Liberated: Body, Mind, and Sex?

To be, or not to be [a ho], that is the question.

By Annabel Meschke

  Graphics by Grace Rogers

Graphics by Grace Rogers

 
 
 

To be, or not to be [a ho], that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of a slew of one night stands,
Or to take arms against a sea of long forsaken text conversations
And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
[with] No more [of your friends]; and by a [cessation of] sleep[-ing with virtual strangers from Tinder] to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is [not often] heir to [upon the first go-round]... 

—Definitely Hamlet

In my social bubble, my friends and I do not guilt each other, or anyone else, for being sexually adventurous in any capacity. In most instances, “hoing out” is enthusiastically encouraged—the wilder the weekend, the more dirty details there are to share on the lazy Sunday to follow. My friends and I joke about trying to perfect “hoing for love,” an ideal, probably fictitious harmony, a perfect hybrid of hoing and classic romance. Having taken a walk on the wild side, been too chicken, and crossed back over the road again, I gave myself much to think about in terms of the pros and cons of holding out for something meaningful (whatever that may mean) and doing just the opposite.

Some are completely comfortable and at bliss with a one-night stand, having wonderfully simple experiences navigating hookup culture, making “dick appointments” until the cows come home. Others might feel a bit at sea—feeling pressured to participate in a hookup culture in which it is not only possible but probable that, through our own agency, we subject ourselves to objectification and heartbreak; it can be mentally eviscerating. It’s also especially hard to admit defeat after deciding to go on a sexploration to see what it’s all about and coming back with such cynicism that you’re no longer a hoot at parties. Illustrating the range of stops along the modern sexploration is sociology professor Lisa Wade in an interview about her book American Hookup. During the interview, she points out that at least a third of students on the average college campus don’t participate in hookup culture, resulting in a biased focus on the behavior of hooking up rather than the range of situations that create it. Because of this, Wade continues, it becomes easy to judge someone for being either sexually adventurous or sexually conservative when, in reality, the fulfillment of our sexual encounters really just depends on how our partners treat us. “It's about how we engage with each other,” says Wade, “no matter what types of engagements we're having.”

Hookup culture, in the popular imagination, sometimes seems to me to be a bit of a myth. The fun of being able to go out or on a dating app just to scratch an itch, to get to know a stranger biblically and not feel pressured to learn their hobbies or allergies, is bolstered by the fantasy lens through which we view whatever this facet of modern dating is. If hookup culture means being able to meet a stranger in a smoky bar, go to your place or theirs and achieve a mutual, life-changing, weepy simultaneous orgasm in perfect harmony before learning one another’s names (if that’s even on the table), many of us would be first in line to get into that smoky bar in which strangers who are sexually adaptable, kind, and courteous are waiting in line to show us what it’s all about and learn our safe words. However, in trying to navigate this imaginary sex carnival, I was met with a lot of unanswered texts and a total of zero orgasms.

I have never been in a romantic relationship. No prolonged interaction between me and any sort of partner has ever somehow blossomed into something that deserves anniversaries. Every night, as I lay me down to sleep, I might try to blame coincidence, fate, the stars, one bitchy star in particular, “the universe,” the media, my parents, your parents, the local butcher, or the FBI, to name a few, but no matter who is behind the apparent disappearance or kidnapping of everyone who has ever laid a finger on me, the one reliable aspect of my less than romantic encounters is a bittersweet one: relying on romantic prospects to be unreliable brings me the same sort of idle tranquility as being trapped in a subway car with a roving clique of breakdancers for three commutes in a row, for example.

In my efforts to assume some sort of empowerment in the midst of a series of false starts, I tried tweaking my approach to romance in a few different ways, all of which were almost funny in their immediate failure: first, I tried swearing off Geminis. This I did not follow through with and also did not truly believe was the root of the problem (still keeping my distance, though, to be safe). Then, I tried swearing off everyone. This actually warranted a much happier result. Hardly any of my friends thought I was serious when I publicized my swan dive into celibacy, but by the end of August, my lifestyle choice earned its own hashtag on my personal social media pages. #CelibateSummer was a success because there are fewer ways to fail at that than there are in trying to be completely cool with seeking physical intimacy with no interpersonal connection, surprisingly enough.

Social life (again, unsurprisingly) became worlds easier once I quit worrying about the opinions of potential paramours, cold turkey. A no-makeup revolution soon began; extracting myself from hookup culture cleared my skin, hydrated me, and watered my crops. Going to parties completely void of the come-hither attitude that powers a lot of social interactions was liberating. I got to have fun with my friends completely void of distractions.

Maybe I’m plainly not cut out for hookup culture, or maybe I just haven’t gotten my ho legs yet. Maybe a relationship is heading my way-- according to all of my friends with significant others, love finds you when you stop giving a shit about it. For now, however, I’m perfectly content existing in between, and that is completely okay.