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Hook-ups were fun at the time but always left me feeling empty afterwards

Hook-ups were fun at the time but always left me feeling empty afterwards

A portrait photo of Topher Gen

Hook-up culture if evident everywhere in modern society. A whirlwind of casual sex in flashy clubs and dark bedrooms; in the backseat of cars, even in tents during a drunken haze at festivals.

It’s one of the most divisive trends to sweep our society, but is it causing any harm? And, if it is, what is the damage it can inflict?

For a lot of gay men, it is now routine to go to parties or nights out with the intent of getting drunk and having sex.

Some will say that there’s no harm in it; I mean, as long as all parties involved are consenting and being safe then what’s the issue?

Well, as someone that’s had his fair share of hook-ups, for me it’s the feeling of emptiness you’re left with afterwards. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of issues.

We’ve all been there. You wobble into the room, swaying from side to side. You’re one Jenga brick away from collapse, but you soldier on.

We feel compelled to complete this mission: let’s fuck! You look down and he’s lying there: naked; ready; waiting. A silent agreement is struck; don’t ask, don’t tell. He’s not interested in my sexual history and I don’t want him to rattle off a list of his previous partners; he’s here for sex and so am I.

If only it was that simple, right?

Post-sex awkwardness

I’m not going to romanticize it. For me, there are fewer situations that are more degrading than the post-sex silence. There’s a used condom splattered across the floor, staring at you like a rubbery, judgmental slug.

Your body feels slimy as it’s covered in sticky fluids and lube and all you want to do is shower; not because the person you slept with is dirty, but because you feel disgusting.

Every time I’ve hooked up with someone I’m left with a fuzzy feeling of discontent. Thoughts run wildly through my mind: ‘I’ve let my body be used’ being the most common.

You just lie there, surveying the wreckage, trying to navigate your emotions and steer them in the direction of stability. Suddenly your life feels like a drama-documentary on gay life and here you are living up to that floozy stereotype.

To me, that’s one of the dangers of hooking up with someone – you risk feeling awful afterwards. So why do we do it? Why did I do it?

Sex as coping mechanism

When you’re fully charged and ready to go, the idea of a quick hook-up is strangely compelling. I mean, getting off is more fun with someone else (usually, anyway.)

It can also be a good tactic for mending a broken heart; my aunt once said to me, ‘the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.’

Ultimately, though, it didn’t work. One time – and I am not overly proud of this – I sent a guy a list of snacks and stuff I needed from Tesco and he agreed to bring them over with him. In my defense, I was sporting a wicked hangover (how’s that for flimsy rationalization?)

There are other causes for concern. A lot of people who struggle with mental health issues use hook-ups as a way of making them feel like they’re worth something, that they are desirable. Unfortunately, that sharp, smiling fragment of regret is often all we’re left with afterwards.

Is casual sex a good coping mechanism though? I don’t know the answer to that, but what I can say is that it’s a warm and welcome distraction from whatever is hurting us.

Generation entitlement

Hook-ups can be a way to temporarily fill the void; but when the sex is done and you’re both suspiciously eyeing each other, waiting to see who reaches for their clothes first, all the loneliness and sticky aches come back.

After sleeping my way through a surfeit of douchebags, I’ve realized that we need to look at the bigger picture: Is hook-up culture transforming sex into a dangerously casual activity? One that emphasizes pleasure and turns it into the sole purpose of the sexual encounter?

That’s been the takeaway for me every time it’s happened. I always go into the encounter hopeful, but leave it disappointed and disconnected.

The more it is normalized, the more our generation is armed with a sense of entitlement when it comes to other people’s bodies. We don’t hope for sex anymore, we expect it.

Much of what I’ve said will provoke some huffing and eye-rolling, but hook-up culture can blur the line of consent to such a degree that some guys think if a boy comes back to their bed then that constitutes consent to any and all sexual activities. A lot of people feel they are owed sex in this situation, when the reality is you’re not owed anything.

The need for emotion

I feel that hook-ups are replacing intimacy with a quick shot of pleasure – one that is often inherently destructive. It might be all fun and games at the time but in the long run you’re risking emotional damage and disconnection. There’s also the potential for physical damage.

As I said, that’s how it makes me feel, and I know from conversations with others that I’m not the only one that feels this way. I don’t have the emotional equilibrium required to actively enjoy hook ups – at least not anymore.

Sex, for me, is unsatisfying unless there’s emotions tied to it. Or if it comes with snacks.

You can follow Topher on Twitter @TopherJGen