The internet and social media have irrevocably changed the way young people meet each other and form relationships. But for all the positive advances of technology, there is a dark side in today’s hook-up culture.

Writer James Clark explores the downside in a new post at The Princeton Tory.

For a number of years, Princeton’s hook-up culture has garnered considerable discussion, and at this point, a significant number of people may be tuning it out entirely.  They’ve heard all the arguments against hooking up, they might say, and they don’t appreciate being told how to live their lives.  If you are inclined to think this way, I only ask that you would consider anew how high the stakes are.  The fundamental ways in which you conceive of yourself and other people can be crucially altered—sometimes in less-than-obvious ways—by sexual decisions made in college, so at least recognize that the debate still matters.  Sex changes the way we think about each other as human beings–and sometimes not for the better, as I hope to convince you.

One of my primary criticisms of the hook-up culture, that it objectifies both men and women, is not a new line of reasoning.  The customary rebuttal to this charge is that both parties, in mutually agreeing to hook up, have made a decision by their own free choice, and they are acting on it.  It is an expression of liberation.  I would respond that it certainly is their choice to hook up, but that does not change the fact that by allowing sexual activity to be the product of a chance encounter (probably facilitated by alcohol), their treatment of sex still reduces both of them to mere vessels of bodily sensation, where human individuality is unimportant.

To elaborate on my claim, sexual activity is generally understood outside of the hook-up culture as something special to be reserved for a person one loves or cares about deeply.  However, when people think it natural to share sex with many others, then it follows that the personal identity of those engaging in the act becomes much less important, if not completely irrelevant.  Few seek to know the true measure of whoever their partner is:  where they come from, what they hope for, their joys and sorrows, their inner thoughts and feelings; all of these things are meaningless when sexual pleasure is the sole objective and the only differentiation between individuals is how well a person performs in bed.

In response to my assertion that a flippant treatment of sex precludes the possibility of a meaningful relationship, it could be argued that some people are just looking for sex and nothing else, and they’re frank about it, so relational depth is immaterial.  That would be the very definition of objectification, though.  As for those who believe regular sexual encounters increase the possibility of finding a deep relationship, I applaud the goal, but I still believe this approach is a damaging way to go about it.