Using phrase "hooking up" has pros, cons

Credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor Credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor
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Let’s talk about “hooking up.” A study published in Health Communication shows that it’s a great term. They didn’t phrase it that way, of course. In fact, they were a little concerned that if people talk too much about hooking up, the next minute they’d have an STI. Hooking up “truly is a risky behavior,” they say. But they do point out that the way we talk about hooking up shows that we use people in our social network to coordinate our ideas about sexual norms.

First thing’s first: do you know what “hooking up” is? 94 percent of people in the study did. CS majors comprise about 6 percent of Carnegie Mellon’s population, right?

Let me put it this way. Imagine if your “object” was “oriented” to hers, and one night you got drunk and hacked into her “mainframe.” Or just made out — people have different definitions. In fact, the ambiguity of “hooking up” is what makes the phrase a great linguistic achievement. Girls can use it and not feel like sluts to their friends, because it might just mean fooling around. Guys can use it and feel like a sex panther, even if last night was less of a carousal and more of a snuggle. As they say in Anchorman, “60 percent of the time it works every time.”

More awesome reasons to use the phrase “hooking up,” you ask? It allows us to talk about sex with people we know. Let’s face it, if this column was strewn with “vaginal intercourse” (the phrase, not the — what a picture), I would hardly be able to read it. My editor wouldn’t even let me use the word “lame-ass” in last week’s column; how would she ever let me talk about sex? Well, “hooking up” is the catch-all that lets us navigate shifting sexual mores together.

Health Communication’s study found that some people even talk with their family about hooking up. Personally, I think that’s weird, but it does show a trend. Going back 150 years to the Victorian era, it was inappropriate to even say the word “leg” in mixed company. In that cultural context, people would end up doing all kinds of things they couldn’t talk about. That’s not to say that one needs language to be happy with one’s behavior, merely that if we can’t talk about something, it’s difficult to change.

So it’s great that we can have words with which to talk about sex. “Hooking up” allows us to determine our impression of sexual activity less on intuition and inexperience and more on the discourse of our community. Yay for communication!

But before we give ourselves a pat on the back for our ability to communicate with each other, it’s worth pointing out the limitations of how we use “hooking up.” The study analyzed hook-up talk between college students and their “friends from university,” “friends from outside university,” and “family.” That seems like a pretty clean way to do it, except that it leaves out the person you’re hooking up with. Having never actually hooked up myself, I’m not much of an authority, but it seems to me that people who hook up don’t actually talk about it with each other.

In fact, I would say that half of the noncommital aspect of “hooking up” is an inability to talk about the act with the other person. It’ll create drama, it’ll make things awkward, and we both already understand that it doesn’t mean anything. That’s short-sighted, and it encourages an intimacy of invulnerability, in which you don’t give anything of yourself so you don’t get hurt.
Don’t get me wrong. This study says that when it comes to sex, people listen to the people they know. Disembodied columns in the school newspaper don’t exactly top my list of friends, either, so I understand that my perspective might not do much. But I believe we should continue improving our ability to talk about sex, and part of that is admitting to the areas where we’re deficient.
“Hooking up,” as it reflects an attitude in which the other person is mere flesh instead of a human being, is one such area.