Recently I met a man at a social gathering who had heard about Hooking Up Smart and was very interested in discussing the project with me. He mentioned that he was gay and joked:
As gay men go, so goes the nation.
He went on to draw parallels between today’s louche culture of hooking up among straights and the gay bathhouse culture in the 1970s, explaining why that culture is so successful for gay men, but expressing doubts that it can work for heterosexuals:
Hooking up works for gay men because we all want the same thing: frequent, diverse sex. We may want relationships at some point, but we can enjoy great sex with strangers as well, and we know our partners are on the same page.
Based on what I’ve seen, I’m not sure how it could work for straight people because very few women seem to want that kind of sex. So to the extent that the practice continues, it’s going to be with a small number of people, or a bunch of people who are doing something that isn’t particularly enjoyable for them.
Yet even gay men may find that casual sex becomes problematic, preventing them from getting what they really feel is important in their lives, including love and relationships. One gay man wrote to Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. at Queerty for advice:
I seem to be spending more and more time on my phone lately, looking for hookups, but I’m having some doubts that this is all good. Pro: I’m meeting lots of hot guys and having a lot of hot sex. Con: I still am not in a relationship and want to have a boyfriend.
Possibly Screwed by my App
Hooking up with people and the hunt for hookups, can feel great. Our brains produce chemicals that give us intense feelings of pleasure not just when we have sex, but also as we move toward getting naked: during foreplay, while we’re flirting, and — if we’re using an app to look for potential partners — when we take the very first step of launching the app. So, as you start scanning all those alluring possibilities on your phone, you are triggering a neurochemical response in your brain that can create an awesome high.
The problem is, because simply getting on the app makes you feel good, you are likely to get on it more and more often. And because actually finding hookups makes you feel good, you can easily get obsessed with chasing this particular high.
If it sounds like I’m using the language of addiction: You’re right, I am. The road to hooking up can be a speedy route to feeling attractive and desired. The validation we get, from both hookups and potential hookups, can seem like a powerful self-esteem boost. Typically, this leads us to pursue more and more hookups.
Some problems with this:
- The boost is fleeting, because external praise for our surface attributes doesn’t really change how we feel about ourselves and we are likely to spend more and more time chasing short-lived validation from people we hardly know.
- If you don’t actually feel good about endlessly pursuing hookups, then [it] will ultimately lower your self-esteem. This is the opposite of what you’re looking for — and what you feel like you’re getting — when you [hook up].
The upshot is, you may be addicted to an experience that is keeping you hunting for hookups, even though you say you want a relationship. And because the particular high of intense excitement that you are chasing is a very different experience from the intimacy and commitment of a relationship, you are conditioning your brain to crave hookups, and their pursuit, rather than something more long-term.
Keep in mind, this is a gay man who is struggling with the hookup scene. How many women can possibly be wired to thrive on this neurochemical fix of faux flattery and fast fun?
Show me a habitual hooker upper and I’ll show you a head case. Male or female, you are deriving your sense of self from transactional sex with strangers, and that is both fleeting and false.