Rules Unspoken

October 15, 2018

Sully and I discuss hookup culture at The Claremont Colleges. We talk with experts such as Professor of Sociology at Occidental, Lisa Wade. We also talk with student Audrey Jang, the President of the Pomona Student Union, who brought Professor Wade to campus.

Hook Up CultureCampus PoliticsInterview
Los Angeles, USA


This being the first episode I ever produced, the learning curve was incredibly steep and it took me almost two months just to produce the episode. The first thing I noticed was just how challenging it is to work with raw conversation. People do not speak in linear fashion. Furthermore, a lot of speech is referential and meaning resides outside of the words themselves (gestures, cadence, and tone). As such, pulling quotations for use in a podcast is harder than one would expect. Most self-contained thoughts only existed in two types, either a five second soundbite or a minutes long speech. Neither are particularly useful for podcasting. A laundry of soundbites does not build to anything meaningful for a listener, but more than 30 seconds of a single speaker can be difficult to follow.

My goal in this episode was to practice those editing techniques. I attempted to combine my two primary interviews with Audrey and Professor Wade, in a method similar to The New York Times “The Daily.” As Audrey had brought Professor Wade to campus, that would provide the meta story over my interview with Wade herself. There was the narrative of why Wade studied what she did, and then the conversation with Audrey would show why this topic was relevant to Pomona specifically.


Sullivan Whitely: [00:00] What's up everyone you're listening to DisCo. Are you ready to fucking groove? Hey, if you think disco music's groovy, wait until you listen to this podcast.

Okay, it's Thursday afternoon you're in your lecture you're on your phone because you're not paying attention on a Thursday afternoon. What are you doing on your phone?

Eli Cohen: [00:51] Probably tender, maybe grinder?

Sullivan Whitely: [00:53] Maybe Bumble but you're scrolling through

Eli Cohen: [00:56] All the all the good kids are on bumbled.

Sullivan Whitely: [01:00] You're trolling the internet for someone to love, or at least to lust after for a night. And then Thursday night rolls around, maybe get to a party, scan the crowd. No luck. You go home alone, you go to sleep, wake up, rinse, repeat, baby. What is this called? Hookup culture, or at least it's a part of it. And for our very first episode of DisCo Eli and I are exploring the sticky and maybe harmful world of hookup culture launched right along with us.

Eli Cohen: [01:31] We actually got to interview an expert on the matter. Lisa Wade, a sociologist at Occidental College, came and talked to a number of Pomona students on the topic and we were lucky enough to get a personal interview with her. And yeah, that is the basis of this episode, she brought up a lot of really interesting points that I personally had never considered on the topic before. You know, it usually starts with a pretty Do you like it, do you not? And then we don't often get much past there. But today, we're trying to do exactly that.

Sullivan Whitely: [02:05] So let us know what you think. Tune in, give it a listen. Let's explore hookup culture to get her hands on hands. Because what's better than being intimate and being intimate all together?

Audrey Jang: [02:24] My name is Audrey Jang. Identify as she her hers. And I am the President of the Student Union. I'm the incoming president, I'm getting trained. I'll take over this ship next year.

Eli Cohen: [02:43] Oh, hell yeah. Do you hear that listeners? We have the president in the house.

Audrey Jang: [02:51] Incoming

Eli Cohen: [02:52] That's sick. Why did you decide to put on this specific event?

Audrey Jang: [02:55] Well, it was Valentine's day week. And we always like to plan events that are relevant to the happenings of that time. And it was essentially like starting as a chat and chew, which is the conversations that we have in Frank dining hall, every other week. But then we decided that hookup culture is something that a lot of students don't know how to talk about. And we thought we would bring in a guest speaker. And Lisa Wade, she's a professor, a sociologist at Occidental and super close. So it was sort of a last minute decision to bring her over. But it turned out great.

Lisa Wade: [03:40] My name is Lisa Wade, I'm an associate professor at Occidental College, and I wrote a book called American hookup about the new culture of sex on campus. I've been studying sexuality since I was in college. I took my first human sexuality classes, a freshman at UC Santa Barbara. And I basically joined the kind of of peer sex education type groups all throughout undergraduate. And then I went and got a master's degree in human sexuality from NYU, right after college. Fast forward a number of years, and I end up with this PhD in sociology, and I'm at Occidental, and I'm teaching classes to first year students that is sex are sexuality themed.

So I'm, you know, paying attention to what my students are saying about hookup culture, which is, is fascinating and insightful. And they are this really diverse group of people with all kinds of interesting perspectives and values that they bring and experiences that they're having. And I'm also paying attention to the media coverage of hookup culture, which doesn't reflect at all how, how just intelligent and lovable and, and how quickly learning my students were. And, and diverse to. Just the media coverage was so focused on this one type of student.

And so I was, I recognize that there's a real disconnect there, there was a there was a problem. And the media coverage was also just failing to bring a sociological imagination to the problem. So it was all about individual people's decisions and whether they weren't good or bad. And often, it was like, women's decisions, right? So one side to be like, women shouldn't be doing this, because it's going to make them sad. And the other side was saying, like, Don't tell women what to do. And I'm like, this is not really a helpful conversation. So as a sociologist, I felt like I had something to bring.

And so I did my first round of data collection, getting students to write journals about their experiences in hookup culture for the length of a semester. And that data was so fantastic. The students were so earnest and open, and their experiences were just so rich. And I realized at that point that I had a book because we needed an intervention in the in the conversation that was happening. I had the sociological imagination, and the students had the stories, and I wanted to give them a platform to help change the conversation.

Eli Cohen: [06:14] I liked what you said about how conversations were like, do this to make you happier, don't do this, because it'll make you sad. That's definitely something that I was thinking a lot about while reading a few of the pieces that you had put together. Hookup culture, you said it's it is somewhat about what is actually happening, but the data on like how much sex college students are having, or what types perhaps isn't that different, and it can also be a lot more about the pressures, or the the mindsets are what should be happening, that kind of idea has changed.

Lisa Wade: [06:52] This is probably a very over determined outcome, right? That the mental health or mental health problems with probably lots of things that contributing to it. But we know that sexual culture as part of the problem. So studies when we asked them, are your sexual relationships causing you emotional distress? They say yes, right.? So we absolutely know that that's part of it.

But I do think that a lot of it is related to part of what makes it a hookup culture is that students feel like there's only one way they're allowed to engage with one another sexually. And so if you don't fit in that mold, if that doesn't feel comfortable to you, then you either have to opt out and feel like you're not participating at all or doing college right. I had one student who said, if you don't have sex, you're not in the community. So you feel isolated, you feel left out, or you opt in and you do so with mixed feelings and mixed experiences. And then you have to struggle to with with those that disconnect.

You know, what's funny, and you're right is the the sexual behavior itself is not that different. Young people are if you if you met by sexual intercourse, young people are having the same amount of sex acquiring the same number of sexual partners as their the baby boomers did, in fact, somewhat less than Gen X. What's changed is the frame for how they think they're supposed to feel about sex. And so as the frame has changed, if you if you're a young person in a hookup culture, you have to then resolve that tension.

Audrey Jang: [08:29] I think that Professor Wade honestly, like, articulated something that I have noticed, in terms of coming into college and encountering hookup culture, honestly, for the first time.

Because in Korean culture, which were, which is where I'm from hooking up is still very much stigmatized, like sex before marriage, definitely not something that people readily like talk about. And, like, I thought it very interesting that people here seem to predicate their social status on like hooking up, especially in your first couple weekends, when you're a first year like after having brunch, like, the main topic of conversation is who hooked up with who and who scored who, and it's, it just like made a lot of sense, Professor Wade's framework of hookup culture being about power rather than pleasure when the whole like liberation movement was supposed to be about like, expanding the realm of like sexual pleasure to all different types of people.

Eli Cohen: [09:49] I completely agree. And I tried to ask her about that thinking, you know, if, if Pomona is so dedicated to teaching us things and talking about ideas of how to, you know, deconstruct these power structures that currently exist, how come hookup culture, and and some of the things that are the most intimate seem to be excluded from that kind of critical thought process? I kind of found that, I don't know based on the things that she said, I thought about our own community here, and how that sometimes, those two things might be at odds.

Audrey Jang: [10:29] It seems as though we're not like really trained on how to positively think about things like at Pomona, we're taught to deconstruct we're taught to criticize, we're taught to say, say, like, look for the problematic things that are in our societal institutions. And I think that, especially when it comes into like, advocating for consent culture, and advocating against sexual assault, there's a lot of criticism, like and validly so.

But we often find it hard to create anti-culture, so like a different type of culture that's positive and like, it's better and it's good. And I see that in not just like conversations about hookup culture, but about like capitalism or neoliberalism, you know, the buzzwords, the -isms that people throw around and like to critique and problematize as the founding like source of human misery, think that talking about how to reform, like our understanding of hooking up and how to go towards a more cooperative model of a hookup culture, as Professor Wade likes to put it, I think it's like, a really important, not reform, but change.

I like wonder is not really a formed, complete coherent thought, but I wonder, like, what can be done on the student level to like, start creating a hookup culture that's not predicated on, like power, like, that's not predicated on extracting pleasure from another person. And I think it comes from communication skills. And it comes from being able to talk about these very personal aspects, with your friends and sort of understanding what you feel that hookup culture is asking of you and what you want yourself because the whole thing about empowerment is being able to identify and understand what you yourself want and terms of sexual romantic relationships. And being free to pursue that.

Lisa Wade: [12:59] I think it's really important that to state that I think that all of the good ideas that we need to fix hookup culture, students already have them. I studied them, like I said, they're, they're really intelligent, they have all kinds of great ideas. They're open minded, they're, they're good human beings, and they want connection with other people. And so I think the two things we need one is we needed a kinder, safer hookup culture. And we need more diversification of sexual cultures on campus, students have it within them to make that happen.

And institutions just need to clear out the space such that they can do that. And one of the things are going to have to do in order to make that happen is even the playing field, which means taking power away from this small segment of students that that do control those party spaces, which like I said, on most campuses are typically, extensively, heterosexual white men who have those spaces. Um, so I think like I've, you know, I've here here at Pomona, and I've heard people talk about various people that throw, groups that throw parties, and that they aren't all those guys, there are groups that represent all kinds of different students on campus. And I think that's probably one of the ways in which we could start to even that playing field.

Eli Cohen: [14:20] Okay. I, your last point, I was thinking a lot about and trying to find a good way to ask this question, which is, you did acknowledge that there is kind of an amazing amount of privilege inherent within this hookup culture that is kind of, in some ways, it's the same old boys club dressed up perhaps, and kind of like an hiding in plain sight of like sexual liberalization. And I'm thinking at a place like Pomona where we try to fight that on so many fronts. Why then, is hookup culture, something that's so intensely intimate, a place where it's so hard to achieve?

Lisa Wade: [15:00] Yeah, it's interesting, because I had a student who identified as pensexual, and she talked about how in class she would be in classes where students would be having these really sophisticated conversations about feminist theory and queer theory and, you know, critical disability studies and, and critical race theory, and it would just be amazing. And then as soon as, as soon as night fell, and the party started, everyone was, she said, like, hyper heterosexual and hyper masculine, and like, all that stuff fell away. Um, you know, I think part of it is that this gets lost, I think part of it is that college students, traditional age college students really aren't that many years past puberty.

And 50% of students are virgins when they get to college, maybe more at very elite schools. So young people just don't have a lot of experience with sexuality. A lot of what is playing out in these places where you see hooking up is, is, is people just trying to get the basics down? You know, how do I get somebody to kiss me? How do I kiss somebody? How do I? How can I can I get through this interaction of making out without making a fool out of myself. Like, they're not playing Mozart, they're plunking out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

So to ask people who are just at the very beginning of trying to learn how to do this sphere of life that is held up with such importance, and which, which is a way in which we gauge whether or not you're a good or bad person and a weird or not person, and a lovable or not person. I said a lot of pressure to be experimental. So a lot of pressure to try to innovate, right.

And so it's safer in the classroom to talk about queer theory, a lot safer than it is to try to play that out in real life, and aspect. And so I think that i think that's part of why students have such a hard time bringing that into actual sexuality, because they're real, at least students feel like they're real consequences to getting it wrong. We really penalize people that do sex wrong, right? Being good at sex is something that everyone's afraid they're bad at it right. Um, and when and when you're bad at it in the wrong way. You're a pervert, you know, you're discussing it mean, I think I just think it's a lot to ask students to, on their own be able to be so sophisticated and mature when they're really just at the beginning of a long journey.

Eli Cohen: [17:47] Definitely, we can make this the last question, but I just wanted to pick up a little bit on that idea of like the fear of being wrong. Yeah. Which definitely seems to definitely spoke to me. And I wanted to ask specifically, it seems like in a hookup, there's always, it's important that there's always that plausible deniability that kind of like, if it doesn't go how you intended, you know, maybe you were drunk, maybe whatever you can, you can ghost the person. And as we talked about, sometimes kind of put them down. And you can kind of go on your way. But if you are just going to ask someone say, you know, would you go on a date with me? And they say, No, you can't really retract that. It's not like, Oh, well, I didn't mean it.

And I'm curious, this, what do you think? Is that the root of that fear? Or what do you think could be done, to kind of ameliorate some of that that would make a healthier sexual culture?

Lisa Wade: [18:51] You know, it's always safer to be the person that doesn't care. And that's what cool actually is cool. Being cool, is not caring. That's why the fashion models never smile at you. They look so cool, because you can tell they don't care. You're nobody to them. Right? Smiling is an invitation. It's a desire, it's and I want to be friends, right? So to be cool is to not care. And it's always safer to be on that end.

But, but it's it's, it's in the long term, it's a losing strategy, because you don't get what you want. You have to be brave, to be open, and to put yourself out there. But being brave is the only way to actually get the beautiful parts of life that come with caring about anything.

So I think we need to, I guess, start talking more about about how impressive it is when anybody is able to actually be open about desire of any kind. And learn how to just reward that kind of openness. Have a have a better way, maybe if of being accountable to other people's desires, even if even if you don't share them, I guess a conversation about about that might be helpful about how, what a beautiful thing it is when someone's able to open up and how that should be rewarded and not punished.

Eli Cohen: [20:40] Thank you so much to Evelyn Landow for letting us use her songs. Everything you heard on this episode is her band DETAILS, which was made exclusively of Claremont students. You are currently listening to Loved Letter, and we opened with your thing, both of their 2015 album, My Teeth Shine. It's on Spotify, SoundCloud, band camp, and YouTube.

Everyone should go listen. Honestly, this album is the musical score to my time here in Claremont. And I know it plays that role for so many. Huge thank you to Professor Lisa Wade for coming to Pomona and for specifically making the time to speak with me. Her insights opened up so many incredible conversations, as we are sure that they will continue to do, thank you to Audrey for making the event happen and working with me throughout this entire process. And then, of course, my partner in crime, Sullivan Whitely, the path was circuitous to say the least. But we got this one out there. Thank you. And here's to many more.