Until recently, I attended an Ontario sleepaway camp every summer. For younger campers, the experience is relatively innocent and fun; the activities are enjoyable and it’s exciting being away from home for the first time. But beginning at age fourteen, an intense shift occurs; camp transitions from a carefree childhood experience to a particularly naughty one. The combination of unlimited freedom and raging hormones creates a wild environment, to say the least. Instead of staying up late talking or playing cards, my cabin-mates would suddenly be out all night exploring new and unfortunate activities.
If you have never heard anyone classify their relationship status as “hooking up” before, I envy you. The term “hook up” commonly describes two people who see each other at night to release their sexual desires but rarely engage in day-to-day interactions. Believe it or not, it was a common occurrence to see my cabin-mates blatantly ignore someone they had made out with the night before. There were virtually no real relationships, no consent, and no respect. I remember being intensely pressured by my “friends” to hook up with someone, and I remember my first kiss being an absolute trainwreck because of these pressures. The sad truth is that a person’s worth was (and likely still is) solely defined by whether or not they spent their nights kissing someone they had no real connection with. And the worst part of this whole mindset is that we all thought it was normal.
After leaving camp and realizing that hook-up culture wasn’t my thing, I began to worry that university would be the same way: all hook-ups and no real relationships. I was right and wrong. The women that want a relationship and ignore the inevitable objectification from boys can very well find one of the few respectful university men out there. But some women would rather sleep around with men they do not care about whilst complaining that they do not have a boyfriend, clearly overlooking that a man who objectifies you will not be the right man for a relationship. Other women enjoy casual sex; this is their consensual choice.
Unfortunately, my catastrophic first kiss experience was not the only time hook-up culture put me in a situation that lacked communication and respect. In my final summer at camp, I became good friends with a boy. Naturally, we started to like each other, and near the end of the summer he asked me to “hook up”. I did like him, but I was not ready for more than just a kiss and he did not think once to ask me what I was comfortable with. I will never forget how wrong it felt when he put his hand up my shirt and in my pants without asking me if it was okay. And I will never forget crying to my sister the next day, telling her that I didn’t know how to say no, nor did I know that it was even okay to say no.
For years, I have been talking about this situation like it was a romantic and happy one. But it was only after I found someone who treats me like I am special and understands the necessity of consent that I was able to face the reality of the situation. What he did was not okay and will never be okay; violation should not be the standard of how men treat women. Hook-up culture objectifies women and erases the very idea of love, but it is difficult to comprehend this because it is so normalized. I never knew I could actually be treated well until someone new led me to realize that my standards were unimaginably low as a young teenager. Three years later, I now understand that consent is the bare minimum, and women should be aiming a lot higher than they are now.
Now, I’m not telling you this story for pity. I am truly happy now, and I know my worth. It just breaks my heart that other girls have to go through the same experience that I did (or worse!), and it pains me to think about how much I did not understand about the concept of respect. I wish I could tell my fourteen year-old self that it is perfectly okay to say “no”, and to never do anything I’m not comfortable with. I wish I could reassure her that one day I will find someone who loves me more than I could ever imagine. But all I can do now is open up about my experiences in hopes that someone else will realize their worth sooner than I did.