The term ‘dating’ has taken on a very different meaning in a modern world of dating apps, casual hook-ups and exclusive commitment being a conversation to have after multiple months of dates. However, this ‘hook-up culture’ seems to be affecting women differently in forms of reputation, body image, and safety.
Clinical Sexologist and Relationship Mediator with Australian Institute of Sexology, Daz Tendler, says ‘hook-up culture’ can be defined as when people are involved in “casual, non-committal or no-strings-attached intimacy” but that it is a “westernised concept that has many connotations depending on the perspective”.
Tendler says for women of both cis and trans identity, when they choose to participate in hook-up culture, it can be liberating when pursued safely. It puts women in control of their own bodies and experiences.
“Sexual intimacy is a normal part of human nature,” Tendler says.
However, they say it must be done in a reciprocal way, remembering not to compromise our own personal values for the satisfaction of others.
Men are often celebrated and encouraged by society to be sexually experienced, but women can still be negatively labelled for wanting to participate in a similar lifestyle. Tendler says women are now demanding less judgement for wanting to be sexually expressive.
However, the pressure placed on appearances when using dating apps can hurt the progress made by body positivity movements. They say, “dating apps and ‘hook-up culture’ feed into often harmful societal expectations” on beauty standards.
They say if choosing to participate in these activities, which can provide very freeing experiences, you must remember that social standards of what makes a healthy body are always changing and it’s about feeling good in yourself, not about being someone else’s idea of perfect.
Founder of End Rape on Campus Australia (EROC), Sharna Bremner, agrees with Tendler on the topic of sexual intimacy as a characteristic of being human. She says shaming people, especially women, for wanting to participate in hook-up culture enables rape culture.
Bremner says by blaming dating apps or hook-up culture for harmful sexual behaviour, we justify the actions of perpetrators.
“Engaging in casual hook-ups never means that you’re asking to be assaulted or responsible for the harm another person does to you,” she says.
She says EROC doesn’t recognise hook-up culture or any social media as the reason for sexual abuse, rather the attitudes of the offender. She says particularly for women and members of LGBTQIA+ community, casual sex with the absence of a relationship is stigmatised.
She says often young women are the target audience for warnings about the dangers of hook-up culture. This is because people believe women to be “subjecting themselves to sexual assault, which is completely untrue.”
Bremner says it’s the choice of the individual what they do with their own bodies. Whatever type of relationship you choose to participate in, consent is key to ensure safety and respect of all people involved.
CEO of Safe on Social, Kirra Pendergast, says it’s important for women who are choosing to use online dating apps to be wary of the “red flags” on someone else’s account to protect their safety.
She says while anyone can be harassed online, “women are more frequently targeted by catfish accounts, as fake profiles often exploit trust and emotions”. She says sharing personal information with another person and agreeing to the platform collecting data is an issue with safety.
“Make sure to verify the identity of the person you’re talking to. Scammers can lurk in the dating world, seeking to take advantage of your generosity,”she says.
If planning to meet up with a person from a dating app, Pendergast suggests considering a video or phone call before meeting the person, but to keep contact limited to the platform you matched on until you can verify them. She says always meet in a public place first, alerting a friend or family member about the plans so someone knows where you should be at what time.
Pendergast also says to take screenshots of the person’s name or profile so they can be identified if the situation goes south. She says often offenders of sexual attack will block their victim so they cannot be reported.
The main thing Pendergast says is don’t be ashamed if you are a victim. Seek help and know it’s not your fault, and don’t be afraid to contact the police if needed. If the person continues contact, don’t engage in further messages or agree to any demands. Always make sure any location sharing settings are turned off.
She says these tips are particularly helpful in situations of sextortion, where explicit images are used as a form of blackmailing, or non-consensual sharing of explicit images are used to humiliate or degrade the victim.
eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant says reports showed there was an increase of more than 600% in image abuse during lockdowns.
Pendergast wants to remind women this form of extortion isn’t the fault of them or the apps.
Although hook-up culture can seem like an unsafe place for women that favours heteronormative men, it’s a choice open for anyone to participate. It can be a liberating experience for women where they can take control of their own sexuality.
Overall, when choosing to participate in hook-up culture or use dating apps, Tendler says reputations shouldn’t be a point of concern if both parties act in a consensual and healthy way to embrace their own sexualities.
If the issues discussed in this article have impacted you in any way, please reach out for help. If you or anyone you know are a victim of sexual assault, Reach Out provide 24 hour sexual assault assistance.
Reach Out: 1800 737 732 (24 hour sexual assault helpline)
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636