Queering the hookup scene

We began this research on two different campuses, asking different kinds of questions.  What was going on in the hookup scene?  Were women making out with other women purely for the entertainment of men?  What were queer women up to on campus?  We knew, from a survey of hookup practices, that a small percentage of women who identified as heterosexual had had oral sex with women, as had almost a fifth of women who were unsure about their sexual identities.  But the survey results tell us little about why women students do the things they do or what consequences, if any, sexual activity with another woman has on students’ sexual identities.

In order to get a better sense of what was going on, we undertook interviews with women students who had engaged in some sexual activity with a woman and/or identified as something other than heterosexual.  We knew that kissing another woman in the alcohol-fueled party culture on campus was widespread and socially acceptable because everyone assumes that women do it solely for the pleasure of the men who watch them.  What we found was that, at least for some women, this practice provides an opportunity to experiment with or act on acknowledged desire for women.  One student, who identifies as “mostly straight,” told of a game of “naked drunk spin the bottle” where she kissed two women and “it felt a little bit more than just sort of, like, fulfilling the game.  It felt like sort of a safe way to experiment.”  One of the women later sent her a Facebook message saying, “You know, your Facebook profile says you’re interested in men but your kisses say otherwise.”

A smaller number of women report that hooking up in a threesome is an easier way into same-sex sexual experience.  One student who had her first sex with a woman in a threesome describes herself as “really inexperienced in chasing women, rather more experienced at chasing men, so it’s kind of like skiing or snowboarding, I do skiing more often ’cause I’m better at it. Still would like to snowboard, still like to, would love to learn to snowboard” (see here).

Bringing together queer theory and identity theory, our article shows the ways that the hookup culture provides opportunities for same-sex intimacies that sometimes lead to shifts in or confirmation of new and more fluid sexual identities.

By Leila J. Rupp, Verta Taylor, Shiri Regev-Messalem, Alison Fogarty and Paula England on their article, “Queer women in the hookup scene: Beyond the closet?” forthcoming in the April 2014 issue of Gender & Society. For access to the article through online first click here, for the press release and additional information click here.

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