Overcoming the Hookup Culture

“People are scheduling hookups now,” one teen exclaimed, “Literally, using Tinder to find someone to hook up with and then seeing when it will fit into each other’s agendas. That just seems so awful and awkward. I don’t get it.”

“It seems like sex before marriage is becoming more and more widely accepted, people seem to think our religious beliefs are ‘old-fashioned.’ Does waiting for marriage still make sense? What’s the thinking behind that, besides ‘the Bible says so?’” another teen asked.

Both of these comments shed light on the culture we currently find ourselves immersed in. The first exemplifies the shallowness of the hookup culture. The second teen’s question is honest and begs to be answered. In fact, in order to overcome this cycle, I think it’s so important to understand why we should wait for marriage to have sex. The answer is much more robust than “because the Bible says so.”

The Waters we Swim in

In 2008, David Foster Wallace began his commencement speech with the following anecdote: “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

So many of us have grown up in the hookup culture that we’ve become desensitized, or perhaps completely unaware, of the waters in which we are swimming. As such, we’ve lost sight of the purpose for which we were created, the purpose and intent of sex, and we’ve settled for something less, something counterfeit. When studying counterfeit bills, federal agents begin by closely examining authentic bills, mastering their identity, so that when a fake bill crosses their path, they can quickly see the false characteristics. We are frequently exposed to counterfeit versions of love — be it on social media, music, TV shows, movies, or even real relationships of people with whom we are close. We need to shift our focus and look instead at authentic, holy love.

An Enduring Love — God’s Plan

The Church wants you to wait for marriage, not because it enjoys giving you mindless rules in order to deprive you of happiness. Simply because the Church teaches something does not make it true. Rather, something is established to be true and that in turn informs the Church’s teaching. We need to reject the notion that the Church’s teaching is not out of love for you. The Church loves you and offers you what your dignity deserves — truth. The teachings of the Church are not always easy to accept or embrace, often they are countercultural, but they are offered with a deep knowledge and love of an individual’s heart.

God wants you to have an enduring love, one that mirrors His love for you. This type of love is achieved through the sacrament of marriage, not hookups. Sex is good. In order for sex to be oriented to the higher good, it must be complementary (between a man and woman), there must be permanence and fidelity in the relationship (as achieved through marital vows), and the sexual act must be open to life (children). Remove any one of these components and sex is taken out of its proper context, becoming less than what God intended it to be. This results in an array of consequences, including separation from God.

Ok well, what about hooking up if we “don’t go all the way.” Well, I guess in a sense, the answer is very similar. We shouldn’t be looking for the line in the sand, how close we can come to a fire without getting burned. We should be looking at how to live God’s plan for us as best as we are able. Hookups involve a lack of emotional commitment, sacrifice, and self-denial. Moreover, they use another person for one’s own personal fulfillment. As soon as we begin using people, we are not living for God.

Four Habits to Cultivate to Overcome the Hookup Culture

1. Temperance – Practice temperance in all things. Sometimes when I want to do something that I know is bad for me in the long run (watching hours of Netflix, skipping the gym, eating too much sugar, etc.) I think to myself, if I can’t make the right decision here, how am I ever going to make the right decision when I’m faced with something more challenging. Let me tell you — saying yes to authentic love, which means not giving into lust, is HARD. Our brain wants to justify it, “but I love this person, etc. etc. etc.” But deep down, we know what’s right. If that person really loves you, they’ll help you be temperate too. In the meantime, practice saying “yes” to things that orient you towards your final goal: heaven. Sometimes this means saying yes to helping a family member, yes to working out even when you don’t feel like it (in fact I think there’s so many correlations between the habits we need to maintain physical health and spiritual health), saying ‘no’ to gossip, etc. We cannot expect to suddenly have the virtue of temperance in very tempting situations if we are not working towards achieving this virtue in all areas of our life.

2. Authentic Friendships – “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.
I think we’ve lost the art of having friendships. Like REAL friendships. Not people you have a Snapstreak with. Not people you text but never see. Real friendships – where you invest in their life, and they in yours; friends who call you higher; friends who are there for you in the good and the bad without strings attached. Friends with benefits? That’s not a friendship and things never turn out well, contrary to the Romcoms that make you think otherwise. Do you see other people as brothers/sisters in Christ, or do you look at people and wonder if you could have a ‘thing’ with them?

3. True Happiness – Countless studies have been done to reveal that teens who are sexually active are more prone to depression. Why is this? Well, we were not created to be in multiple sexual relationships— biologically speaking and psychologically speaking. I believe people “hook-up” seeking some sort of fulfillment, something that will increase their happiness. But the result is often an feeling of emptiness. Modern culture may make us assume that morality is a burden, but in reality, morality is the good life. We are happiest when we are living a moral life. Of course, it doesn’t mean that every moment is happy, or that there aren’t times when living as God intends feels really difficult. What it does mean, is that in the long run, this is where you will know your true self, and this path will bring you a peace and joy that the world could never offer. Don’t live for a fleeting moment of happiness, live for eternal happiness. PS — If you find yourself constantly trying to fill a feeling of emptiness, pray with that and bring it to a trusted friend. It is often an indication that there is some deeper need that is not being met (be it physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, etc.) As St. Augustine said “our hearts are restless until they rest in You, O Lord.”

4. Chastity – Life without sex is not a life without love; chastity is not a consolation prize. As St. John Paul II said “only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable or real love.” Chasity is about willing the good of the other, it’s about wanting to help the person you love get to heaven, it’s about saying ‘yes’ to your future spouse. If you haven’t always lived a chaste life, it’s never too late to start. Some of the greatest saints struggled with the vice of lust. Take hope that in time, they too overcame it! Write a letter to your future spouse promising them that you are striving to achieve this virtue out of love for them and God.