Professor's Book Receives Enthusiastic Response

Samantha B. Bonar

Associate professor of sociology Lisa Wade’s new book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus (Norton, $27) is the No. 1 new release in Gender Studies, College and University Student Life, and Psychology of Sexuality on Amazon, and was excerpted in Time magazine last week. Not bad for a book that wasn’t officially published until Jan. 10, 2017.

The New York Times ran a lengthy review on January 19, somewhat of a rarity for a book by an academic.

Wade is "thrilled" by the early enthusiastic response.

"Scholars and scientists don't usually have the opportunity to reach a wide audience," she said via email from New Orleans, where she is on leave until next fall. "Partly it's because we aren't trained in how to write for people outside of our specialties. It wasn't easy, but I hope it means that American Hookup will help the wider world understand what's troubling sex on today's college campuses, enable parents and students to navigate the sexual culture more nimbly and empower students and administrators to change it for the better."

In the book, Wade casts her sociologist’s lens onto American college sexual culture, examining aspects of race, class and gender under the guise of the  "hookup culture" that has come to dominate romantic relationships on campuses today. She examines what hookup culture means to college students, how it works and what it reveals about privilege, power and sexuality in America.

Interviewing students at colleges and universities across the country for her research, Wade says young people "were and are my inspiration. The media coverage of hookup culture just didn't do them justice. They are diverse and bring many different ethical perspectives and points of view. Often they’re learning by trial and error, but they are learning, processing information in sophisticated ways. And they’re making all kinds of different choices and responding in all sorts of different ways to a complex set of pressures. Their stories ran the gamut from hilarious to heart-wrenching."

Wade thinks the immediate interest in her book reflects the fact that she may have hit a cultural nerve. "It's easy to think that the sexual activity of young people privileged enough to attend college is less important than other pressing social problems, but the truth is that all of America's sins are manifest in sex," she says. "American Hookup is about sex in college, but it's also about how sexuality, in general, is infused with the best and the worst things about our country.

"I'm hoping that the interest in the book comes out of an implicit understanding that this is the case. It's a dark thought, perhaps, and in some ways it's a dark book and maybe people are interested because they'll recognize some of their own darker times, but I'm confident that the students will leave readers with a sense of hope. They were my lights through the process and they absolutely shine bright throughout."

Strong advance sales have been accompanied by a positive scholarly reaction as well. American Hookup already was the subject of a lengthy review in the sociological journal Contexts by Paula England, Silver Professor of Sociology at New York University. "You will understand the hookup culture much better if you read Wade’s book," England says.

Wade is a regular contributor to Ms.Jezebel, and GlobalPolicyTV.  She has been quoted in the New York Times and on CNN and NPR. She has appeared on MTV, been a guest on KPCC, and was featured in the podcast Sounds Familiar. She is the founder and editor of the most widely read sociology blog on the internet, Sociological Images, and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions (Norton, 2014).