Relationships threatened as hookup culture takes root in Nairobi

Relationships threatened as hookup culture takes root in Nairobi

The hookup scene in Nairobi is perhaps best captured in the smash hit by Bensoul and Sautisol.

The melodious song aptly called “Nairobi” has a catchy chorus: “Nairobi, yule anakupea pia ananipea, akikuletea ananiletea, wanakula fare sote tunashare, ogopa sana, Nairobi.”

This loosely translates to a warning that in Nairobi, partners are not faithful, they freely sleep with other people.

It was a favourite of many, perhaps less because of the art that orchestrated the musical performance, but more because it resonated with most and openly discussed a cultural phenomenon that has now become woven in Nairobi’s societal fabric.

But what is hookup culture? Experts define it as brief, uncommitted sexual encounters between two people who are neither involved romantically nor dating each other.

It is like a one-night stand, only in this case two people can agree to engage sexually more than once, with the golden rule withstanding: no strings attached, to mean, no emotions involved.

It is a phenomenon that has become popular over time among the youth in Nairobi.

Certain higher learning institutions have even been stereotyped as sex hubs, consequently making it basic protocol in many homes today to give children the sex talk and lay bare all the warnings, before sending them off to college.

For Mary (not her real name), her first hookup experience remains etched in her mind as it became apparent towards the tail end of her romantic relationship.

“My boyfriend and I had been dating for a while and everything was going well until he started getting busy,” the 22-year-old told the Nation.

“Suddenly he would call to cancel our appointments or ask me not to go to his place at specific times. At first, I just thought he needed space since he had a lot on his plate, until one day I decided to pay him a surprise visit and found him ‘hooking up’ with one of my friends.”

Mary found out later that her boyfriend had been sexually active with many of her other friends who were aware of her relationship with him.

“It was a shock to me. I felt ashamed because the same people who were cheering me on were the same people hooking up with my boyfriend behind my back,” she says.

“What surprised me more was how defensive he was when I confronted him as if it was normal for him to be in a relationship and hook up on the side. I immediately cut ties.”

The Mind Over Matter

With media that glorifies explicit content and a society where ‘sex sells’, it is easy to think that today’s younger generation is more sexually active than their predecessors. But according to Nuru Amin, a psychologist based in Nairobi, that is far from the truth.

“The push for sexual liberation started in the 1960s when birth control and feminism cropped up in society, and so studies have gone on to show that today’s sexual behaviours among young people are no different from those of their parents back in the 1900s,” says Nuru, who founded The Mind Over Matter.

“The difference is that today’s generation is more explicitly outspoken in this regard than their parents ever were.”

But she adds that it is the media and peer pressure that are drawing more young people in Nairobi into the hookup culture with a deluded belief that it is normal “since ‘everyone’ is doing it”.

Inasmuch as most people just want to be in real relationships with genuine love, loyalty and trust, Nuru opines that the idea among young people to feel liberated can greatly fuel the urge to hook up even while in a committed relationship.

“You have to understand that hookup culture emanates from a stereotypical idea of masculinity, where women wanted to have a say in their sexual behaviours just as men did,” she says.

“Most young people engaging in hookups admit to being happier in the short term, but it becomes detrimental in the long run when you are so out of tune with your emotions that you can’t express them.”

Serious relationships

Paul (not his real name) admits to having encountered this unexpected wall while embracing the hookup culture.

“I met the girl at a friend’s party and we agreed to be sexually active with one another for as long as there were no strings attached,” the engineering graduate told the Nation.

“And so for two months we remained loyal to our agreement until I started feeling compelled to care for her more than usual: I was falling in love.”

As he explains, he had a dilemma: to play along and hide his feelings for the sake of sustaining their hookup relationship or open up about his feelings and risk terminating the hookup escapades. He chose the latter.

“I found it hard to have meaningless sex with someone I was falling in love with. So I opened up to her and that was the beginning of the end. I broke the golden rule,” he says.

“Hookup culture demands carelessness, rewards carelessness and punishes kindness,” writes Lisa Wade in the book American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus.

Nuru explains that it is for this reason that Nairobians embracing the hookup culture consequently find themselves in a Mobius strip of non-committal relationships that deprive them of the discipline and the ‘know-how’ to commit once in serious relationships.

“It is sad that most young people are comfortable getting naked in front of each other before even learning how to hold hands. Hookup culture has created a world where expressing your emotions is considered weak,” she says

“Instead, people who are sleeping together should act like they seemingly don’t care about each other, as much as possible, lest they show weakness.”

She adds: “It normalises superficial relationships, a recipe for exploitation, both mentally and physically.”

Studies in different parts of the world have shown the risks of hookup culture. Some have found links between hookup culture and rape culture.

With the curfew lifted and Nairobi’s party skies back to life – and a fast-approaching festive season - it is safe to say that the hookup culture is here to stay.