Unhooked by Laura Sessions Stepp

A dissection of hook-up culture on college campuses and in high schools, including anecdotal accounts.

More hand-wringing than Last Night in Paradise, less high-minded than Unprotected, Unhooked is more likely than either to provoke fear and consternation in the hearts of parents of teenagers across America–particularly if they’ve read I Am Charlotte Simmons and their daughter is looking at Duke University.

The gist of the book is that girls today have lost perspective on what it means to be wooed and won, and that they are trying to make themselves be more like the guys in order to protect themselves from heartbreak. She puts it out there like this is a new phenomenon, but we had this back when I was in college. It’s nothing new. And it’s hard to know how representative her interview subjects are, because sex is such a hard thing to talk about if you aren’t someone who takes it lightly.

She also avoids discussions of the consequences of promiscuous sexual behavior, such as STDs or pregnancy. She makes it seem that all that’s at stake is heartbreak–no small thing, but there’s only a mere passing mention of the public health issues that unchecked sexual promiscuity can produce.

The most interesting contribution to the debate comes when Stepp talks to high school girls. Here, she makes an interesting correlation between overachieving girls, and girls who treat sex as a competition. Here’s an excerpt, from Stepp’s profile of high-schooler Sienna:

“I do have an addiction problem,” [Sienna] began. “I don’t do hard-core drugs, I and don’t drink during the week. But if I drink, I drink a lot. If I shop, I shop a lot. If I hook up, I hook up a lot. I can’t go to a party one night and not go to a party the next night.”

I was hearing from her what I’d observed in other girls who, like Sienna, were smart and ambitious. Being the best at whatever they did was their way of winning admiration, affection, and love. Their drive, well-explained in Sienna’s first email, was so ingrained that slowing down at anything was difficult, even when they wanted to.

This challenges the stereotype of the “slut” as a girl who is lower class, disinterested in education, lazy, and unmotivated, and I would love to see it investigated further.

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