The act of sex is no longer the sacred act of lovemaking as it used to be. Times have changed. The new generation views sex like going to the movies, having a fancy Sunday brunch. In earlier times, sex was viewed as a sacred ritual between a man and his wife, usually to produce an offspring as ‘proof of their love’. With the increasing popularity of birth control and widely available information about sex on the internet, the myth that sex is only done for reproduction is undergoing a slow fade. Sex is now gaining more recognition for being an act of pleasure and just pleasure. It is no longer the ultimate climax of every love story or a life-changing act. Society might try to shame the new approach, but has also reluctantly accepted it.
The acceptance of this change has transformed the act itself, and has made casual sex easier to come by than before. As girls have gotten over the myth that their honour lies between their legs, they no longer view the advances from boys as a threat but as an option to consider. Sex is no longer seen as something that a man takes from a woman, but as an activity between two consenting individuals. Thus, it takes away the objectification of a woman who is a willing participant. Since the act is shamed less, the women are in position to put forward their sexual desires.
The hook-up culture, however, is not quite like what the movies would want you to believe. A guy makes eye contact with a girl while dancing in a club, both smile, and the next scene cuts to them having sex in a public bathroom. Hook-up culture in India works more through the social networks. It is usually someone you know, someone from your class, college, society, workplace, a friend, a friend of a friend, etc.
Since sex is no longer an act done in the dark after everyone is asleep, to be rejected for your sexual advances wouldn’t mean the end of the world. Similarly, having sex with someone who all your friends think poorly of is not as big a problem as it would be in getting into a relationship that your friends disapprove. The reason being, sex is an act that gets resolved rather quickly and does not have any lingering consequences as long as safe sex is practiced, preventing STDs or even pregnancy. People often hook up with their immediate friend circle as familiarity already exists and trust has been established. Sometimes, it’s in the spur of the moment and sometimes it is long-suppressed feelings of attraction, for the sake of maintaining the social order that already exists within the friend’s circle. A poor relationship that breaks would end up altering the dynamics and polarising that friend’s circle. However, a poorly executed hook-up will be a minor problem that can easily be smoothened up and only cost everyone a few weeks of awkwardness.
Since sex with unknown strangers is not considered safe for a variety of reasons, sex with strangers becomes available on online dating platforms like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, etc. There is a period of texting and exchanging socials to check authenticity and gain trust in your potential hook-up partner. Sexual advances are often made in the first real-life date itself, as the share of conversations has already happened over multiple texts and phone calls prior to the meeting. All that is really left to do in a meeting is to test if you have the physical compatibility by reading body language and seeing how the other person responds to your cues. Thus, online dating platforms provide a space to make the unknown stranger into a known stranger, before initiating any physical acts with them.
The process of it is, however, not as straightforward as it might sound. No one’s Tinder bio reads, ‘Here for sex only’. Men who write that in their bio will not get any matches. Women who are actually looking for an explicitly sexual relationship, will rarely be this direct, especially not in their bios. And those female profiles who are this direct, very likely are bots or prostitutes advertising their services on the platform. There are false castles of dreams to be built, plain white fantasies to be told, that everyone knows are not true but help set the mood. The grey area between flirting and plain lies is one that needs to be trodden upon carefully. It’s a social game one has to play correctly in order to get what one really wants.
Of course, even with casual sex and hook-ups, feelings need to be taken care of. But these are just as intense as they would be in case of a relationship. Overall, love still remains an element of sex, but not the most necessary one. It has been replaced by attraction in that regard. Even in the hook-up culture, sex is not necessarily a body-on-body act, it does require heart. Many feelings are felt and expressed through it. A lot of people would want to feel affection during it. The act itself changes forms with respect to the emotions felt and often the partner involved. That said, there is still some divinity left to having sex with someone you love. But also, many other options available beyond that.
(This appeared in the print edition as "Hook-Up Without Hang-up")
(Views expressed are personal)
Kishor Datta is an independent writer, poet and filmmaker