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Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both, Laura Sessions Stepp


Published a mere four years ago in 2007, this is one of the first books which addressed the “new” sexual revolution from the perspective of young women — the author notes in her introduction that the focus of her studies was sixteen to twenty-one year old, middle-to-upper middle class young women enrolled in four-year colleges. She finds young women who speak both candidly and with no little confusion about how they navigate interactions with young men. “Relationships have been replaced by the casual sexual encounters known as hookups. Love, while desired by some, is being put on hold or seen as impossible; sex is becoming the primary currency of social interaction” (4).

Stepp begins in a Duke classroom, asking students to define hooking-up, how they feel about it, and how they see it transitioning to a marriage relationship, which most of them still wanted to have eventually. This leads to a number of conversations with young women who share their stories, including a few who have grown beyond the hookup culture. Yet even these find themselves confused and beleaguered by a culture which encourages casual encounters. The women also discuss their families, their upbringing, and how this has impacted their decisions in regards to hooking up. Stepp also looks at what happens as young women adopt the attitudes and lifestyles of young men, talking with one young lady who argues, “a new revolution of women is emerging…girls are retaliating against the boys who once played them by using them” (63). The author also talks with a few mothers of teenage girls, hearing their confusion and dismay at the culture in which their girls are growing up, and wondering how, and when, and if it is possible to combat this. She also looks at the role (or non-role) that colleges and universities have in encouraging, or at least, attempting to turn a blind eye, towards the damage which these encounters have created, as she researches the dangerous role that alcohol has in these sexual encounters, including multiple women who know they were raped, but were afraid to press charges because of the social repercussions.

Stepp closes her research with a discussion of why studying, understanding, and making changes in this hookup culture is important, noting that the double standard is still alive and well. She points to the risks of STDs, the emotional depression, the self-esteem issues which often accompany girls in this culture. She notes that young adults are increasingly confused about how to build trust, respect, and other positive qualities which usually accompany a good marriage (which most of the interviewees still hoped for). One young lady, whose story is interwoven throughout the book, observes, “my generation — actually our society — is taking shortcuts… get rich faster. Skip this step. Win instant approval. Hookups are like the shortcut to intimacy, while dating is the long way around, the scenic route. We want to get there, wherever ‘there’ is, as quickly as possible, and I think we’ve lost the ability to enjoy the journey… I think some people are starting to realize that the intimacy learned from a hookup is no match for the intimacy from a relationship. However, they aren’t quite sure what the difference is” (253). This is an excellent book for anyone working with teens or young adults, in schools or colleges, and is definitely recommended for parents of daughters.

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