Of all the things that typically go hand-in-hand with
sex—intoxication, bed-sharing, morning-after
awkwardness—romance is by far the most complicated. Gone are
the "good old days" when differentiating between sex
and romance was as simple as telling light from dark, when you
either saved yourself or had lots of premarital sex.
There was a time when students would come to college and find a
spouse; now we arrive, many of us already having experienced a
serious, or at least long-term, relationship, and are aching to
The lines could not be less clearly drawn if we tried: sex
happens frequently and unexpectedly, making its meaning impossible
to gauge. There is no predicting good sex and good romance, or, for
that matter, bad sex and bad romance. Do we need good sex to have
good romance? Do we need good romance to have good sex? In a day
and age when casual sex is condoned and often encouraged, when and
where do the individual spectra of sex and romance collide?
While good sex may not result in good romance, bad sex often
results in bad romance. Is it better to ensure sexual compatibility
by having sex right off the bat? My friends of both sexes argue
yes, it is. One of my friends insists that he and his girlfriend
have such a great relationship because they slept together before
they started dating—after all, many marriages fall apart
because the sex is bad. Putting off having sex for the first time
only threatens a relationship: no amount of scented candles and
dimmed lighting can make up for bad sex.
Conversations in which males outnumber females have concluded
otherwise: respect and interest are lost in such immediacy, and all
relationship potential is sacrificed. Yet men cannot tolerate
indefinite delay: my best friend's boyfriend broke up with
her after nine months because she wasn't ready to give him
If being in love is supposed to enhance the sexual experience,
why do the relationships we have fluctuate so much based on sex?
I've seen a girl in love come home after months of
anticipation ecstatic because her partner gave her two orgasms for
the first time; I've also seen her come home sobbing—it
wasn't the way she wanted it to be.
Where on the sex and romance spectra does this place us college
folk? The New York Times Magazine recently ran a piece on the
changing face of youth sex, titled "Friends, Friends with
Benefits, and the Benefits of the Local Mall." Much of the
article centered on the ambiguity of the term "hook-up,
pondering the decisive way in which young people have chosen to
separate sexual relations from romance. The author defines the term
as "vague—covering everything from making out to sexual
intercourse ... [other times] a euphemism for oral sex." He
finds young people to be equally as flippant in their use of the
word as in the corresponding act: there is little correlation
between the amount and kind of people a teen hooks up with and the
amount and kind of person he or she likes.
The observations I make in my own life prove no different: one
friend of mine refuses to use the term hook-up unless it refers
specifically to sexual intercourse; that's the way her
friends at home use it and no amount of reasoning will convince her
otherwise. Still another friend, when asked whether he was dating
or just fucking a girl, replied that it was neither—he was
just hooking-up with her.
Hook-ups are defined by their lack of definition: they can mean
and apply to everything from kissing to sex and refer to anything
in the gray area between a one-night-stand and a full-fledged
The ambiguity surrounding hook-ups" is the same
surrounding sex and romance. We don't date, we don't
have sex, we just "hook-up." We don't know
whether or not we should sleep with someone right away or if there
is relationship potential. We get angry when our hook-up
doesn't call the following weekend and scared when he or she
asks us to dinner the next night.
Friendships suffer from hook-ups where one party is interested
in sex and the other in something more. It's as if we are
afraid of romantic complications, and when they arise we run
Sex and romance collide on multiple levels, ranging from casual
to serious. Having sex immediately may create or destroy
relationship potential; love may result in good sex, or bad sex may
destroy love. The best we can do is communicate with each
Good hook-ups are the result of being honest with yourself and
with your partner, when you are open with each other and there is
no need to play games.
Like all the best things in life, sex comes with complications.
The catch is figuring out how to make them work for you.
So go on. Talk more, date more, have more sex. Hook up less.
Miriam Datskovsky is a Barnard College sophomore .