As fall turns to winter, the temptation to find a certain someone to cozy up with during the frosty months gets ever stronger. Yes, friends: cuffing season is officially upon us, the time of year when Tinder goes into hibernation mode and singles turn into couples (at least temporarily).
If you’ve been following any of the 2015 handwringing surrounding Tinder and the supposed rise of hook-up culture, the arrival of cuffing season might seem like a step in the right direction—especially for young women. Take one of this summer’s more talked-about takes in Vanity Fair, which positioned the combination of Tinder and casual sex culture as the catalyst for a “dating apocalypse,” in which intimacy and trust are discarded in favor of an endless buffet of meaningless potential hook-ups. Strongly implied in this analysis was the notion that in the shift toward sexual freedom, women end up losing out.
If this is indeed the case, and a culture of casual sex is all about men getting what they want at the expense of their female partners, then surely even a temporary switch toward monogamy works in favor of women.
And yet something in this argument rings hollow. For all the complaints about hook-up culture—and there are many legitimate ones, to be sure—it’s not actually clear that casual sex is creating the problem. Like online porn and sexting, hook-up culture seems to be something of a bogeyman set up to take the blame for our collective dissatisfaction with our current relationships.
Men not respecting women? Tinder must be at fault. Female sexual satisfaction taking a backseat to male orgasms? It’s probably the death of monogamy, and not society’s constant messaging that women’s sexual fulfillment is a lower priority than that of their male partners.
Running through all these discussions is the tendency to blame gender imbalances in the sex and dating sphere on superficial symptoms, rather than digging deeper in search of a more fundamental root cause. Even the most cursory examination proves such logic to be fatally flawed.
Missing from this demonization of hook-up culture is a very crucial point. What we had before the Tinder era was not much better—at least in terms of respect for women. Though the spheres of sex and relationships are positioned as the domain of women, too often male desires set the tone. The age in which women were urged to keep their legs closed until marriage wasn’t exactly known as a benchmark of female liberation; and let’s not forget the days when women were literally property to be passed from father to husband. Though the spheres of sex and relationships are often positioned as the domain of women, throughout history it’s been clear that, more often than not, male desires set the tone of our romantic entanglements.
Whatever the dominant relationship model may be, women always seem to be the ones losing out. Whether we’re proving our purity by not having sex, or proving our easygoing attitude by always being DTF, it’s the compulsion to adjust our sexual behavior to meet society’s expectations, rather than our own sexual desires, that’s actually damaging. Women are taught to use sex as a tool to achieve social capital, rather than an end unto itself. It’s this conditioning that has us set up to fail no matter what game we’re playing.
So as cuffing season kicks into high gear, take a step back and think about what you want, rather than what you’ve been told you’re supposed to want. It’s simple advice, but it’s true. If casual sex is making you happy, by all means, keep the party rolling. And if it’s leaving you unfulfilled, consider the many other sex and relationship options out there. But whatever you do, don’t fall into a pattern of behavior just because you’re supposed to.
That goes double for this year: Let’s be serious, the weather’s been way too warm for cuffing season.