The Words of the Kawamura Family

Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both

Harumi Kawamura
August 11, 2009

The term “hooking up” has increasingly entered the vocabulary of our young people. The phrase ranges in meaning from kissing to fondling to having sex, but is meant to be a broad umbrella term that veils the actual act. The main tenet of hooking up, according to Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both, is that after hooking up, one is expected to “unhook,” and there are no further obligations.

Washington Post reporter Laura Session Stepp, who won a Pulitzer for her working covering the lives and culture of young people, has raised eyebrows with her latest book, which delves into the increasing trend of youth to “hook up.” In Unhooked, Stepp writes and reflects on the increasing normalization of young women to engage in sex without thought to commitment.

Stepp interviews several young women over a course of a year, and tells their stories. There is 15-year-old Sienna, who told Stepp about a high school party: “Some people, once they got drunk, hooked up in front of everyone else. Some people snuck into the woods, and a couple of couples went down the hill. There were only two couples there, so for the most part it was friends hooking up randomly with friends.”

With an eye to research being done on the sexual habits of young people and through her email, phone conversations and interviews with young women, Stepp writes a very readable and compelling glimpse into the changing dynamics of the romantic lives and interactions of young people.

She writes that while young men had traditionally been encouraged to play the field, and young women worked to protect their bodies for the ones they loved, the field has changed and women are now joining the men. She writes about Nicole, who “wanted to be in love but didn’t feel she could afford to be. Other girls I interviewed, such as Sienna and Mieka, wouldn’t even admit they had any interest in love; hooking up [and being burned] had soured them to its possibilities.” As one young woman in the book stated it, “Sometimes you want to screw them before they screw you.”

A health education professor at Indiana University comments:

Hooking up is purposely uncaring. If they turn off the emotional spigot during this time, what will happen to them as older adults? Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with casual sexual relationships among unmarried, uncommitted people, both of whom have the same expectations. [But] if we’re treated in an uncaring way by others over and over again, we will likely respond in kind. The effect down the road can be exponential.

The professor’s observations are reflected in the words of Alicia:

From the time I lost my virginity until now, it’s only been the guy getting pleasure. After I had sex the first time, it became much less of a big deal. I could take it almost as casually as making out, as long as I didn’t feel threatened…More guys have had sex with me than I have had sex with them. I guess this is the kind of sex where the guy is just using my vagina to get himself off.

Nicole counted up the number of men she had hooked up with, and reflected, “[George Washington University] guys are selfish and stupid, the ultimate form of birth control. That’s why I only kiss them.”

Being a new mother to a daughter, this book jolted me awake. And yet, even though Stepp illustrated the playing field to me through her interviews and research, I still couldn’t believe that this is the reality of our young women. Surely this is not really going on for most young women, I thought to myself. I invited a fellow Second Generation girl over for dinner. She had just graduated from a high school in Bergen County in northern New Jersey. “Is this true?” I asked her, “is hooking up really the norm in high schools now?” “Yeah,” she nodded. She recounted to me that just that past week she had met up with her friends with their yearbooks open. Her friends had explained, “he hooked up with her and her, and she hooked up with him and him.”

The biggest obstacle of new religious movements is the pull of the surrounding culture on the young people. While we can teach Sunday school and send our children to summer workshops, we should be aware of the culture that surrounds our young people. Sunday is Sunday, but the rest of the week, our young people are being inundated with messages from their surrounding culture. It’s important that we face reality and know the messages that our people are hearing. Stepp’s book is a good look into the culture of our young people.

Written by Harumi Kawamura 

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