Jordan Peterson On the “Hook-up” Culture

While listening to a recent Jordan Peterson lecture, entitled Be precise in your speech (Season 2, Episode 25 on his podcast), someone asked Peterson during a Q&A about the “hook-up” culture. For you older folks, the hook-up culture refers to sexual promiscuity, no-strings attached sexual encounters. Peterson’s answer was really profound and I think helpful. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Jordan Peterson, he’s a Canadian psychologist and public intellectual.  He’s not a Christian theologian, but he has a lot of respect for Judeo-Christian tradition and the Bible. I pray that Christian thinkers and pastors can emulate Peterson in his deep reflection on these areas of significance. 

Question: “What are your thoughts on the hookup culture created by modern dating apps?”

Answer: “Well, I can tell you some facts. People in stable, monogamous relationships report the highest levels of sexual satisfaction. So that’s the first thing to know. The second thing to know. . . the fact of. . .comparably reliable birth control has really permanently changed the relationships between men and women and our attitudes towards sexuality in general. It’ll take God only knows how long until we adapt to that. In the immediate aftermath of the birth control bill, there was the idea that sex could now be decontextualized. . .[it could occur] in the absence of permanent relationship, let’s say, and that that would be an okay thing, and that it’s also something that could be done casually, for recreation, and without guilt (long pause). 

I don’t think any of those things are true. 

I don’t think there’s any evidence that they’re true. I think they’re dangerous delusions, actually. I think, (heavy sigh), hook up culture is predicated on the idea that you can detach sexuality from everything else, [like] emotions, responsibility, consideration even, and that basically, you can reduce what sexuality is to casual pleasure. And I don’t think you can do that. I don’t think you can reduce casual sexuality to casual pleasure without reducing the person that you’re having sex with, to nothing but the provider of casual pleasure. And I think that whatever you do to someone else, you do to yourself inevitably, because when you’re engaging with someone else, you’re engaging with a human being, and you’re a human being. And so, the manner in which you treat another human being expands to encompass your relationship to yourself. Now, it is isn’t obvious to me that, the most compelling and meaningful and truthful story about what a person is, is a source of casual, sexual pleasure. And I think that if you engage in a string of relationships like that, that you inevitably come to see people like that. Because how could you not? 

One of the truths that psychologists have uncovered, there aren’t that many of them, but this is one of them. . .you tend to justify what you do. And that’s something to be very wary of, because perhaps have your ethical qualms about doing something, but you do it two or three dozen times, and you can be certain that as a consequence of doing them that many times, that you will now formulate a story that you tell yourself and other and will also come to believe about why doing that is not only okay, but good. 

So let’s say you have fifteen casual sexual partners. I don’t know if there’s. . .anything deeper or more profound that you could do with someone else, than engage in sex with them. And so, if you’re willing to take that most profound act and transform it into that most dispensable entity, then that’s what you’ve done to yourself and other people. And I don’t think that’s a very good idea. . .I think that people are a lot better off, not necessarily happier, but I don’t think “happy” is the right hallmark of evaluation anyways. I think that people have deeper and more meaningful lives if they commit to a monogamous relationship. It’s much better for people to commit to something. It deepens their lives and enriches their lives, and it means that you’ve taken on the responsibility of another person as if they’re as much as part of you as YOU are. And that’s actually good for you. It’s hard, but it’s good for you.” 

-Jordan Peterson