The Death of the Boyfriend

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One of the niggling insecurities that I remember having in university was the vague feeling that not only  was everyone working harder than me  and getting better grades than me, but they were also probably having more fun and more sex too.  Turns out I was wrong – people were working harder then me but they were getting the same grades and I was having more fun and sex.

But, in this day and age, one must never let a good insecurity go to waste. You see, if you play on people’s insecurities, you can attract attention that you wouldn’t otherwise deserve, and get yourself published in the New York Times. The article in question describes, in lurid detail, the sexual hookups of a number of female university students at University of Pennsylvania. The moral of the story: young women are hooking up more than ever, but it’s not a good thing. The culprit? A new thing called “hookup culture”.

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The problem is, “hookup culture”, at least as the New York Times describes it, doesn’t really exist:

A new study, which Mr. Monto will present here today at the American Sociological Association conference, challenges that picture. The paper finds “no evidence of substantial changes in sexual behavior that would support the proposition that there is a new or pervasive ‘hookup culture’ among contemporary college students.”

By comparing national survey data on two waves of young adults who had completed at least one year of college—the first wave from 1988 to 1996, and the second from 2002 to 2010—Mr. Monto found that today’s young people are not having sex more often or with more partners. They do not report having sex with more people over the past year than earlier students did. And they were substantially less likely to have sex once or more a week.

“In many generations, there’s a sense that sexual behavior is changing or becoming more liberal, or we’re in some brave new era,” Mr. Monto, a top expert on the customers of street prostitutes, says in an interview. “I was a little skeptical about that myself. Because I was alive during the ’80s, and it doesn’t seem all that different.”

What has changed, Mr. Monto argues, is the language and narrative around hooking up. From 2000 to 2006, hookup culture featured in only a handful of scholarly articles, he says. Between 2007 and 2013, it appeared in 84 articles. (The term “hookup” is ambiguous and easily sensationalized: It can refer to sex, but also to simply making out.)

Another change: Surveys show that today’s sexually active young adults are more likely to report that one of the people they had sex with over the past year was a friend or someone they hooked up with via a pickup or casual date, according to Mr. Monto’s paper, which he co-wrote with a student of his, Anna Carey. Today’s young people are also less likely to be married or to have a regular sexual partner.

Chronicle.com

As Steven Pinker puts it, “Another anecdote-driven moral panic succumbs to data“. Young people are not having sex more than ever, in fact, it appears that they’re having sex a bit less. So what appears to be happening? Well, the most interesting piece of data for me is that apparently more pickups are happening. But what also appears to be happening is that the traditional “boyfriend-girlfriend” model of relationships is breaking down into something more casual. Young people are having just as many partners, but they’re less likely to be regular sexual partners.

People aren’t really hooking up more: they’re entering into relationships less.

What we are witnessing is the Death of the Boyfriend.

So what’s driving this change? If you ask me, it’s being driven by women, not by men, and it’s being driven by pressure on young women to “succeed”, and the perception that boyfriends are an unnecessary drag on a young woman’s ability to achieve. So young women seek out casual hook ups as an alternative to a traditional boyfriend. To put it in economic terms – the market value of “boyfriend services” has dropped, due to a reduction in demand, while the market for casual sex remains unchanged. And anecdotally at least, young women don’t seem to be too happy with it.

I have to say, this really matches my experience. Young women – women in university – often don’t want a serious relationship. They’re single, they’re down to hook up, but if you come into the interaction with the naive idea that you’re going to just toss your jacket over her shoulder and make her your girlfriend – because that’s what every girl wants – you’re going to fall flat on your face. Being a nice guy no longer cuts it (presuming it ever has).

Postmodern feminists can’t compute this. They can’t reconcile the idea that casual sex (bad) and female dissatisfaction (bad) could be caused by the drive to succeed (good) and the perception that men are a drag (good). How could feminism be causing the very things that we need feminism to prevent? So they do a bit of hand waving, invoke “culture” and voila, we have an explanation for the death of the boyfriend that leaves feminist orthodoxies intact. Hookup “culture” is not the product of women’s rational choices, ideologies, or of the realities of the dating market. It’s a “culture” which means you don’t have to explain it.

Of course, this leaves unresolved the question: is this change a good thing or a bad thing? I consider myself a sexual libertarian – I think that people should be free to have whatever relationships make them happy. The only dating evils are ignorance – especially ignorance of what really makes you happy – and negative emotions like fear, anger, hate and neediness. I don’t think there’s anything inherently bad about the death of the boyfriend – in fact, I’d have to say I have benefitted a lot from the  in the form of beautiful women who give a lot to me without asking much in return. But still, I wonder…

As the winds of culture change, some will find themselves propelled to new and interesting places, and others will find themselves adrift at sea. Those that curse the change and refuse to take action will be the losers, and those that adjust their sails will find what they are looking for . The secret to dealing with the death of the boyfriend (and prospering from it) is to recognize that  old-fashioned ideas about how relationships work need to be updated to reflect the present reality. The old paradigm – the idea that men trade relationships to women for sex – is becoming less and less true. The guys who learn to bring something different to the table – good sex, confidence, fun, power – will prosper.

But I can’t help but feel like maybe, part of the problem is that young women have lost sight of what really makes them happy – and if that’s true, it’s a shame.

 

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