NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Every generation develops its own rules on sex and relationships. And these days dinner, a movie and maybe a kiss on the doorstep may seem - you should excuse the expression - dated. For many young women, relationships are too entangling, romance too time-consuming, and love neither delightful nor delovely. Instead of dates, many prefer hookups, an ill-defined term that defines a range of sexual activities, but all characterized by a lack of commitment. It preserves their independence, they say, prevents heartbreak and lets them focus on school and careers.

Writer Laura Sessions Stepp spent nearly a decade talking and listening to young women who've abandoned dating for what they see as emotionally detached sex, and concludes that many pay a heavy emotional price.

Later in the hour, we'll hear about directing a dark, poetic nightmare set in post-Civil War Spain with Guillermo del Toro, the director of "Pan's Labyrinth." But first, Laura Sessions Stepp on her new book "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both." If you're a participant, a fan, or a critic of the hookup culture, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org, and we especially welcome questions from young women. And Laura Sessions Stepp joins us today from our bureau in New York. Thanks very much for joining us.

Ms. LAURA SESSIONS STEPP (Author, "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both"): I'm happy to be here.

CONAN: And first of all, how did - you'll excuse me - a relative geezer like you get information like this?

Ms. STEPP: Excuse me, Neal.

CONAN: There we go.

Ms. STEPP: You're going to get my blood going right away, aren't you?

CONAN: Yep.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEPP: It - well, about eight or nine years ago in my son's own middle school, I heard about an oral sex ring where eighth graders - two eighth grade girls were giving guys oral sex and said they were hooking up with them.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. STEPP: I wrote a story about that that landed on the front page of The Post and the front page of a lot of newspapers in this country. And then we - then I continued to report all kinds of stories about adolescents, but I followed the sexuality of them with some interest and eventually decided - after hundreds and hundreds of interviews and many, many stories - that I really needed to go farther and deeper, if I may use that word, into a subject that not many people talk about.

CONAN: And it is not easy to get young women, necessarily, to talk about this.

Ms. STEPP: Well, interestingly, I found that there was a real hunger among young women to talk about it with someone who didn't judge them, but just simply asked them questions. This is a very smart generation of young women who are trying to sort out their lives. They have many, many choices, more than previous generations do. And they're trying to figure out what they really want in life and how to achieve it. And when they had someone - an old geezer like myself, as you say - to listen to, they were happy to sort of bare their souls after they were sure they could trust me.

CONAN: And how many women did you speak with?

Ms. STEPP: For this book, I did three in high school and six in college. So a total of nine. I had interviewed dozens of others as possible subjects, but focused on those who had something interesting to say and could - and were fairly articulate in expressing the desires of their generation.

CONAN: I should also say that you looked at survey data from other studies and commissioned some of your own.

Ms. STEPP: I did, yes.

CONAN: And one particularly interesting finding, you say, was that while two out of three young men said it would be better to get married than go through life single, fewer than half the young women felt that way.

Ms. STEPP: Yes, that's true, and I was shocked by that. I knew that young women were eager to get into their career world. I knew that parents were eager for their young women to be financially independent and to have their own jobs and their own place in the world. And those are all good things. Believe me, I'm very supportive of all of that. I did not realize how that made them then put aside the idea of a loving, committed relationship.

CONAN: And it's interesting that as you went through this - and you talked not only to these young women, but also to various professionals of various sorts and came to the conclusion that part of what we do when we - my generation and yours, Laura Sessions Stepp - when we went out on dates was sort of practicing for relationships and learning some skills that might come in handy later.

Ms. STEPP: Well, that's right. I mean, when you think about trying - it's not easy to stay attached to someone for even as long as a week or two when you're that age. And you learn how to trust each other. You learn how to communicate. You learn how to work through problems - all the things that go in, later, into building a truly permanent relationship. Those were - dating gave us practice at doing things. There was - it was a slower-paced time, Neal, for us.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. STEPP: And we didn't feel like we had to rush through life as much as I think these young people do. And so we took the time to get to know each other. Now were our relationships perfect? Absolutely not.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. STEPP: I mean, there were a number of unhappy women in homes, and then there were a number of divorces. So I'm not saying we had the answers, but I'm saying that I think these girls are trying to make a new life for themselves, and they need our help. We need to start talking with them. We need to start a kind of national conversation, if you will, about what a relationship should really look like, and when should - how do you get to that point?

CONAN: Hmm. We welcome our calls from our listeners: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. And why don't we turn to Jen, and Jen's with us on the line from Cincinnati.

JEN (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

JEN: I completely agree. I'm listening about communication. I'm a playwright, and recently wrote and performed a show about female sexuality in America. And I think one of the issues, as well as so many people in our generation - I'm 26 - we've grown up with divorce. And it's really hard to image a relationship where you can trust and have the sort of commitment that you're talking about when, as a whole, so many generations growing up just before me and after me have seen such terrible, disastrous relationships.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. So the experience of your parents - or parents that you knew -with divorce so soured your views of long-term relationships?

JEN: Yes, and I think the idea of commitment and trust has really shifted. And being a modern woman who has a career and pursues her own interests, it's very difficult to find some sort of balance in what a new relationship is. And I think that's definitely going in flux right now and will be defined in the next few years. But I was also curious about what you thought this new direction would be if it - we're going to just come up with a whole new model…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

JEN: …if that's possible.

CONAN: Laura Sessions Stepp?

Ms. STEPP: So you give me the hard ones, Neal.

CONAN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEPP: That's a very good question, and I wish I had the answer to it. I - to be quite honest with you, I don't. I think it is your generation that's going to do that. I hope that you look - and I hope we can help you in any way that you want us to, to sort of think through what does a relationship look like. And I guess one of the points you mentioned was divorce, and that's - that is clearly an effect on young women.

But it's also what they see even among their married parents. I mean, parents are not - the girls that I spoke to said that they don't see their parents showing love and affection between themselves very often, that marriage looks to them like not much fun. And it doesn't look like - one girl said if that's what love is, I don't want to be it.

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. STEPP: And they - parents also don't show their girls how you work through problems in a marriage. So they'll say things like, well, we're not going to fight in front of the children.

JEN: Right.

Ms. STEPP: Well, I'm not suggesting that they scream at each other in front of the children, but they should help their children see how you work through problems, and then I think the young people would be more likely to want to try that on their own.

CONAN: Hmm. You mentioned also that they don't necessarily see their parents -or marriages of their parents' generation as necessarily something to aim for. The relationships, the committed relationships they have - they see their friends have, do they judge those so harshly?

Ms. STEPP: They say that they're joined at the hip. Because what seems to happen is that you're either hooking up or you're essentially married to the guy. And for young women, apparently - particularly, that is not very attractive. It means they have to give up time with their girlfriends, give up time with sports and school and so forth. They really don't want that, and so they don't see something that's a balance in between. And I get back to the old dating model. I mean, dating was kind of a way of gradually moving towards something that was closer. It didn't take up all your time. And relationships don't have to take up all your time, but the young women think that maybe they do.

CONAN: Hmm.

JEN: If I may ask quickly…

CONAN: Go ahead.

JEN: …as well, there is - I've noticed in family and friends that a lot of couples - young couples are moving in together and maybe looking towards marriage in the future, maybe saying we don't need that. But that has become a definite cultural trend and is a big schism from the generations before us. And it's a different kind of commitment - again, looser - as you talk about. I wonder if you can talk about that, and thank you again.

CONAN: OK, Jen.

Ms. STEPP: Yeah, sure. That is a trend in the mid to late 20s, especially. And, you know, my feeling is that that's better than the alternative, which is what I - what sometimes is called the sometimes-boyfriend. So he comes into town -you know - maybe he lives in Chicago. He flies in. You know, you hookup with him for a weekend, then he goes back out. And you may hookup with some other guys. Then he comes back in. And you like him better than all the other boys, but it's really nothing.

I mean, that's fine in the beginning of a relationship, I think, but at some point you do want to have that time together. You do want to try out the waters. And I think that moving in together is - it is - I've heard a lot of young women say - in fact, there's one young woman I taught at a class at GW, and she was telling me that she had finally settled down her senior year in college, I think, with this one guy. And they decided the next year they were going to live together.

And they lived together for a year and a half. And I said, well, are you going to get married? And she said, well, we haven't even mentioned the word, which I thought was interesting. I mean, at least in my generation, we might have decided not to do it, but we would have at least talked about it. They hadn't even mentioned the word.

CONAN: Yeah, in your generation and mine, there was something you weren't doing, as well as something you were doing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEPP: That's right, Neal.

CONAN: We're speaking with Laura Sessions Stepp. Her new books is "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both." If you'd like to join our conversation, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us: talk@npr.org. We're going to take a short break and take more of your calls when we come back.

Later in the program, Guillermo del Toro, who's the director of the six-Oscar-nominated film "Pan's Labyrinth." Stay with us for that.

I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

We're talking today with Laura Sessions Stepp, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter with The Washington Post. She's written a new book about teenagers and the dangers of emotionally detached sex, or hookups. Specially, she's writing about young women. If you'd like to read an excerpt from the book "Unhooked," including an introduction written by one of the women she interviewed, you can go to our Web page at npr.org. And we want to hear from you about the culture of the hookup. Give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And let's turn to Selena. Selena's with us from Cincinnati.

SELENA (Caller): Hi, thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

SELENA: I'm 24, and I'm dating. And I - my experience in this dating scene has been that a lot of the guys I date do just want to hookup, and I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in love and committed relationships, which seems to be such a scary word. And on the other hand, I have friends at my age who are getting married, and I feel I'm too young to get married. I want to get married to someone who's my best friend, and I want it to be later in life when I'm more settled.

And my question is I have tendency to want to blame men of my generation - what is wrong with guys these days? But then, on the other hand, I think women are also to blame because we need to demand a little bit more respect and say, no. I don't just want to hookup. And as long as women are willing to hookup, men are going to want to hookup.

Ms. STEPP: Can I answer that, Neal?

CONAN: You can. I can't.

Ms. STEPP: I love…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEPP: …I love this comment, because - I mean, it really - these really are equal opportunity hookups here. And I first of all, want to congratulate the caller on what she's trying to do. I think she probably knows better than most that particularly when you're younger than she is, to try to go against this hookup culture is very hard. It affects young women, even those who want no part of it. I remember there was a - the last young woman - next to last young woman in my book was a freshman in college, and she really did not want to hookup, but was so afraid that she would be pressured to hookup that she didn't go out once her entire freshman year. She didn't go out with a guy. She didn't - she barely went to parties. Sometimes she'd go with her girlfriends. But if guys sort of seemed interested in her, she wouldn't go out with them. She wouldn't date them, in other words…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. STEPP: …because she was afraid they would pressure her to have sex or to hookup.

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. STEPP: So there are young women who are out there trying to date because they realize the beauties of that, but it is very difficult for them to pull that off. They have to be incredibly strong and independent women, and I think that's where they deserve our support and our, you know - and that sits - this one young woman was lucky in that she was on a campus where there was a women's center and a program called the Baldwin Scholars of young women who helped each other get through these things. But not all women have that kind of support.

CONAN: What about Selena's other point, though, that young men tend to be opportunists, if you will - which may be largely true - and therefore, if the opportunity presents itself, they're not interested in dating. They might be interested in hooking up.

Ms. STEPP: Well, that's also true, and another quick story there. I was out with some girls and guys at a bar, and this guy had probably had one too many beers, so he started spilling his guts. And he said, you know, the hookup culture just allows men to be jerks, and he didn't use the word jerk, but that's the word I'll use on the air.

SELENA: That is exactly my sentiment.

Ms. STEPP: Yeah, yeah. No, it gives guys - and this is what young women need to understand, and we need to understand better. This gives young women license to do - I mean, young men license to do what they've wanted to do all along. Now this is going to sound anti-male, and I'm not. I have a 22-year-old son, and I hope and believe that he doesn't treat women this way. But I do think there is - guys are caught - guys are sort of penalized by their guy-ness. I mean, they have to kind of think that they're the player.

That's the role they have to play to kind of get along with their buddies. Another quick scene: 2 a.m. in the morning. Student - four guys at a school in D.C. They're standing up against a car. Each of them has their cell phone. They're text-messaging girls to say, you busy? Meaning, why don't you come over and hook up with me?

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. STEPP: And they had no problem in finding girls to hook up with them.

CONAN: Selena, thanks very much for the call.

SELENA: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail that's sort of on the same subject. Jason, in Vancouver, Washington.

Why is it we're only interested in young women hooking up? Haven't young men been doing the same thing for years, generally to the acclaim of their peers? Don't men have the same need for emotional connection that women do? Why is it this conversation focuses only on the feminine side of this?

Ms. STEPP: Well, that's a good point. There's a very simple reason, really. I think the hookup culture would not have taken such a firm hold in society had it not been for young women who were ready to take part in it. Young women have always been the gatekeepers of sexual relations. That may or may not be fair. You can argue the merits of that, but that's the way it was.

What has happened is that young women, as I said earlier, have decided that - many of them - that they really don't have time for a relationship right now. They don't need the hurt and the pain. And so they have chosen the hookup route as a way of getting some of their emotional needs and intimacy needs satisfied. If they had not done this, then I think the hookup culture would have still been kind of a sporadic, every once in a while kind of thing.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Shiloh(ph), Shiloh from New York.

SHILOH (Caller): Hi, how are you, Neal.

CONAN: Go ahead.

SHILOH: I was going to say you guys are neglecting two other areas of this, and one is open relationships, and the other is polymeric relationships, where there is a non-monogamous but, you know, highly emotionally involved relationship.

CONAN: And which one is that?

SHILOH: Polymeric.

CONAN: Polymeric, OK. Many partners, in other words.

SHILOH: Yeah, well, potentially many partners. In other words, that it's not committed to just the two people. There are others…

CONAN: But it can be emotionally rich and emotionally involved. Laura Sessions Stepp, did you encounter anything like that in your surveys through this culture?

Ms. STEPP: There was one young woman at Brown University who was sort of dabbling in that, if I may use that word. And she was so confused, in a sense, about what she wanted to do and where she was with her own sexuality that I chose not to write about her. It's not an area that I look into in the book. I think…

SHILOH: (unintelligible)

Ms. STEPP: Go ahead.

SHILOH: Yes, if I may comment. I mean, it's just that it's not traditionally a normal Western-European concept, but this is not an unusual concept. I mean, at least in the group I associate with, we're noticing a strong rise of it.

CONAN: Mm-hmm, but I think you'd agree, Shiloh, probably not the majority.

SHILOH: No, no. Not the majority by any chance.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEPP: I mean, it's a very - it's a small number of people. I understand it's strong, and there are fervent supporters of it, but it is - numerically, it's a small group.

SHILOH: Yes, and I do want to comment, this is different than polygamy. Polygamy is a totally different concept. But that's all.

CONAN: OK, thanks very much for the call.

SHILOH: Thank you, bye-bye.

CONAN: Let's go now to - this is - where is - there she is. Laurie. Laurie is with us from Portland, Oregon.

LAURIE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

LAURIE: This is Laurie.

CONAN: Yes, I found you on the - you were button number four, in case you're interested.

LAURIE: Oh, OK. Well, my comment is sort of - you know, it's a personal experience. I guess a similar theme among the previous callers - the women callers - was the parent example.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

LAURIE: And I was raised in a family where my parents, you know, pretty much hated each other, and I saw no evidence of - it was also, you know, a confused, dysfunctional, abusive sort of situation - so that I really grew up very isolated, having no idea of what a male-female relationship would be. And so I just thought, you know, everything I gleaned, I gleaned off a TV. And my mother told me that this was all - that the image of TV love was all fantasy. It was all fake. So she just said love means you get married, you stay with that person, and you do what you're supposed to do.

So I just made one determination that I would never fight. So I married the first man who asked me. I had never dated, because I wasn't allowed to date. I had very little, you know, social experience, so I married the first man. So essentially, I'm relating the hookup concept to actually what has happened in my life, even though I married these men simply because I had no love. And I didn't know how to love, and I found sexuality very difficult without love, without knowing.

And then when I met a man after having many failed marriages because I couldn't figure out why it couldn't work because I didn't love them and I didn't know how to love. I met a man who I do love. I find it now impossible - or nearly so - to open my heart because all those previous sexual experiences, they just sort of muddy the water. And I can't - it's the greatest problem in our marriage now. I have closed off and been so closed, which is what I perceive in that hookup mentality. You're afraid of the pain, you're afraid of going into the emotion and realize you don't want the hassle, the bother.

But let me tell you, life is worth nothing without real love. Life - there's no experience. There's no richness to life. Sexuality, you know - I mean, you might as well have some kind of involvement with a machine, just because there's no point in it. And it's the greatest barrier now to having a decent relationship. A real, open-hearted - like that one caller said, I want to marry my best friend.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

LAURIE: You can't do it.

CONAN: Laura Sessions Stepp, Laurie could've written your article for you.

Ms. STEPP: I think she just did. Laurie, that's a terrific way of summing up what one of the real problems that I see with hooking up, and that is that you have to turn off that emotional caring side of you and…

LAURIE: And you can't turn it back on.

Ms. STEPP: And it's hard to turn it back on. That's exactly right. The young -for those who do get the book, I urge you to read the last chapter, which is about Alicia. And it's about the implications of the hook up culture. And Alicia - this is the very thing that happened to her.

She hooked up for two and a half years, and when she did finally get into a relationship she had - she and young - her friend had to work very hard. And it was extreme - I can't tell you how hard it was for them to form some sort of bond that they knew wasn't going to last. They weren't even talking about marriage. They were just trying to go out and have a good time. And it was very hard.

And I remember one of the most painful quotes she told me was about having sex, hooking up with these guys. I think there were three or four of them within a short period of time. And she said, well, let me just put it this way: more guys have had sex with me than I had sex with them.

CONAN: Hmm.

LAURIE: Right.

Ms. STEPP: She would just lie - she said - another great quote was that she said, you know, one of the good things about being on bottom is you don't have to do any work.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEPP: It was just incredibly sad to me that this was - you know, the problem with sexuality in hooking up is that hook up sex isn't good sex. The real sex comes in a loving partner, someone you really love. And there's where I think girls are cheating themselves.

LAURIE: It seems to me - and I don't mean to interrupt.

Ms. STEPP: No, please, go ahead.

LAURIE: But it seems to me that, you know, maybe I'm different than the rest of the world, but it takes me an awful long time to learn something. And I - it seems to me that the physical aspect of sexuality, in terms of whatever biological release that people are seeking through the hook up…

Ms. STEPP: Right.

LAURIE: …mentality, would be better achieved in some other way than interacting with another human being, simply because sex with another person has no meaning unless the emotions are there first.

Ms. STEPP: Right.

CONAN: Laurie, I hate to disagree with you, but it seems to me you figured this out.

LAURIE: Oh, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LAURIE: Well, if you have the answer of what to do, I said you can't reverse it. You said it was hard. So you must have the answer.

CONAN: That's her, not me. I don't have the answer.

LAURIE: Somebody's got it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LAURIE: But it just - it has no meaning unless you can open your emotions. And I find myself, at this stage - I just turned 40. I'm at this place where I cannot trust another person with my feelings. I've guarded them and held them in all my life.

Ms. STEPP: You know…

LAURIE: And, you know, how do you go through that farce of baring your body when you will not bare your soul?

CONAN: And let me just interrupt to say that we're talking with Laura Sessions Stepp about her new book, "Unhooked." And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And I apologize for that. Laura Sessions Stepp, did you want to reply to Laurie's question?

Ms. STEPP: Well, what I - what strikes me listening to you, Laurie, is how many of these issues that these young women are dealing with at age 16, 18, 22, women still deal with at age 38, 40, 45 and 50. And men do, too. And that's where I'm seeing a potential in this country for conversations about our sexuality and emotional intimacy. What does it mean? How do you achieve it?

How can - I think perhaps in helping younger women figure this out, we will have helped ourselves - if that makes any sense - because I think it makes us -it forces us to think about our own relationships and how we are in relationship to others. And that's a good thing.

And it sounds to me like what you're doing is you're on the road. You're going in the right direction, and you're going to get there simply because you've been able to say this is what I know is happening. This is what I'm going to do about it. And you would be - quite frankly, Laurie, you would be a great person for a young woman to talk to.

LAURIE: Well, that's the thing. I see these young girls walking along, and I know what's going on and I wish I could grab them. But, you know, I've tried to talk to a couple, and people just kind of yeah, yeah. Like, they go, that's you.

CONAN: Hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LAURIE: And because I do kind of come from a more unusually dysfunctional background than most people, once they learn about that, they sort of discount everything else. Like, oh, well, you know, your problems are from that, rather than the reality.

Because, I mean, I'm married to a man who doesn't come from my background, but has similar problems just because he made the same decision when he was younger: to emotionally distance himself.

Doesn't come from my background, but here we are now struggling to make a thing work with two people who have just been so used to protecting themselves, they can't undo it.

CONAN: Laurie, we wish you the best of luck. Thanks so much for the call.

LAURIE: Thank you very much for taking the call.

CONAN: Sure.

LAURIE: And thank you for the discussion. I pray all those kids will listen.

CONAN: Okay. Good luck.

LAURIE: Bye-bye.

CONAN: We're going to take a short break. Well, we have time for this e-mail. Ruth from Portland, Oregon.

I just wanted to share my experiences with what my generation terms friends with benefits. My husband and I started out this way. We were both good friends in college, but with the demands of attending school full time, working 30 hours a week, didn't have the time to nurture a fully blown - committed, full-blown relationship. We agreed to have a monogamous, detached relationship. Eventually, it became a marriage. We've been married five years, and it gets better everyday.

So, just to suggest that there are not only disaster stories arising from this culture.

We're going to take some more questions from you for Laura Sessions Stepp about her book, "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both," after we come back from a short break. We'll also talk with Guillermo del Toro, the director of the Oscar nominated film, "Pan's Labyrinth."

So give us a call if you're interested in either subject: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And California prisons are so overcrowded they're in danger of being taken over by the federal court. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has decided to transfer prisoners to private facilities in other states.

In just a couple of minutes we'll be speaking with Guillermo del Toro, the director, writer, and producer of the film, "Pan's Labyrinth." But let's continue our conversation with Laura Sessions Stepp, author of "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both."

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Anna. Anna calling us from Michigan.

ANNA (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

ANNA: You know, I've been listening to your conversation and I read your article in The New York Times - Ms. Stepp's article in The New York Times. And I have to say, this doesn't sound any different from our mother's generation being told that they were more likely to be killed by a terrorist than get married after 40. I think this is just the newest incarnation of antifeminist backlash.

I don't see anything wrong with women my age prioritizing our education and our careers and our friendships over sexual relationships. And one thing I noticed in your article in The New York Times, Ms. Stepp, is that you said dating in relationships is how women and men learn how to be intimate with each other, how to compromise.

And I find that I've always found that in my friendships, in my roommates, in my nonsexual relations. So I have to say I think if what you're saying about hook up culture is true, it seems awesome. I'm really proud of my generation for getting our priorities straight.

And I have to hear the rest of your comment off the air, because I need to get back on the road, but thank you.

CONAN: Okay. Anna, thanks very much for the call.

Ms. STEPP: I think the - I mean, clearly there are young women who can do this and not feel hurt by it in any way. I do think that many more young women are doing it because it's the only option for them. I'm not suggesting that they -that young women forgo their careers, their education. I am a feminist. I think that girls are shortchanging themselves. They're shortchanging a part of themselves. And let me give you an example of that.

There was a young woman in the beginning of the book who was a freshman at Duke University, and the freshman live on east campus. And she fell in love with -or she was in love with, he wasn't with her - she thought she was in love with this guy on west campus. And he was a senior. And she would go over on the bus from east to west every night to, basically, what became clear to her was a hook up. And then she would go home early in the morning - one to two o'clock in the morning - on the bus by herself from west to east.

He had a car parked behind the building. He never picked her up. He never even took her back to her dorm at two o'clock in the morning. And she was content with this. Now, this is a young woman who is now working in L.A., is independent. She has her own job. But she looks back at that and says what the heck was I doing? You know, this guy didn't even show me the courtesy of escorting me back to my dorm. And she would not have called that antifeminist. She would have called that the guy valuing her, not devaluing her.

So I think we need, again, in this national conversation we need to have, we need to start saying what does it mean to be valued as a woman? And there's nothing wrong with that. We should demand, in fact, that we be valued.

CONAN: And I think Anna may have mistaken her publication. I know there was an article in the Washington Post. Was there one…

Ms. STEPP: It was my article in the Post. I have not written for the Times. The Post would go crazy.

CONAN: Okay. I figured they might.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And if they haven't, suggest that it was the article in the Washington Post. That's if somebody else wanted to look it up and see if they could find it.

Here's one last e-mail we have. This from Noreen(ph) in California.

I've found that many of my female friends have one very close girlfriend with whom they have the same type of intimacy that I have with my boyfriend. There are girls who do not pursue men for anything but sex, do not date, and cut off men who become interested. Is this common?

Ms. STEPP: I mean, it's common. Could I put a figure on it? I couldn't. But what she's - the phrase - oh, I actually don't think I can use the phrase that girls call about how close they are to each other.

CONAN: No, you can't.

Ms. STEPP: Okay, I won't. But they are very close to each other as girlfriends. And it's one big reason why they don't want to bring a guy into their lives is because they're very happy with their girlfriends. And there was a scene in "Sex and the City" toward the end where Carrie was - Mr. Big actually said to one of the women - I think it was Carrie - he said, you know, a guy would be lucky to be as involved with any of you as you are with each other. And that's clearly this generation.

The women have bonded together in a way that - it's a good thing. I mean, we -in my generation, the geezer generation, Neal, we did not have as many - I did not have as many close girl friends, because once you dated, you did just kind of go out with that one guy.

And these girls say look, I don't want that. And so that's fine. Develop those female friendships, but don't deny that other part of you that wants some love and intimacy.

CONAN: Laura Sessions Stepp, thanks so much for being with us today. We appreciate your time.

Ms. STEPP: I'm delighted to be here.

CONAN: Laura Sessions Stepp, author of "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both." She joined us today from our bureau in New York. When we come back, "Pan's Labyrinth."

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