Getting Hooked: Why Dating Among Teenagers is Just So Dated

At the moment you read these very words, teenagers and young adults across the country are having sex (hopefully not with one another). This fact is undeniable, and there is not much any one person could do about it, unless of course you happen to be one of them. Parents have been concerned and fretting over the issue of teen sex for at least a century, as this nascent form of carnality has gone through countless revolutions and iterations informed by everything from birth control to “sexting.” So, to repeat, there is no stopping the sex train that is on a crash course with the impressionable lives of American teenagers everywhere. However, apprehensive parents have new reason to be troubled and wary due to the prevalence of the notorious “hook up.”

The hook up, or “hooking up” as is used in a more active context, is nothing that new, but has, over the past few years, been canonized in popular culture to define casual and consensual sex. The term itself is sufficiently vague, but generally involves sexual encounters, of varying degrees of frequency and intensity, with little or no strings attached. This form of casual sex will sometimes, but not always, lead to something more substantial like a long term relationship, which is an inversion of the usual dating chronology which placed relationship well before the prospect of sex. Teenagers and young adults have been opting out of the traditional courtship ritual of dating, in favor of the far more casual, and far less doctrinaire, practice of “hooking up.” Dating itself, with its definitive gender etiquette and high price tag just doesn’t stand a chance against the visceral appeal of easy and unfettered sexual congress.

So is dating dead? This has been a concern among parents, bloggers, and commentators alike. Dating, according to Beth Bailey’s history of dating, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America, evolved out of a courtship ritual where young women entertained gentleman callers, usually in the home, under the watchful eye of a chaperon. At the turn of the 20th century, dating caught on among the poor whose homes were not suitable for entertaining. And then the practice was moved to the backseats of cars, converted and carpeted basements, and the poorly lit bathroom stalls of nightclubs.

Ironically, even with the rise of “hooking up” teens are having far less sex than they were a few decades ago (according to data from the CDC) and many participants in the “hook up” culture claim that the informality and lack of pressure breed a more relaxed social environment where true friendships are nurtured. But is the “hook up” degrading our traditional notion of dating and intimacy? Many critics of the “hooking up” phenomenon claim that being able to engage in intimate relationships where men and women bring all of themselves to the relationship is the cornerstone of family, and without it we are cast adrift in selfish sexual pleasure and fleeting intimacy. In the era of hyperactive internet-based social networks, “hooking up” seems like the logical extension of the current technological culture, but is this sex liberating or just cynical and detached? Is the route to empowerment (for both genders) in the bedroom or within the confines of a developing and mature relationship?

Would love to hear from those of you who are “hooking up” or those of you just fed up?

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appťtit among other publications.


Justin Kidd
Justin Kidd7 years ago

Teens themselves are not very likely to comment here; those who do (and there will be some) are probably the more mature and more intelligent ones, brave enough to behave as if people who have passed the magic number 21 are nevertheless human and open to others. For nearly 60 years this country at least has been flooded with "teens are the enemy" hype, to which teens have responded as one might expect, with deep distrust of the adult world. The rare kids who are willing to dialogue with older folks share some of this distrust, with some reason.

Sabrinna Valisce
Past Member 7 years ago

I live in a household of 9 people ranging in age from 22 through to 39. The Gen Y's in the house 'hook-up' and it is very obviously unhealthy. On the surface they defend it as normal and healthy behaviour but every so often there's tears and conversations that begin, 'What's wrong with me? I thought they weren't calling again because the sex was bad or not good enough but they tell me I'm really good and fun to be with...' The amount of sex may be less but the numbers of partners is beyond anything I saw when I was that age. I'm Gen X and at that age we were fairly sexually open too but we still had boundaries and engaged in relationships. These relationships taught us about the adult world more so than the sex ever did. If we were having more frequent sex at least it was with the same person.

I've got to say that from what I've seen 'the hook-up' is psychologically damaging and emotionally fraught and this doesn't even begin to address the physical risks which latest statistics show that women under the age of 25 are the highest risk category for HIV. This is definitely cause for concern.

I don't think this is about the eroding of moral values but rather about health; physical, emotional, psychological.

Bon L.
Bon L7 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Elle S.
Elle S.7 years ago

As a 19 year old in college, I believe that the media hype over "hooking up" is blowing the issue out of proportion.
Personally, I believe sex to be a sacred and special show of love between two people, and I would say that the majority of my classmates have similar opinions. Of course, there is certainly cause for concern in terms of STDs and other diseases being spread, as well as the prospect of injured self-esteem and regret if hooking up isn't being true to the person's self. However, for all those concerned parents (and others) out there, from my experience hooking up is a rare and discouraged act, even at my age. That being said, I suppose everyone is entitled to make their own choices, and sexuality is certainly one of those areas in which being true to yourself, whatever that means, is extremely important.

Melissah Chadwick
Melissah C7 years ago


Jose P.
Jose P7 years ago

some kids could benefit from an hour of sex ed a day than calculus

Linh Tran
Linh Tran7 years ago

All the nowadays teenagers are stupid!

Victoria B.
Victoria B7 years ago

MARY B - you are a very brave lady you were right and you have my respect. Sending you my love and empathy for all you have had to deal with and are dealing with.

Victoria B.
Victoria B7 years ago

Do what you like kids BUT don't do what you think you aught to do because everyone else is. MAKE SURE THAT YOUR SELF ESTEEM IS IN TACT, even start to think WHY you need to have a sexual encounter, irresistable as it is when you are young, just make sure that there is RESPECT at the centre of the relationship. If you spend time with someone beforehand and realy know them you can measure how 'Real' they are. BUT just keep your own self respect above all. And sorry to put a damper on this but along the Lines of finding the Root words in Latin and Greek, the modern English root word 'HOOK' as a verb can mean many things but as an excercise in linguistic skills I wonder what the full meaning of HOOKER is, I would be so unhappy if my daughter practiced 'hooking' because linguistically it would make her a 'hooker' would it not ?. That would just show how sad and unloved the had been to get into this type of low-worth activity. I as a Mother would feel ashamed that my daughter had grown up with such a low self worth.

Trish H.
Anne H7 years ago

We each handle our sexuality in our own way. I think the trick is to keep ownership of it whether you are abused, sexually active or a virgin. If we lose perspective it seems to be something so sacred that it messes with the rest of our self.

I don't care when you have sex (be legal) but think of the bigger picture, consequences both physical and emotional. If you have a healthy perspective then proceed. If you are unsure talk to someone you trust or an 800#.