TikTok's Young Women Are Taking Down 'Hook-Up Culture'

Young female TikTokers are criticizing "hook-up culture" as detrimental to women, revitalizing dialogue about gendered experiences of casual sex in the age of so-called "sex positivity."

Hook-up culture refers to noncommittal sexual encounters, a common practice in the Western world.

College campus cultures—especially in North America—are notorious for pushing sex as an experimental rite of passage. The rise of dating apps among adults has also fueled no-strings-attached sex.

Neon sign lips
Young women have been criticizing "hook-up culture" on TikTok, believing casual sex with men to do more harm than good. Stock image of lip shaped neon signs. iStock

Over the past couple of decades, sexual liberation was popularized as a sign of female empowerment. Third and fourth wave feminism promoted sex positivity, a movement that broadly aims to combat shaming women for having sex and enjoying it.

And while sexual freedom has been central to online feminist discourse, TikTok's female users are wondering aloud whether hooking up with men does more harm than good.

In a February video viewed over 776,500 times, influencer Cindy Noir said hook-up culture is "being advertised to women to be a lot more enjoyable than it really is for us." She cited factors such as men's "internalized misogyny" and the O-gap—a well-documented discrepancy between male and female orgasms during heterosexual sex.

"Women can experience hooking up with guys who only see women as an apparatus to fulfill his own needs and pleasures," she said. "Women can get with guys who don't see her as a whole person and don't take her pleasure into consideration at all. Or they get with guys who don't value her beyond the bedroom."

"So if you wanna hoe, hoe," she continued. "But ask some really important questions. Does he value you and consider you and your pleasure? Is he trustworthy and safe for you and your body? And is he dependable and trustworthy outside the bedroom?"

@thecindynoir

#stitch with @dollfaced_npetty let’s talk Hook Up Culture! What are your thoughts on it?

♬ original sound - Cindy Noir✨

In another video viewed 91,000 times, a woman named Hannah Jeanice spoke of a "subconscious thought" about feeling like "just a body for men."

"I consider myself to be very sex-positive, I would never judge women who want to hook up with other people, I hate the idea of body count," she said.

"And I do hook up with people sometimes, and sometimes I do find it empowering and fun and I enjoy it.

"This might be a hot take, but I feel like for a lot of women, even if you are a sexually empowered woman and you're super sex-positive, I feel like hook-up culture can still give you this inner monologue no matter how badly you try to avoid it, that you end up feeling that you're not the girl guys wanna date, you're just the girl guys wanna hook up with."

Some female TikTokers even opened up about their refusal to engage in hook-up culture, instead opting for celibacy until they are in a relationship.

"So I used to participate in casual hook-up culture and I felt like it was detrimental to my mental and sometimes physical health," said influencer Delaney Marsh in a video viewed more than 519,000 times. "And I just decided that basically, I'd had enough of that and I decided that I was not going to sleep with people anymore unless we were pretty much dating."

"I personally feel as though men respect women differently once they have slept with them," Marsh continued. "I always would feel like as soon as I gave it up to a guy, I would just be trashed to the side like I was disposable, and it was really affecting my mental health and making my self confidence a lot worse."

She concluded: "And as I've gotten older, I have began to value myself more than just being a one-night stand or a casual hook-up for a guy."

A handful of TikTok feminists—like one with the username @misandrey—reported getting attacked as perpetrating slut-shaming and misogyny for denouncing hook-up culture.

"Sleeping around as a woman is not a feminist act, and that is not slut-shaming, it is just the truth about sexual violence against women in the patriarchy," she said in a video shared last week and viewed more than 556,000 times

"How can you encourage hook-up culture as a feminist act when we see the plethora of women who regret sleeping with men who didn't care about them, talk about their male partners not caring about their physical pleasure, or were coerced into something they didn't feel comfortable with?"

However, some believed the issue to be more nuanced. One influencer named Kiera Breaugh said that the prevailing discourse on hook-up culture is "not allowing space" for women who prefer sex without strings attached.

"Some women definitely—it is bad for them and they do do things that they don't want to do," she said in her video, viewed more than 9,000 times. "But we can't just say it's bad for all women, because there are women who enjoy casual sex.

"'Cause to be like, 'Hook-up culture is bad for women, it's misogynistic'—OK, so we're saying that women don't ever just want to hook up? That's kind of what it sounds like to me."

According to a 2012 review of studies on hook-up culture compiled by researchers Justin R. Garcia, Chris Reiber, Sean G. Massey and Ann M. Merriwether, both men and women seem to demonstrate more positive than negative effects following a hook-up. However, women are more likely to experience negative emotions in the aftermath.

The article also broached "sexual scripts," which contends sexual behaviors are dictated by cultural "scripts" that are "used to organize and interpret sexual encounters into understandable conventions."

While men are portrayed as "active sexual agents" and sex is viewed as "central to male identity," women are perceived as "sexual objects" who are "sexually passive" in comparison.