Today’s hookup culture is driving trends of delayed marriage, an increase in empty sexual encounters, and an increase in emotional unhappiness. How’s it working for you? ♦
Sara attends a well-known big city university on the west coast. A 21-year old college junior, her steady boyfriend is also a Christian. They never attend any off-campus church and haven’t really gotten involved in any student Christian groups. “I went to a few meetings my freshman year but just didn’t connect,” she says. Her boyfriend, Marc, is somewhat knowledgeable about the Bible from high school Bible study groups he attended prior to coming to college. She notes that “he’s not really into it too much but definitely is a Christian.” They’ve been sleeping together since last year on weekends when they can. Last month, Marc surprised Sara when he told her that perhaps they should begin dating other people.
Richard is 26 years old and works as a broker in a commercial real estate office in Chicago. He’s teamed up with another senior broker in the office who’s teaching him the ways of the marketplace. He’s on the rise but still finding his way. He’s lately been “dating” some other business professionals he’s met downtown after drinks or social dinner gatherings. He wants to get married “someday” but is not in any great hurry. His recent “sleeping around” patterns are a bit bothersome to him. He considers himself a Christian and wants to find another like-minded professional Christian woman. One Sunday morning, one of the woman he recently got together with suggested that they go to a cool church that some friends of her have been attending. He didn’t go that week but is thinking about maybe taking her up on her offer.
Karen and Jeff are getting married in 6 months and are attending a 6-week pre-marriage class at their church. As Christians they wanted to meet other young couples and perhaps get a head start on marriage tips. They’re both in their late twenties and have established jobs. While committed today to each other, both have had fairly active sex lives in their past as college students and as young singles. Karen even dabbled for a period of time in a same-sex relationship prior to meeting Jeff 4 years ago. “I was experimenting,” Karen says. “I’m in a new place now. Jeff know about my past and we’re excited about building our future together.”
Of course, sex and relationships are not just a modern struggle. By the way, these 3 scenarios above are from 20, 30, and 40 years ago. While not quite like today’s “Hookup” Culture where so-called one-night stands with friends and strangers abound, all of human history, even for our parent’s generation(!) is the story of sex and relationships, healthy and otherwise.
So what about it? Get over it and move on?
Or is there some Biblical perspective here that can help us, no matter where we are, or where we’ve been?
Data and the Hookup Culture
First, let’s look at some data on the topic. While most people agree on the purpose of sex, not surprisingly their opinions vary today across generations:
- To express intimacy between two people who love each other (73% Boomers; 56% Millennials)
- To reproduce / to have children (71% Boomers; 51% Millennials)
- To unite a man and woman in marriage (50% Boomers; 32% Millennials)
- To connect with another person in an enjoyable way (44% Boomers; 49% Millennials) 1
University professor Nancy Pearcey in her recent book Love Thy Body, highlights the dualistic mindset of the hookup culture. Here are some quotes from college students:
- “People assume that there are two very distinct elements in a relationship, one emotional and one sexual, and they pretend like there are clean lines between them.”
- “Hookups are very scripted…You learn to turn everything off except your body and make yourself emotionally invulnerable.”
- “It’s body first, personality second.” 2
Pearcey points out how hard it is to maintain this internal dualism. Many are disappointed or get hurt anyway. The hookup script in fact doesn’t work as it rests on an inadequate conception of human nature. She claims that people are trying to live out a dualistic worldview that does not fit who they really are – one that drains relationships of their moral and emotional depth. 3
The upshot of this cultural trend is the delay of marriage, the increase in empty sexual encounters, and an increase in personal and emotional unhappiness.
But that’s not all.
Scientific Support Against Hookup Culture
To compound the issue, science is uncovering new evidence of a profound interconnection between body and person. There is a significant role played by two hormones released during sexual intercourse. Oxytocin, particularly strong for woman, creates a desire to attach to the other person, like a chemical bond whether desired or not. Vasopressin, structurally similar to oxytocin with a similar effect, is the main neurochemical responsible for the male response in intimate sexual contact and stimulates bonding with a woman and with offspring. 4
This is exactly consistent with the Bible’s prescription for sex.
The Biblical Prescription for Sex
The Bible establishes marriage between a man and a woman as the basis of human familial relationships and reproduction. Regardless what secular scholars may say, marriage is a God-created construct, it is not a man-made idea. Therefore, “a man leaves his mother and father and is united with his wife, and they become one flesh.”
God’s precept is laid down early in Genesis 2:24, reiterated throughout the Old Testament, and reinforced by Jesus Christ clearly in Matthew 19 and Mark 10.
This is a profound and significant union. We’re physically, emotionally, chemically, and spiritually detached and out of sync when we operate in violation of what was naturally intended.
Of course, we have full freedom to do as we please. And as with the woman at the well (John 4) and the woman caught in adultery (John 8), there is full forgiveness for past sexual sins and mistakes. Therefore, per the bold, stark yet loving words of Christ, “Where are your accusers? Go and sin no more.”
Are you part of the hookup culture? How’s it working for you?
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial….The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body….Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’” – 1 Corinthians 6:12, 13, 16
1 Barna Group, Research Study, “What Americans Believe About Sex,” January 14, 2016.
2 Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids; Baker Books, 2018).
3 Christian Research Journal, article: Sex Parties in Silicon Valley, by Nancy Pearcey, Vol. 41, No. 02, 2018, p. 38.
4 Ibid. p. 39.