Valentine’s Day has something for everyone: elementary school children can exchange Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Winnie the Pooh valentines; couples plan romantic dates; flower sales surge; groups of friends get together to watch the latest romantic comedy on DVD; and, there is always candy. Everyone likes candy. Even cynics can rejoice in their hatred of Valentine’s Day – there is a growing market for “anti-Valentine’s Day” products, such as candy hearts and greeting cards with snarky messages about relationships.
On campus the holiday has become a more ominous occasion, serving as a striking reminder of just how dysfunctional the collegiate dating scene has become. Gone are candlelit dinners and a night out on the town. Dating, in general, is an endangered species on campus. In its stead is the hook-up: casual physical encounters, ranging from kissing to sex, with no expectation of commitment.
The hook-up culture has real harmful effects, especially on women. Women are more physically vulnerable to sex, running the risk of getting pregnancy and more likely to contract many sexually transmitted diseases. Many also face emotional distress associated with casual sex—women may tell themselves that it’s no big deal, but their bodies and hormones signal otherwise. Many young women are left feeling confused and depressed.
Thanks in large part to several books on the subject, the negative effects of the hook-up culture are making their way into popular dialogue. Laura Sessions Steep, author of Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both, sums up the hook-up scene in this way, “Love, while desired by some, is being put on hold or seen as impossible; sex is becoming the primary currency of social interaction. Some girls can handle this; others…are exhausted physically, emotionally and spiritually by it. They struggle largely outside the awareness of parents who either don’t know what is going on or are vaguely aware but don’t know what to do.”