Revisiting The Age-Old 'Sex Talk' In The Age Of Hookups

(Yolanda Leyva/Unsplash)
(Yolanda Leyva/Unsplash)

My sex talk with my mom wasn’t actually a talk. It was a brief, non-verbal exchange.

Just before making dinner, she slid a box my way. Inside were an array of pads, what may have been a garter belt and a pamphlet on puberty and sex.

An avid reader and straight-A student, I began exploring my new “gift.” As a repressed Catholic, I knew this was all purely informational and would not be put to good use for years to come.

Fast forward 40 years. I am the mother giving the talk, which is now less of a one-and-done thing, and more of an ongoing exchange. I have three children: two daughters, eight years and a generation apart, and a son in between. I'm on deck, again, to have the sex talk with the youngest, my 14-year-old daughter. And boy, have things changed.

I've learned the definition of “hooking up,” casually dropped the line “Netflix and chill” and been both horrified and empowered by the #MeToo movement. But I wonder, is this what sexual liberation looks like -- the hookup culture of booty calls, where traditional dating is rare?

There is no retreating to an earlier age. The alternative to playing the game is not abstinence, but what is it?

It’s time for Sex Talk 2.0.

Inebriation Trumps Inhibition

We have raised a generation of girls who can advocate for anything, except their own bodies. “The End of Sex” author Donna Freitas found that 90 percent of unwanted sex took place during a hookup and excessive drinking was involved in 76 percent of cases. It's important to talk to girls about the particular effects of alcohol on their bodies. Drink for drink, they will get drunk faster than boys.

Although it would seem obvious to warn girls about the dangers of excessive drinking, political correctness forbids it. It’s branded “victim blaming.” Critics say society needs to teach men not to rape. Period.

But the fact remains that alcohol loosens inhibitions. It reduces a person’s ability to read social cues and to ignore “no.” And it makes everyone less likely to step in when they see something wrong.

Femininity Means Equality

The definition of feminism is the belief in full equality for men and women. #MeToo is an international movement against sexual harassment and assault. But does the current hookup culture simply better serve the stereotype of men? What about equality for the things women value and what brings them pleasure?

The hookup script inverts the traditional order of attraction and intimacy. Instead of meeting, dating and eventually having sex with someone, the new norm is sexual intimacy on a first meeting. Lisa Wade, a sociologist at Occidental College, has studied hookups and found that students of both sexes report they feel pressured into having sex. But more women than men said they had engaged in sex they did not desire because they felt it was their only option.

There are no “bases” anymore. It goes right from kissing to an assumption of sex. In one study, among participants who were asked to characterize the morning after, 82 percent of men, but only 57 percent of women, were generally glad they had done it.

“We need to be talking clearly and honestly to girls about their own desires and their own pleasures," says Peggy Orenstein, the author of "Girls & Sex." Men and women may want and need different things from sex. The ultimate goal should be helping people have the sex they want in an intentional, communicative way.

Trust Is A Two-way Street

Title IX states "no person shall, on the basis of sex, be subjected to ... discrimination under any education program receiving federal financial assistance." Before Title IX, making sexual innuendos, spreading rumors or touching someone inappropriately was dismissed as "boys will be boys" behavior. Since Title IX, the rules have changed dramatically.

Now, when it comes to sexual harassment, there is no presumption of innocence, especially for boys. Students may be suspended or expelled based on school review.

As parents, we need to explicitly teach our boys what consent means. It’s communication, it’s looking the person in the eye and saying, “Is this OK?” and it’s stopping at any point when the answer changes to “No.”

There are no “bases” anymore. It goes right from kissing to an assumption of sex.

We also need to reinforce that the risks of hooking up do not fall exclusively on girls. Unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are a two-way street.

As feminist icon Gloria Steinem said, “I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons, but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.” Bachelorette contestant and former NFL player Colton Underwood recently discussed his virginity on national television and "considers it a gift." Yet his revelation was portrayed as baggage rather than a bonus.

Sex talk 2.0 calls for more than we can pack into one box. The alternative to "just saying no" is empowering our sons and daughters with what Your Teen magazine contributor Sari Cooper describes as the “tools to say yes.”

It’s having ongoing, open-ended conversations. It’s witnessing a teen daughter not yet ready for her first kiss and championing her resolve to do what she wants, when she is ready. It’s speaking candidly with a college-age son seeking a committed relationship about the language of consent, verbalizing exactly what he might say.

Sex talk 2.0 is about being more present, listening more and talking more.


Headshot of Maribeth McKeon Sanabria

Maribeth McKeon Sanabria Cognoscenti contributor
Maribeth McKeon Sanabria has taught at Grub Street and Weston Public schools.



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