In My Words: why I pause during hookups

In My Words: why I pause during hookups

On campus, my Saturday afternoons are characterized by the post-night-out debriefs. These debriefs can occur on benches, porch steps, in front of cafes, or tucked in bed, as friends detail who they talked to, argued with, and (most important to the debrief ) hooked up with. I attend a school consistently brought up in conversations about the prevalence of hookup culture on the American college campus. As a 20-year-old woman living this experience, I’ve had to ask myself – how can I participate in hookup culture on my own terms in a way that feels good for me? 

The not-at-all-simple answer to this question is a little ritual I started implementing last year. It is what I’ve come to call the “pausing practice.” The pausing practice includes taking a moment to pause while hooking up, and noticing how the other person responds. The pausing practice isn’t meant to be a trick, or a manipulative tactic, but a way to exert control over the sex I have. 

The point of this practice is to ensure that a partner or potential partner is able to practice consent and respect boundaries. Consent shouldn’t just be practiced when one person wants to pause or leave, but all the time. Nevertheless, the pausing practice can be a useful way to check this.

More than anything, the pausing practice is a way of reclaiming your power in sexual encounters. Hookup culture can often create a dynamic that places women in the role of the performer, in turn making asserting agency challenging. It often feels like there is so much pressure to be sexy and perform, for the sake of pleasing your partner. It has made taking things slow, focusing on mutual pleasure, and establishing consent “unsexy,” – it has made pausing “unsexy.” And I hate it. 

When I pause in the middle of a hookup, I give myself the space to subvert this role. For some men, this ruins the performance – they feel I’ve prevented them from completing this assertion of masculinity. Yet, others are able to de-center this performance from sex. They respond by prioritizing communication, intimacy, and comfort. The truth is, I’m no longer willing to have sex with men who prioritize upholding the performative roles of straight sex over women’s comfort and pleasure. (Being able to tell his “boys” about it is a big no).

The pausing practice is ultimately something I have chosen for myself. I don’t live by it hard and fast, and more importantly I don’t believe it to be some flawless practice that all women having sex should use. For now, I’ve found something that can help me feel more in control of my relationships. And, I recommend finding your own version of a “pausing practice” that can work for you.

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