Hook-Up Culture and Quarantine Go Together Like Oil and Water

‘Hook up culture’ is a phrase tossed around Brown’s campus as frequently as classes are skipped and Jo’s is consumed – i.e. ALL the time. It is frequently disparaged as a culture which discourages relationships and emotional connections in favor of casual sex & one night stands, and can often be heard being groaned about as the reason cuffing season hasn’t exactly delivered on its promises. 

Brown isn’t the only place that hook-up culture is perceived to reign supreme. Dating apps such as Tinder, Hinge and Bumble have garnered our generation the reputation of being commitment-phobic and pleasure obsessed, with attention spans ill-suited to long-term relationships. However, as stay-at-home orders have been issued and social distancing rules have been observed, the activity on dating apps has actually spiked. It seems that perhaps it wasn’t just sex that we were looking for when we swiped right.

Recently, Karley Sciortino came out with a new podcast entitled Love in Quarantine. Karley is the relationship and sex columnist for Vogue, and the writer of one of my favorite books, Slutever; I adore her, so naturally I was first online when the podcast came out. I’ve listened to the first few episodes, and, one, in particular, The Awkward Appeal of FaceTime Dating, feels especially relevant when considering what dating and hooking up may look like when restrictions start to lift. The episode highlights a conversation between Karley and a woman named Sandra who, in the reality of FaceTime dating, is, for the first time, experiencing dating without pretty instantaneous sex.  

Within the episode, Karley explains that sex is a shortcut to intimacy. No matter the nature of the relationship between the parties involved, sex does involve a degree of vulnerability, and with that vulnerability comes a measure of trust which breeds intimacy. However, we’ve now suddenly been stranded without this method of fast-tracking our way to connection. If we want to create an intimate relationship with someone outside of our isolation bubble in the time of quarantine, we have to slow burn that intimacy in a way that many of us are not used to – through nothing but conversation.

Yet, Sandra notes that although the intimacy of a sexual relationship is missing from her FaceTime dates, there is the bizarre personal touch of staring into someone’s home as you meet them for the first time. You are given a glimpse into the private life of your date in a way you would not usually – a first date would never ordinarily involve a chat in someone’s home without sex. You’re also sacrificing some kind of control when going on a FaceTime date. There are no physical cues such as touching and leaning in that you can employ to signal your interest – you have to be much more direct.

FaceTime dating is just one of the ways in which people are adjusting their sex and love lives under this new normal. However, it remains to be seen whether this period will change hooking up in the long-term, as restrictions begin to lift. Safe sex may take on a whole new meaning with COVID-19 thrown into the mix, and meeting people offline may become even more challenging as people continue to practice social distancing. Hook up culture may dissipate as safety concerns occupy our minds, but, despite our complaining about its shortcomings, I don’t think we’ll be happy if we see it go. Whether its holding hands or sex, I believe that most of us, and especially us in college, look to physical contact when forming a bond in the beginning of a relationship. However, although the dating landscape may feel a little impossible right now, I feel uplifted by the ways in which people are getting creative when it comes to our dating lives in quarantine. International sex party via Zoom, anyone?