OPINIONS

Why Hookup Culture Isn’t Kinky Enough

You know hookup culture exists on this campus. Whether or not you take part in it or view it kindly, Stanford students in particular seem to understand well the formula of party -> drunk -> flirting -> sex -> walk of shame (or empowerment—you own that sex!).

It’s a part of our campus culture that seems to be just another thing people get used to after a few months here—it could use a little fixing, though.

When I say that hookup culture isn’t kinky enough, I don’t mean to say that the sex isn’t kinky enough. I’ve had my fair share of sex with kinky people, but it’s the people that make the interactions so different from a normal hookup. Kinky people are communicative people. At first glance, that seems obvious—you can’t negotiate to have yourself tied upside-down from the rafters or put a ball gag in your mouth without being communicative, without talking about it beforehand—but the communication applies to everything.

When I sit down at the San Francisco Citadel and somebody sidles up to me, a very different conversation happens than what most people would expect. No pickup lines, no aggressive flirting, no abrupt demands—it’s just chitchat, until they ask me if I want to play. I say no, they laugh and we keep talking; I say yes, and we get to negotiating.

“What do you want to do?” I ask, and they tell me the things they’re interested in doing.

“How about you?” they ask, and I respond with what I had in mind—which of course varies depending on my mood and how I’m feeling that night.

“So it seems like we both want to do this, sounds good!” Negotiation step one: check.

“Hard limits?” they ask, and I think a bit before I tell them what I’m not interested in doing. I can tell them anything I want, from “no sex” to “only sex” to “don’t kiss me” to “only use a particular toy.” And they’ll grin and nod, grab their bag of toys and tools they brought, and head out to the play floor with me. The standard safe words are “yellow” for “keep going, but slow down,” and “red,” for “stop now.” The whole conversation lasts maybe 10 minutes, maybe 15, tops.

And we have an amazing time together.

That entire interaction seems so foreign to people that it taking place within a non-play party context seems impossible. “You can’t walk up to a party with the music blaring and negotiate like that!”

Exactly—because party music is made that loud on purpose. There’s no “rule of partying” that states how loud the music should be, but if you can’t hear yourself talking, you don’t have to ask for what you want. If you can’t hear yourself talking, the only way to show what you want is to do it. You don’t ask someone if they want to grind, you just do it and hope that they’re feeling it. If you want to kiss someone, you play the wordless game where you “send them signals” and hope that they make eye contact and hope that they also want to kiss right then and there and hope that they’re already too drunk to say no when you want to do more. Are we peacocks? Tipsy peacocks?

“Consent is sexy,” right? But if consent only means “a no is a no,” you can get all the way to the bed, clothing off, without a word spoken. The condom comes out, the pants come off—“no,” they say, and then things get awkward. It’s the equivalent of being already tied up before realizing that you had never agreed to it in the first place.

“Sober, enthusiastic consent” sounds a lot better—but the very nature of hookup culture discourages models like that one. When we promote silence from the party to the bedroom, and make that “no” into something shameful, we get that fuzzy line no one likes talking about, that fuzzy line with the words “consent violation” and “rape” tattooed on it.

Those are the horror stories, at least; sometimes hookups turn out well. Sometimes the sex is good, everyone wakes up happy, and we all go about our lives. But that’s not a guarantee, and people know that. There’s riskiness involved every step of the way—avoiding roofies at the parties, avoiding people who come on to you too strongly on the dance floor,  avoiding rape in the bedroom, trying to remember to say “no.”

Hookup culture is a guessing game, flipping a coin with the sides marked “rape” or “okay,” and hoping it lands well. Some people would say that the riskiness is part of what makes it fun, what makes it magical—but gambling with consent isn’t worth that.

“Negotiation is so awkward, though!”

And you’d have a point—certainly, it breaks some norms to, heaven forbid, talk about what you want to do when you get intimate with someone! Still, do it anyways. You’d be surprised by how much better intimacy gets when you talk about it!

Hookup culture could be so much safer, more intense, better…with a little bit more communication. Might be kinkier, too!

Lily Zheng is the president of Kardinal Kink. Contact her at lilyz8@stanford.edu.

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