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March 2, 2023
Digital connection has become essential to teenagers’ interactions and relationships. According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center from April 14 to May 4, 2022, 97% of U.S. teenagers aged 13-17 say they use the internet daily.
With increasing internet use among younger generations comes a heightened connection to media and pop culture, including references to hookup culture. A 2005 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 70% of 959 prime-time television shows contained sexual content. The trend of sexual media content continues today.
“A lot of folks tend to think more people are hooking up than actually are, often based on distorted norms or messaging we get from media: movies, TV shows and songs,” Sylvia Mikucki-Enyart, Associate Professor in the Department of Communications Studies at the University of Iowa, said. “Media gives the impression that hooking up is normative, and those who don’t hook up are losers or are unwanted and unattractive. People often think that media reflects reality, so they want to keep up with others.”
Further, positive portrayals of hookup culture on social media exacerbate unrealistic expectations, as noticed by one West High anonymous student source.
“[Hookup culture] is so romanticized on social media, especially in our generation,” an anonymous source said.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, as of 2018, 90% of teens under 18 report having used social media. Social media increases the number of people one interacts with and can help connect people from different schools who wouldn’t have interacted otherwise.
“Especially with apps like Snapchat, it’s so easy to connect with people,” an anonymous source said. “Talking to people you don’t know as well and don’t have an emotional connection with online is much less scary than it is in person.”
For some, social media has eliminated the need to communicate in person about hooking up.
“You’re not going to talk to someone about a hookup in person. That’s weird,” an anonymous source said. “[It’s not] weird on Snapchat.”
However, this new way of initiating sexual relations can create more risks for those involved.
“[Social media has] created a new opportunity for people, but also new opportunities for folks to exploit that,” Amber Powell, UIowa Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology, said.
[Social media has] created a new opportunity for people, but also new opportunities for folks to exploit that.”
— Amber Powell, UIowa Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology
“So people will talk about how we give consent in the digital age. If you send a photo to someone, whose property is that? Is that still your property? If they show it to somebody, is that a violation of your consent?”
Snapchat is a common social media platform for facilitating hookup culture, with about 60% of teenagers using it.
“I feel like Snapchat is the biggest platform to [start a] hookup because it’s erased. There is no evidence — it’s gone. Those kinds of platforms really affect the hookup culture, especially if it goes wrong,” an anonymous source said.
The ability to delete or hide pictures and messages can be abused. One anonymous source believes the Snapchat feature, My Eyes Only, encourages privacy breaches. My Eyes Only, password-protected Snapchat memories, creates a way for people to hide photos and videos. The anonymous source has seen My Eyes Only used to conceal sex videos taken without consent, often the other person never knowing they were filmed.
Additionally, people may use threats of leaking sex videos or nudes to put the victim in a place where they feel pressure to act casually about the situation.
“You just have to deal with it because you don’t want to make a big scene,” the anonymous source said. “It’s so hard to speak up.”
Iowa law states that intentionally filming or photographing a person without consent for sexual gratification is an invasion of privacy. Anyone who is found guilty of violating this law can face up to two years of jail time and a fine of $6,250. However, the expectation to be quiet about blackmail makes some people feel as though the perpetrators will continue to get away with it as they face no consequences.
“I feel like no one calls them out,” one anonymous source said. “Even all their friends know that they’re recording. They all know that it’s in their My Eyes Only, but they don’t say a thing. They probably know it’s wrong, but they don’t speak up. So it continues.”