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Caution needed in personal ties

Bharat Dogra and Reena Mehta |

As statistics confirmed a massive drift towards casual sex and hook-ups within a few years in many western countries, other surveys began to hint that such relationships aimed at instant gratification also brought a host of other problems.

Despite increasing provisions for safe and protected sex, sexually transmitted diseases shot up to record levels in the USA with as many as 20 million new STD cases being reported in a single year.

The same Swedish survey which reported a doubling of sexual partners per female student within a few years also reported a doubling of STDs among them. A teacher when asked to comment on this merely expressed regret at inadequate use of condoms, but what this gentleman ignored was the wider issue of the steady weakening of emotional bonds.

As hook-ups became a subject of academic research, many studies while recording the temporary feelings of pleasure also pointed out how many of these relationships were associated with substance abuse, particularly heavy use of alcohol. Thus many hook-ups took place under the influence of alcohol with the attendant risks. Other surveys, first in the USA and then in Norway, revealed how several hook-up participants later expressed regret, and invariably the expression of regret was more by women.

In one study (Lewis et al.) of 1468 graduates, 27 per cent reported embarrassment, 24.7 per cent had emotional difficulties, 20.8 per cent experienced loss of respect while 10 per cent reported difficulties with their steady partner, after hook-ups. At a wider level, higher rates of depression, alienation and even self abuse were reported from precisely the same groups which were supposed to be exposed to the most uninhibited sensual pleasure ever experienced in recent history. The Nordic Centre for Welfare and Social Issues published a study titled ‘Mental Health Among Youth in Sweden – Who is responsible, what is being done’.

This study said, “In Sweden an increase in mental health problems has been reported among children, young people and young adults, and there is currently no explanation why….A Report about young people, stress and mental health reports said that the number of girls aged between 15 and 19 who were treated in hospital for depression increased eight times between 1980 and 2003….A large number of those requiring child and adolescent psychiatry services comprises young people who self-harm, particularly girls and young women but also increasing number of boys as well ….In a study of over a thousand Swedish young people in school years 7 and 8 , 21 per cent of girls and 16 per cent of boys reported that they had harmed themselves more than five times in the previous six months.”

It was once thought that with multiple partners and hook-ups throwing open the doors for unlimited, consensus-based sex, there would be hardly any space left for forced sex, sexual violence and sexual crime.

However, summarising data on sexual violence Huffpost Women’s Editor wrote this year that the annual number of rape and sexual assaults in the USA is around 321,500 and the risk is four times as high in the 19-24 age group. Seventy per cent of the culprits in the case of rapes of adult women and 93 per cent of the culprits in the case of child rape are known to the victim.

Between 33 per cent to 25 per cent of girls and between 20 to 14 per cent of boys are sexually abused before they turn 18. While citing this last-mentioned figure in her Atlanta article, writer Mia Fontane said that various professionals confirmed this. An extensive survey in the European Union by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights revealed that in the age-group of over 15, one in 10 have suffered some form of sexual violence, one in 20 have been raped and one in five have suffered some form of stalking.

Dating-related violence in the USA is reported to be alarming, with nearly 1.5 million high school students experiencing physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. Far from reducing the possibilities of sexual violence, the culture of hook-ups is increasing these possibilities because of the way they take place, at times between strangers and under the influence of alcohol.

For example, the woman partner may have come by consensus but was not prepared for what followed. Leah Fessler, a graduate who later campaigned against hook-ups, has written, “I can personally attest to the immense pain, confusion and damage such blurred lines produce.” Lisa Wade, Professor of Sociology, has written in her study on hook-ups on American campuses that in hook-up culture the behavior of the assailant is made to look like normal behavior.

All the manipulation and deceit that accompanies much of sexual violence is present in many hook-ups too. Hence, we see that what is presented as an attractive scene of maximising sensual and sexual pleasure is more likely to result in emotional hollowing out and related depression because caring, emotional binding relationships are sought to be replaced by relationships based only on physical pleasure. Instead of reducing sexual violence, this can lead to an increase in such violence.

Many studies have cared to only ask whether the hook-up gave some temporary pleasure or not. A more comprehensive view is needed to understand the wider implications for society. When adolescents are shown this as the norm, they grow up fixated only on very narrow goals which deprives them of deeper, more caring and durable relationships.

The wrongly sexualized view of the world perpetuates and accentuates high levels of sexual violence, child abuse and incest.

Other societies may be attracted by the outwardly pleasure enhancing aspects and try to copy them without thinking of wider adverse consequences. Hence there is a clear need to emphasise caution and restraint in this phase of rapid social change so that many kinds of social distress can be avoided or reduced by timely remedial action.

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