An Non-judge-y, Emotionally Nutritious Must-Read for All of Your Relationship Needs: Read Unhooked

Most everyone, whether or not they are conscious of it, currently have or have had some role in or connection to the college hook-up culture. We may not, however, have begun considering which parts of it work for us, which ones don’t, and which ones we are taking part in despite experiencing or watching our friends experience emotional trauma or disconnections from our own or their personal values, health, sense of self, and goals.

In her book, Unhooked, Laura Sessions Stepp, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist breaks down and makes digestible the vague term, “hook up culture” that has been slapped onto our generation’s college and young adult set of romantic experiences.

Though it is tempting to pin any critiques of our choices as women to engage in casual sex and the hook-up culture as old fashioned, religious, or strictly instructive, Stepp, through her firsthand, thoughtful reporting takes the readers of Unhooked on more holistic, less judgmental approach, one that feels motherly only in its solution-based, listening-ear-tone.

She takes a realistic, empathetic, and mental and physical health centered approach, and interweaves through four parts with experts’ information and research and the stories of actual college and high school students’ experiences.

In the first section, “Hooking Up: What It Means,” Stepp explores where “hooking up” began, the shifting balance of power between men and women, considering increased assertiveness among women and the way it affects men’s treatment of and expectations for modern women. She also points out, interestingly, the “traditionally male social scheme” of control of treating romantic interests as tokens and prey is now part of most women’s experiences with and attitudes towards sex. Some girls, she notes, “are surprised by the emptiness they feel when there’s literally nobody new left to hook up with” and how sometimes “having gotten sex, they want love and they’re unsure how to find it, or, if they find it, how to handle it (66)”. In some of the blunt anecdotes, young women admit to rushing to sleep with or leave men before they themselves are left, or considering breaking up with men as soon as they feel too strongly about them.

In the second section, “What it Looks Like, What it Feels Like,” Stepp explores the illusions of control and competitive instincts young women bring with them into the hookup culture. She also explores the relatable pressure most young college women feel to “do it all,” the expectations placed on us to excel academically, to impress socially, to play sports and to work jobs, to, essentially conquer all, including in that equation, college men. And a serious relationship commitment, it seems in most scenarios, is one expectation too many.

In the third section, “How We Got There,” Stepp explores how attitudes and thoughts about sex and relationships are often passed down by parents unconsciously, and how three central developments in our culture in recent years help to explain the emergence and adoption of the hookup culture, from modern feminism, to parents’ influence and the “greenhouse effect” of the “Go for it, all of it” attitude impressed upon this generation of women, one that values professional success more than personal fulfillment, or at least the delays the latter. This section also explores the “college environment,” one in which many women, when pressed, find it challenging, sometimes not even worth trying, to find a guy willing to give respect and go at a pace that is comfortable for them.

In the fourth and final section, “Why it Matters,” Stepp explores the practical and anecdotal upsides and downsides of a world in which women are more likely to hookup and aggressively pursue men in order to make hookups happen. She also notes how, still, most young women claim that their ultimate goal for their relationships is marriage, poignantly considering how, “loosely intimate connections, and the negative attitudes they sometimes adopt as a result of those connections are preparing them for where they want to end up.”

At the book’s core, Stepp studies and attempts to look out for and help our ambitious, hard-driving generation of women, all of whose stories in the book are unforgettable, unique, and raw, who are faced with the complex dilemma of balancing more freedom, sexual knowledge, competitiveness than any prior generation and are struggling with disillusionment over love and how to create lasting relationships.

In the end, despite the multitude of often painful, and inciting stories, she leaves readers with a tender, hopeful “Letter to Mothers and Daughters,” one that offers a series of advice intended to start conversations between women of all ages, from “Even with a good guy, you’ll still need friends,” to “lust is not love, although it can feel like it,” to finally, and most importantly and instructively for all of us in this complicated time, “You’re in this together.” In many ways, Stepp shows throughout the novel that the hooking up culture has pitted guys against girls, but she proves that we don’t need to buy into that kind of cynicism. Men and women are in this together; “with the playing field leveled, either everyone wins or everyone loses.”

In the afterward she notes, aptly, that her husband said Unhooked is not really about having less sex, but “it’s about having more love—as annoying, foolish, and impractical (and necessary, and wonderful, I might add) as love is.”