Hooking Up for Sex: Sluts or New Feminists?

Harvard University debates whether feminism gives women right to sex hook ups.

ByABC News
November 11, 2009, 3:46 PM

Nov. 12, 2009— -- "Today's first base is kissing ... plus fondling this and that. Second base is oral sex. Third base is going all the way. Home plate is learning each other's names."

So wrote Tom Wolfe in his 2000 book "Hooking Up" -- a term that describes a wide range of coupling from making out to intercourse.

For more than a decade, the "hookup" has been an integral part of the American college experience -- a result of the increased permissiveness that came with the sexual revolution of the 1970s.

Just recently at Harvard University -- sometimes pegged as "godless and liberal" -- the hookup culture came under fire, mostly from a small but growing abstinence group called True Love Revolution.

They argue that women who invoke a new kind of feminism -- the right to have sex whenever and with whomever they choose -- is demeaning to women.

"A popular thing to say among this intellectual crowd, in the ivies and in feminism in general, is to say that sex is empowering and a real woman uses her sexuality in any way she pleases," said Rachel Wagley, a 20-year-old sociology student who is TLR's co-president. "It's blatantly false and a lie that this culture tells to girls for their own benefit."

Silpa Kovvali, a 21-year-old computer science concentrator, argued in a Harvard Crimson editorial that there is nothing "inherently degrading" about engaging in casual sex -- in fact, she said, it can be "empowering."

But chastity groups seem to be on to something -- a growing unease that although hooking up can be liberating, it can also be annoying and sometimes destructive.

"It's a huge part of life here," said Maariya Bajwa, a senior at the University of Florida. "When I used to take the bus I'd hear random people having conversations about random hook ups they had. I was like, 'Uh guys, we're on a bus. I don't need to hear about your one-night stands.'"

By the end of senior year, the average college student has had 6.9 hookups, mostly after a "good bit of drinking," according to a survey of 4,000 students at five universities by Stanford University sociology professor Paula England.

Her research appeared as a chapter, "Hooking Up and Forming Romantic Relationships in Today's College Campuses," in the 2008 book, "The Gendered Society Reader" by Oxford University Press.

Her work revealed that while 24 percent of the respondents had reported never having hooked up, 28 percent had more than 10 such casual sexual encounters.

England, who set out to explore the dating habits of college students, found they were kissing, having oral sex and sometimes intercourse with "no expectation that either party has an interest in moving toward a relationship."

"There's a lot of degrading treatment of some women and it is empoweringly free for other women," she told ABCNews.com.