We may watch shows like “Sex in the City” and buy into the myth that looking and acting wild is empowering, and girl power is all about the freedom to be as “equally bad” as the boys. We may believe the lie that female power lies in doing what we want, sleeping with whomever we want to and feeling none of those antiquated emotions of longing for relationship, commitment and genuine caring.

The real truth: most girls feel pressure to put their emotions in deep freeze and pretend they don’t care about sleeping with boys who offer them no commitment, since it seems as if everyone else is doing it and they’re just fine (this is what author Wendy Shalit terms “pluralistic ignorance,” when “everyone swims toward the norm and imagines others are having a great time, when in fact many are drowning”). They pretend…and then can’t figure out what’s behind their anxiety, their depression or their eating disorder.

It’s pretty ironic. Read any campus literature and you’ll find loads of information about sexually transmitted diseases, access to birth control, information about healthy diet and sleeping hygiene, and coping with stress (don’t forget to breathe! Try yoga! Meditate!)

But nowhere do you find honest and straightforward discussion that challenges the status quo of our culture and addresses the emotions of girls who have sex with guys who do not care about them and then “can’t figure out why they’re feeling so badly…”

The Jewish world today is characterized by its affluence, high level of achievement…and almost comical over-involvement of well-meaning parents in the social lives, academic performance and overall happiness level of their children.  Yet somehow all that indulgence just hasn’t translated into imparting genuine values about the stuff that really matters; human dignity, the sanctity of sexuality, the basic ingredients of a real relationship, genuine self-respect and the courage to swim against the stream and think independently and morally.

The Parents Role in their Daughter’s Sexual Perception:

Maybe that’s because parents themselves aren’t clear about their own values around sexuality. One girl told me her mother insisted that she not wear such baggy clothes and put on some makeup because “no boy is going to think she’s sexy dressed like that.”

Dare I say that kids today need better role models? They need parents who are anchored in strong and clear values themselves, who move away from over-indulgence and move toward dignified role modelling and caring and frank communication about critical issues surrounding sexuality. They need universities that candidly discuss the emotional fallout of the hook-up culture and have the courage to encourage more wholesome alternatives.

And girls need some time to be girls, without the pressure to be sexy for the boys, stick thin for the girls, and over achievers to calm the nerves of their parents. In our “liberated” culture, I’m not sure they’re going to get it.

Posted on: Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Author: Ali Begoun
About: Ali is a longtime Jewish educator and popular life and relationships coach. Anyone who has learned with Ali will testify to her warm and connective style and her ability to make Judaism relatable and relevant to our personal lives. Ali teaches a wide array of Jewish topics, but her primary focus is on the Jewish approach to self esteem, personal growth, women’s issues and relationships. In addition to her popular classes, Ali also offers private life coaching sessions, personal growth groups for Jewish women, a Bat Mitzvah club for girls and an upcoming fully subsidized trip to Israel in October, 2014. Ali and Rabbi David are the proud parents of Chana, Talia, Aryeh Leib, Eliezer and Yosef.

3 Responses

  1. Sam w says:

    Well said. Where do the college boys fit in?

  2. marcia Schiff says:

    I think this should be widely circulated to campus groups like Hillel and Jewish sororities for discussion. Really hits the mark.

  3. David Rosenblatt says:

    I don’t condone or condemn premarital sex. However if one is going to engage in sex ,as you said, men and women must take responsibility for their actions and be morally obligated to one another.

    First of all if a woman has to be drunk to have sex she should not be having sex. The mere fact that she has to be drunk is an indication she is not sure she wants to have sex with this person or have sex at all.

    There are 3 things one must take into account when one is thinking about having sex with someone.

    1. No unwanted pregnancies.
    2. No sexually transmitted diseases.
    3. And the third reason and most important is why do you want to have sex with this person? If you take care of the first two you may figure out the third.

    There are no guarantees in life. The divorce rate is going up in in America even in the Orthodox communities.

    I think your article is excellent but I think you should have your discussions with men and women before they enter college and after.

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