Why your emotionless sex has become dangerous, according to an expert


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Why your emotionless sex has become dangerous, according to an expert

We spoke to Dr Lisa Wade, the author of American Hookup

Dr Lisa Wade is a sociology professor and the author of American Hookup, a book that carefully portraits the postmodern college hookup scene we all know too well.

Wade thought the media wasn’t fairly depicting college hookup culture. “I really felt strongly that there was a lot missing in the picture,” she told The Tab, “I thought that between my students’ stories and insight and my access to the literature, we could really intervene in the discussion in a productive way.”

We spoke to Wade about her book and the emerging dangers of what she calls a “careless” culture.

She says she was surprised by how many people have accepted sex without any emotions

“The idea is that people not just can, but should be able to have sex without any emotion other than lust getting in the way. Students have accepted that as a potential reality, a goal for themselves. It’s really amazing. It’s only because, as I argue in this book, I don’t think it’s reasonable for us to expect ourselves to do anything without emotion. We have emotions at breakfast! We have emotions when we get in the shower and it feels nice! We are bags of chemistry, that’s what we are. So it was impressive to me how powerful this idea had become.”

And that they blamed themselves when they had any

“That ’emotionless sex’ was possible and so idealized. And then the extent to which students blamed themselves for having feeling – any kind of feeling, positive and negative. It was really disconcerting; it was really disturbing. And then the way in which that allowed them to mistreat each other.”

She says that by being ‘carefree,’ we’re also being ‘careless’

“Sex is supposed to be ‘carefree’ – it’s supposed to be spontaneous and lovely and uncomplicated. But ‘carefree’ is also ‘careless.’ So then there’s no caring, and caring isn’t just something you don’t have to do, it’s something you’re not supposed to do. It’s ironic, it’s supposed to be ‘carefree,’ except there are incredibly rigid rules about what you’re allowed to care about, and you’re not allowed to care about the person you’re being sexual with. Suddenly, this freedom is actually really constrained. So now you have a situation where everyone is actively performing not caring about the other person, and once you’ve gone there, then you open up the door for all the other careless things you can do, like not protect yourself or your partner from STDs, or not caring about whether or not they’re truly consenting to sexual activity, or not caring about whether they want to use a condom at all.”

Wade says being carefree isn’t anything new, but that it means we’ve stopped calling out people for any ‘bad behavior’

“I’m not convinced that it’s worse today, that young people are less responsible about consent than they were in the past. I think it’s been a problem for a very, very long time. I think that the newer issue is that – in the 80s and 90s, if somebody wanted to have sex, they often pretended like they wanted to have a relationship. And maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. But the overarching frame of what was happening was that we’re exploring the possibility of a relationship, right? People lie in every generation. But the lie they tell in this generation is different from the lie they told a few decades ago. At least back then we could hold people accountable. We could say, ‘Hey, you said you cared about me, and then you did x, y, or z.’ But now we don’t have that. We don’t have that at all. So the ability to call people out for being cruel is gone, which means that we have a harder time calling them out for any bad behavior.”

Dr. Lisa Wade

And that it’s hard to determine the difference between ‘cruel’ and ‘criminal’

“It can actually be quite difficult to parse the difference between ‘what this person did to me was cruel’ and ‘what this person did to me was criminal.’ In practice, when things are so confusing, and there’s so much psychological manipulation, and everyone’s drinking, and nobody wants to get anyone else in trouble necessarily, it can be really difficult to tell the difference between cruel and criminal, and certainly the way we organize sexuality today makes it even more difficult than it would be otherwise.”

She says colleges need to go past addressing consent to better prevent sexual assault

“Colleges are trying to reduce the rate of sexual assault on their campuses and they’re doing it by addressing consent, and addressing sexual assault, and I support that. But what we need to do is address the culture at large. When you think about it, the lesson we’re telling people when we tell them to get consent is just absurdly simple and basic. We need to look at what is creating conditions that make consent so confusing. What I believe is that we’re not going to be able to make meaningful progress in ending sexual assault crises on college campuses or elsewhere unless we address the culture itself.

“It’s hard to change American culture, but can you change the culture at a college that has 5,000 students? Much, much more easily. I think it’s a matter of deciding to prioritize it.”

This story originally appeared on The Tab Harvard.