Millie, a 24-year-old barista in New Orleans, has a three-foot illustrated diagram of her hookup history on the wall of her apartment. The diagram, which Millie drew with Magic Markers and the inspiration of our hazy lady of lourdes Mary Jane, outlines her sexual and romantic development from the ides of her procreative awakening (Johnny Depp in Chocolat), to her first crush (“Justin,” whose last name is neither confirmed nor denied as “Beiber”), to the loss of that elusive V-card, her one night stands, her serious relationships and everything in between.
Jack, a 29-year-old product manager in San Francisco tracks his dalliance data on "thelist.xlsx," an excel spreadsheet on Dropbox, encrypted so Mark Zuckerberg won’t catch on. Henry, in New York, details written accounts of his conquests in a journal labeled “The Hits...and The Misses,” while Antonia, in Oklahoma City, keeps a list of names on a scrap of paper in her wallet, because otherwise, if she’s being honest, she would forget.
To the casual onlooker, we are in the heyday of “hookup culture” and sexual freedom. Yet research from the Center for Disease Control shows that millennials are actually having less sex than the frisky frolickers of recent generations past. Experts speculate that the decline of actual sex in our generation responds to higher levels of career ambition (read: less time for socializing), fear around lack of privacy (read: Facebook), a general wariness of “catching feelings” and, you guessed it, smartphones and digital communication shortchanging patience and deeper in-person connections.
But even with what relatively little sex and unromantic affairs we are having (or not having)—and even as we we publicly commemorate our experiences on social media—some amongst us still have the instinct to keep a private, analog record of our hookups.
The fear of our personal information and overall online trust being compromised is real, and it seeps into our dating lives. Someone could screenshot and share your text thread or Snapchat. Someone could leak your nude photos. Someone could collect and sell your data without your consent—which would be a sophisticated form of breakup-related revenge, but still. When our privacy can be violated with the click of a button, it makes sense that we’re emotionally guarded. This journaling of one’s romantic and sexual history is hardly a novel trend, but it can hold a particular appeal in a digitally-entrenched hookup culture, where so many interpersonal encounters tend to lack any real meaning, and so much of what we see or post about relationships on Instagram or Facebook comes off as inauthentic.
“Keeping a journal of my sexual endeavors has helped me realize not only how variant and diverse my sexual needs are, but also how variant and diverse my partners are, and how that diversity serves me in different junctures of my life,” says Nika, a 26-year-old entrepreneur in New Orleans.
“It’s definitely not a trophy list,” says Jack, our Silicon Valley tech boy. “I use the data I record to observe trends and quantify the ROI on different apps and avenues for meeting people. But honestly, I think deep down I archive my sex and dating record to code my existence and keep a memory of people who were part of my life. I’m looking for something serious, and this is a way for me to identify what has and hasn’t worked in the past, and what might work in the future.”
“It’s a trophy list!” says Antonia. “It gives me an ego boost, and it makes me happy to remember all the fun I had.”
As with any type of personal or artistic creation, chronicling your hookups can be a helpful tool for introspection: a way to learn from experiences, and clarify behavioral patterns. The idiosyncratic tracking methods and platforms one chooses can be a form of self-expression, and revisiting the record can provide a heartwarming jaunt down memory lane, a painful stumble down the boulevard of broken dreams or simply a much-needed laugh. It may be worth your while to sit down and take stock of your past partners. It might feel encouraging; it might incentivize you to stop dating biker boys. Or it might just lead to a self-deprecating tweet. And that’s okay, too.
Call it self-love in the time of hookup culture. Call it the millennial man’s search for venereal meaning. The ability to connect with oneself privately (and I’m not just talking about putting on Chocolat and dimming the lights) lays the groundwork for connecting with others. And for a generation frustrated by the difficulty of establishing emotional connections, piecing together a narrative from a string of meaningless hookups might just help us poor, intimacy-deprived millennials reclaim some personal agency in a sometimes impersonal and disempowering dating landscape.
So open up that Excel spreadsheet and give it a shot. Just make sure to encrypt the file.