Is the 'hook up culture' a backwards step for feminism?

Casual sex. Just about everyone who is single is doing it. And for teenage girls and 20-something women, it appears to be the new normal. Tinder hook-ups and one-night-stands are part of everyday vocabulary.

So why has the debate about casual sex and whether it’s good for women suddenly been re-opened today?

It began with a bold article from sometimes Mamamia writer Wendy Squires that was published on The Age website this weekend. The piece, titled ‘ Teenage hook-up sex leaves feminism behind,‘ argued that the casual sex pendulum, once thought to have freed young women to explore and embrace their own sexuality, has swung too far.

Squires says teenage girls have been so empowered by the feminist movement that they’re now settling for less in relationships. And, that they’re having sex without respect or trust necessarily being part of the equation.

Some commentators today have claimed that Squires is a feminist who isn’t supporting other women (because heaven forbid feminists might disagree on something). Some have claimed Wendy was “slut shaming”, a term usually reserved for those who teach adolescent girls they should be ashamed of their sexuality and worry about ‘what the boys might think’.

But is the criticism of Wendy Squires fair? Or have we all got our outrage pants on before properly taking the time to understand her argument.

Yes, feminism has fought for the right of women to do what they want with their bodies with who they choose. So technically, women having lots of casual sex should be a feminist win. Men have always enjoyed multiple sexual partners free of judgement and consequence. Why shouldn’t women have the same right?


And yet, Squires argues that what feminists were actually fighting for is for women to feel secure and valued within romantic relationships. Not for teenage girls to use sex as a way to get a guy to like them. And certainly not as something young girls see as an immediate ‘given’ if they ever want to have a boyfriend. As someone who proudly calls herself a feminist, Squires opinion was never going to be popular. However, even she was surprised by how fiercely some young girls disagreed with her position. This from Squires’ article:

‘‘Usually just oral,’’ one young girl reassured me, seeing no irony in the ‘‘just.’’ ‘‘Everyone does it!’’” she added with eye-roll upon witnessing my obvious horror.

‘‘Why would you meet up with them if you’re not going to have sex?’’ another says, in a tone that implies I am way down the spectrum of coolness. ‘‘That’s just teasing.’’

‘‘But, don’t you worry that this is all too much, too soon? That you’ll wind up jaded or regret your choices?’’ I splutter, unable to contain myself. Rightfully, I receive an earful in response.

‘‘And you call yourself a feminist!’’ one young friend admonished. ‘‘Now girls are acting like men always have, there’s supposed to be a shame around it. How hypocritical!’’

These young girls so confident and empowered over their sexual lives is a feminist win for some. Twitter users have said these views display how females are no longer bound by shame surrounding the use of their bodies. But their blase attitude towards sex and what it means to engage in such an intimate act with another shocks those like Squires.

Wendy Squires

I find it beyond sad that sexuality has been reduced to the sexual act itself. That the trust, tenderness and affection that I was offered in my sexual first encounters is not always afforded to girls today by porn-educated young men,” Squires writes. 

And Squires makes a fair point.

Sex has been devalued by our society. The act isn’t always a big a deal anymore. It can be fun and carefree, totally physical and devoid of feelings. But is that lack of intimacy really the worst thing in the world? What’s wrong with a bit of sexual pleasure with nothing else attached?


Squires writes that girls might say they couldn’t care less about feelings when it comes to sex but the reality is often the opposite. And that young men are the ones benefiting from young women pretending they don’t care about the feelings, and only about the physicality.

Of all the young girls I’ve spoken to recently, I’d say 90 per cent told me they want to get married and have kids one day,” she writes. 

One 19-year-old male interviewed by Squires said, “No guys go out with girls who screw around”.

His mates agreed that they would never consider a girl who had lots of sex as ‘girlfriend material’.It’s a fine line. On the one hand, as a society we shouldn’t want to stop teen girls from making their own sexual choices- be that lots of or no sex.

But at the same time, will they regret the decisions they make today? If so, should we stop encouraging the casual approach the next generation has to sex?

Here are some of the responses Wendy’s article received on Twitter today:

What do you think? Is our approach to sex too casual? Are young women pretending to only care about the physicality of sex while desiring more? Is that hurting the cause of feminism?