What’s Sex got to do with…Hook up Economics?


Way back at the beginning of the semester we were introduced to Marxist ideas about sex. One of the main ideas was that because of its focus on performance, sex has come to resemble work. With the shift towards a corporate culture comes a whole new set of values and beliefs. People are no longing working to live but rather living to work and with this shift comes a shift in priorities. This work-hard mentality is also present on college campuses, specifically the ivy leagues and other particularly rigorous universities. Because of this, Kate Taylor, in an article for The New York Times, argues that college aged women, at Penn for example, embrace hook-up culture because having causal sexual interactions is more productive and conducive to their busy schedules than investing in a relationship. We’ve analyzed hook up culture from many different lenses (class, race, sexuality) and now we have an economic perspective on it.

One of the interviewees of the article, a Penn junior, explains that she doesn’t want a relationship because of the “cost benefit” analyses and the “low risk and low investment costs” associated with hooking up. This may seem like an extremely technically approach to the complicated hooking up scene on college campuses but for this girl (who’s name was left out for anonymity) this is her means of justification behind it. She goes on to explain, “If I’m sober, I’m working.” Not only does her busy schedule not allow for an intimate relationship but there is also the risk that something better might come alone. For example, she says that her and her friends, “are very aware of cost-benefit issues and trading up and trading down, so no one wants to be too tied to someone that, you know, may not be the person they want to be with in a couple of months.” Where have we seen this rhetoric before? That’s right­– when discussing boys and their opposition to commitment. There tends to be a common underlying belief that guys don’t want to settle down with one girl out of fear that something better will come around. However, if both men and women share this fear, as the interviewee and her friends seem to suggest, then its no wonder that casual hook up encounters are going to flourish on college campuses. Hooking up allows for both men and women to act on natural sexual impulses without being emotionally and temporally invested.

This is contradictory to what Bogle argues in her exploration of hook up culture. From her interviewing experience she finds that college-aged women are, in fact, looking for a relationship and thus end up hurt and unfulfilled from just hooking up. She says that men believe some women are looking for sex but most are looking for relationships and conversely that women believe men are looking for relationships but most just want sex. This miscommunication amongst genders is what makes hook up culture unappealing to women since she suggests that most are in pursuit of a relationship.

So whose findings are more accurate­–Bogles or Taylors? While Hooking Up was written in 2008 and this article is from 2013 perhaps the 5-year gap accounts for a change in female college students’ priorities and desires. Or perhaps it varies from school to school. Women at ivy leagues are probably more likely to put academic achievement above intimate relationships. Or by age­– underclassman women who are far from graduation are more likely to play the field than women about to graduate and are rapidly approaching the ominous “real world,” in which a career and marriage are typical social scripts.

How do you think women approach the economics of hooking up? Have we changed from the old “going to college for an Mrs. Degree” days? Or are women truly inconvenienced by relationships and thus opt for causal hook ups? What about men, what is their overarching justification for preferring hooking up besides stereotypical commitment fears? Is hook up culture economically savvy (in terms of time and priorities) or is it just an arbitrary adolescent-hormones-raging phenomenon?

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