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November 14, 2013 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Imagine sitting in a large lecture hall when naked breasts appear in front of you.
No big deal. It’s just an iPhone image on “Titty Tuesday” — the unofficial moniker for a day filled with posts of topless women. Neal Lyon, a 19-year-old MU student even saw a picture on his phone of a girl performing oral sex.
A new wave of social media — including new Twitter accounts and apps such as Tinder, Lulu, erodr and Bang With Friends — is changing the type of information that people can share online. Images of nudity and sex pop up so frequently that these newer platforms are fueling changing perceptions of more casual sexual behavior. Some experts call this a hookup culture.
Sara Peters, a visiting assistant professor of communication at MU, says the popularity of social media and its regularly promiscuous content make sexual behaviors seem common even if they aren’t performed in a user’s everyday life. “Over time, whether you’re conscious of it or not, you’re going to normalize (what you see) and be like: ‘That’s just what kids do today; that’s just how it is,’” Peters says. “There’s a very strong link for people who watch a lot of sexual media to endorse the ‘hookup culture.’”
Emma Delfosse, 20, a senior at Stephens College, says people have become numb to seeing sexually explicit material online. “It’s going to happen, so why let it bother you?” Delfosse says. This seemingly promiscuous culture, partially due to social media, is everywhere.
Started in September 2012, Tinder allows people to pick matches based on appearance. Users swipe right on their screen if they think the other is attractive and left if their image is closer to the Danny DeVito end of the looks spectrum. Tinder takes away essentially all emotional connection to make room for a simple hot versus not. The Huffington Post wrote: “Don’t use Tinder to fall in love. It is strictly for hookups.”
Some apps relate strictly to a specific gender such as Lulu, which allows women to anonymously rate men’s looks or how well they performed in bed. Using hashtags as names, Lulu changes how women relate to the opposite sex. Talking about a man’s abilities in the sack was a little more private before smartphones.
The images Lyon mentioned were both on erodr, which lets users say and share whatever they want. Think Facebook with no conscience. The radical posting takes form thanks to expirations on posts and a regularly used anonymous feature. The suggestive messages are only part of the app’s content, and the social network has other characteristics. Everyone in the network can see one another’s posts, which are usually friendly and encouraging of fellow “Rodies” — the nickname for erodr users — even when sex isn’t involved.
“People don’t care what they put on the Internet,” Lyon says. A week ago, some of his friends sent a picture of two people making out to the Twitter handle @MizzouMakeouts. The account shows people, often drunk, kissing in public and has helped spawn @MizzouPassouts and @MizzouShackers, which exposes people walking home in the morning after a night of supposed hooking up. “Before I came to school, I would have thought that was an invasion of privacy,” he says.
The socialization of young adults, including sexual behaviors and attitudes, is complex and stems from many factors such as peers, family and the media, says Heather Eastman-Mueller, the curriculum coordinator of the Sexual Health Program at Mizzou.
She says the hookup culture is real and that young adults are constantly in the process of helping craft it. “I always tell my students in class: ‘You’re a sexuality educator just like I am. You’re giving the people around you and your peers information about your sexuality,’” Eastman-Mueller says.
She thinks the timeline for intimacy is another indicator of hookup culture. “When I was younger it was, ‘Start to get to know the person, and then have sex.’ It’s completely flipped.”
Both Eastman-Mueller and Peters say that social media is not exclusively responsible but is a prominent aspect of the growth in sexual open-mindedness and that it helps speed up the sexual process. It’s clear that what was once exclusive to bedroom intimacy is now just your everyday mobile affection.