Hookups and “Handlers”: Dragging Middle School All The Way To College

Social Courage takes practice. Many people hope that Social Courage will suddenly land on them and allow them to avoid awkwardness. Developing Social Courage requires a willingness to be vulnerable by diving into awkward soup with some regularity. Social Courage improves communication, which in turn improves relationships.

A common assumption among high school and college students is that sexual knowledge, ease and comfort are acquired by hooking up with a lot of partners. Hookup culture promises that drama will be avoided while sexual experience will be gained. Years of discussions with young people about sexual norms confirms that hooking up actually leads to a lot of below average sex and drama. No matter how hard people try to spin hookup sex as no big deal, they privately admit that they become consumed by wondering about how sex could be better, the imbalance of interest, and the effort to mask any emotional interest.

Hookups are often facilitated through social media. The avoidance and delay of direct communication magnifies social awkwardness and drama. There is a strong expectation for people to keep it casual, even though many secretly crave intimacy and connection. Many assume that practicing casual sex will convert to more sexual skills. Practicing below average sex actually becomes one’s practice and often lasts for decades. There is no app to rescue anyone from the emotional and physical vulnerability of being naked or even partially naked with another person. Plenty of people keep at it holding the belief that great sex is right around the corner.

Handlers have become a thing. Of course they don’t call themselves “handlers.” Handlers are what I call the self-elected friends who assume clearance to manage other people’s relationships all under the guise of being helpful. My husband and I have laughed for years about the handlers of our later elementary school years. Bruce had a girlfriend in 5th grade with whom he scarcely spoke during the entire month they were going out. In fifth grade no one knows what to do, so a group of friends become your team of handlers.

Bruce’s handlers talked to a girl’s handlers, and suddenly they were dating. The handlers tagged along and took care of all of their communication at school and on a date to the movies. They spoke just a few words on the slow-speed 70s double chairlift ride when the handlers joined them for a day of skiing. Four weeks into the relationship, the handlers let them know they had broken up. Bruce was actually relieved. It wasn’t long before the idea of handlers seemed ridiculous, and the development of communication skills dependably put the handlers out of work by time we were in 7th grade.

Handlers are back. They have become a standard, unspoken part of the social and sexual lives of many high school and college students. It’s like Tinder with real people as the connectors (for better or worse). Handlers gain social power and status by giving friends access to the people with whom they want to hook up. While some handlers have kind intentions, some are status-seeking meddlers and gossipmongers who use social media to facilitate their own involvement and ensure their important role in friends’ relationships. A genuine friend should nudge you into awkward soup and coach you on your communication skills so you are able to manage your own relationships.

Handlers can benefit by bringing others into the hookup scene to affirm their own choice to hook up or hope to hook up. Keeping up appearances is part of the hookup game and that can involve being an advocate for participation. Even if your own hookups aren’t working out, you can mask your doubts as long as others are buying into the system.

A good number of students recognize the limitations of the hookup scene and opt out, but it is nearly impossible to avoid the banter. The number of hookups among high school and college students is significantly lower than what people assume. Perception fueled by media, marketing, social media and peer banter can make people feel angst about being left out of the hookup scene.

Plenty of people hold a secret hope that hooking up will lead to a relationship, but most over-compensate to conceal that. People are also motivated to hook up with someone to avoid judgment (being called a prude or a pussy) or to boost their own social status. Hooking up is often more about joining a club than it is about sex. It turns out that most participants in the hookup scene aren’t particularly satisfied, even boys who almost always get off in a hookup.

Feeling beholden by the opinion of handlers and the possibility that handlers will discuss your hookups with others can influence one’s sexual decisions. The risk of committing or being a victim of sexual assault can increase when people are motivated to step outside their comfort zones and push boundaries to impress others. A person may use coercion, depend on alcohol or use physical restraint to subdue a partner if they believe the outcome of their hookup will be scrutinized by people whose opinions matter in their social circle.

High school and college students are complain regularly about the below average sex of the hookup scene, but lowering the bar seems to be a worthy price to pay in exchange for social credibility and feeling included. In addition to the influences of peers, culture, media, porn, social media and a need to prove one’s worthiness, handlers complicate the sex lives of young people.

Chancy Libido: A Wee Boost of Scottish Flare

It is amazing how sex leads to having kids, and having kids doesn’t lead to much sex. Sex drive can be elusive and require a conscious effort to keep it on the radar, especially with kids. Bruce and I often assume vacation will be a great sex opportunity, until we find ourselves in a house with thin walls, creaky floors and squeaky twin beds with our extended family. These factors are not obstacles for Bruce. He tolerates my stealth Navy Seal hand signals along with the shushing and pauses. It turns out that Ninja vacation sex is not that randy.

Many women complain that the biggest obstacle to enjoying sex is getting focused enough to start the engine. Aside from the legitimate stressors and busyness, many women fail to notice the random opportunities to help shift the mindset. Fantasy is not only healthy and normal, but it can veer your mind away from to-do lists and stress opportunities. Action follows thought. For me, catching an interview with Tom Brady jumpstarts a morsel of a sexual thought on which I can capitalize. I always send Brady back to the locker room once I have decided to have sex. As my mother told me, “Once you decide to have sex, you never regret it.”

Bruce has always wished our desires for sex were more equal. I should be flattered that he still wants to engage with my ample supply of repellents and unconcealed aging. I remember how challenging it was to prioritize sex when our kids were little and needy. Husbands who sulked or begged for sex were perplexed by how it didn’t convert. It was even worse when they would help around the house and then ask for praise or notice in hopes of getting some action. Just vacuum and move on… to the dishes maybe.

Many guys wonder what would make women insatiable for sex. Personally, a collision of factors would have to align. When the moon is full, hormones are behaving, all kids are sound asleep, and the dishes and laundry are done, there is a ten-minute window of insatiable – if Bruce finds the window, Shazam. If we waited around for that window to open, we would have sex twice a year. That is why planning sex is not a bad gig. Bruce once asked for clear specifics about what would increase his chances for sex. My clear criteria improved our sex life: Sex needs to start before 11 PM, when he takes a shower, he should use soap everywhere, and brush his teeth with toothpaste. Optimism helps keep Bruce very clean.

There is this book that has jumpstarted the libidos of millions of women. I am not talking about Fifty Shades of Crap, however. For those of you who enjoy non-consensual restraint, nipple clamps, or having your clitoris whipped with a riding crop, you go! Most women don’t have the interest, time or storage space for such events. Personally, I am interested in good orgasms to keep me fired up – the real ones. Female orgasms occur in complicated, kelpy terrain. Women need to be the GPS for their partners.

The wonder book I speak of is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. When my friend first insisted I read it, I was daunted by the idea of reading more than eight hundred pages of historical fiction with a time travel element. Once I got to about page two hundred twenty-five, however, I could not stop reading. This nurse travels back to the 1700s where circumstances force her to marry a Scotsman named Jamie Fraser. Jamie is a strapping, lusty buck who is also loving and attentive. He is a fierce warrior who is tender and expresses his emotions. Jamie and Claire ride around the Highlands on horseback. Occasionally they stop, Jamie drops his kilt and they have a wee romp.

One night Bruce was out and I got so lost in Outlander that lost track of time. Bruce had an outing with his reflective and outdoorsy friends. They canoed up a river and stopped to cook a late dinner over a fire. When someone offered Bruce a beer, he asked for the time. One guy replied, “It’s 10:50, but why would the time matter?” Bruce hunkered in with a beer explained that there would have been a chance for sex if he got home by eleven.

Bruce assumed I had fallen asleep with the light on when he drove in the driveway at 12:30 AM. By the time Bruce reached the top of the stairs, I could already smell nasty burnt sausage, and his manky body odor. When he stepped in the room, he was visibly dirty with a greasy layer on his face. His hair was askew with a headlamp aslant on his head. Much to his surprise, I rounded on him like a tigress in heat. He dropped his pants to his ankles and dove into bed with the headlamp still on in case I changed my mind. Since Outlander has eight book in the series and has been made into a TV show on STARZ Network, Jamie can start the engine with a bit more frequency.

Book Event at the Norwich Bookstore – SEX, COLLEGE AND SOCIAL MEDIA by Cindy Pierce

Cindy Pierce will be presenting her new book, Sex, College and Social Media: A Commonsense Guide to Navigating the Hookup Culture this Wednesday, January 18th at the Norwich Bookstore at 7:00 PM

In her new book. Sex, College, and Social Media: A Commonsense Guide to Navigating the Hookup Culture, raconteur Pierce weaves together expert opinions, personal anecdotes, and the real feedback of today’s college and high school students, to help make those difficult conversations a little less difficult for everyone.

Please make a reservation by phone (802-649-1114) or email (info@norwichbookstore.com)

For more information about Cindy and her work: www.cindy-pierce.com

Avoid the Dog House and the Bra Bullies

This is a Dog House warning for the fellas. It is Christmas crunch time. You have probably seen the Beware of the Dog House video. Worth reviewing!

This is the time when you really need to lock in and stay focused on reality. Resist the temptation to buy the woman you love house cleaning gear and lingerie (this word is so foreign to me I had to look up how to spell it). I have personally witnessed some unfortunate Christmas Dog-House-inducing moments. One man’s crunch time purchase of a negligee and granny sweater for his wife of many years was a double jab that went over like a turd in the punchbowl. Despite his good intentions, his wife and all the females who witnessed the offering bossed him into going back into the retail madness to return the items. Continue reading


American Girls by Nancy Jo Sales makes it resoundingly clear that the impact of social media is moving so quickly that even teenage consumers struggle to manage their social lives. Parents and educators feel left behind and therefore reluctant to face the complicated reality their kids are navigating. Some parents choose to avoid the conversation because they don’t feel equipped. Many parents cross their fingers and hope it works out for their kids, counting on their kids to apply the values they taught them to this social arena, unfamiliar to parents. The social lives of kids are played out through their phones on multiple platforms invisible to most adults. While our kids are scrambling to stay socially relevant on their screens, it can appear that everything is fine. Without clear evidence of an issue or incident, parents don’t see the need to step in and guide their kids. When the drama and complexity of a situation is forced out of the virtual world into full view, parents are often shocked when it is clear how entangled their kids have become in social media. Continue reading



“Pierce, Cindy. Sexploitation: Helping Kids Develop Healthy Sexuality in a Porn-Driven World. Bibliomotion. Oct. 2015. 224p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781629560892. pap. $18.95; ebk. ISBN 9781629560908. CHILD REARING

Leading social sexuality educator Pierce maintains that what today’s kids need more than screen time are conversations with parents about values, beliefs, friendships, sexuality, and a host of other topics. In talking to their kids, parents are in a position to help them find their inner compass by unplugging and avoiding the trap of digital multitasking. Pierce cites a wide range of problematic media-driven issues for kids (e.g., hypersexualized female body images, violent masculinity) and urges parents to enter into the dialog to give their children alternative ways to behave and think.

Verdict While Pierce points out seemingly insurmountable pressures on today’s youth, she devises a workable plan for guiding them toward healthy life choices.—Deborah Bigelow, director emerita, Leonia P.L., NJ”

Link to original review:

Sex-Ed: US Colleges Should Take Note of Canadian Efforts to Prevent Campus Rape

I enjoyed this thought-provoking article from New York Times contributor Jan Hoffman on college rape prevention programs.


Jan Hoffman is right on with her conclusion that comprehensive rape prevention programs are our best chance to make changes on college campuses. I hope the success this program has brought to three Canadian colleges will inspire colleges in the US to adopt this approach. While more programming for men is needed, we should continue to address this issue from every angle with women, men, and campus faculty. One aspect of my aim as a high school and college speaker is to educate and engage boys and men to take part in changing the culture of their schools. I openly talk about the collision of factors that impact sexual decisions under the influence of alcohol in a normalized hookup culture. Sexual expectations are often skewed by the acceptance (often encouragement) of excess drinking, less face-to-face interactions contributing to less adept social skills, and hyper-sexualized messaging from porn and media. Alcohol, drugs, devices, and porn will always be accessible, therefore it is essential to educate consumers and users through a variety of programming to help change the lens for men. One positive shift I have seen is that more college men are open to conversations on topics like consent and bystander behavior, because they were educated about them in middle school. This kind of programming should be required, but it is also important to continue teaching girls and women about assessing risk, practicing self-defense, and defining personal sexual boundaries. – Cindy Pierce, author of SEXPLOITATION: Helping Kids Develop Healthy Sexuality in a Porn-Driven World