“Most images that we see today of college students are in a sex-charged atmosphere,” says Kathleen Bogle in her 2008 book Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus. While Bogle states that the media report an exaggerated version of hookup culture, she agrees that “today there is something fundamentally different about how young men and women become sexually intimate.”
As old-school values of “going steady” have evolved into a new dating mentality, college students have gotten braver, more curious and a bit more vocal about their sexual adventures.
Hooking up is an ambiguous term; depending on whom you ask, it can mean anything from kissing to intercourse. However you define it, there is no question that it plays a big part in today’s collegiate culture and lifestyle.
It is a combination of convenience and desire for sexual pleasure that sways college students to experiment with hookup culture, which is defined as two people engaging in sexual acts without the commitment of a romantic relationship.
“There aren’t strings attached,” says C., a male student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. “You don’t have to get to know the person if you don’t want to.”
Hooking up, once considered primarily led by men, is now becoming a woman’s playing field as well. Today’s ambitious woman is more likely to be in college to prepare for her future career, not to find her future husband. Despite the sexual double standard that still exists, women are going into hookups with the same mentality previously associated with college males.
“From my experience, it was empowering,” says A.F., a 21-year-old female student in Massachusetts. “I felt in control of my body and I was able to walk away from the guy and not speak with him for a few weeks and do my own thing.”
The narrative around hookup culture has changed over the years. In 2013 there was a surge in newspaper and magazine articles about hookup culture, as the media regularly portrayed college campuses as hot spots for promiscuity. Yet, this is hardly a new trend. A 2013 sexual behavior study by Martin Monto, a University of Portland sociologist, showed that there is no evidence to prove that young adults today are having more sex than students did in the ’80s and ’90s. On the contrary, the numbers have hardly changed.
Are the media oversexualizing today’s youth? Possibly. With the ubiquity and convenience of the Internet and social media, it is much easier to find out what everyone did last night.
College students opt out of seeking monogamous relationships for many reasons. Most do not wish to commit to a relationship when they are trying to enjoy college or work toward their degree, citing that relationships are a responsibility they don’t want to have to worry about.
“Perhaps my generation is unconventional with our approach to dating purely because we’re developing past the means our parents or grandparents had,” says Denver, a student in Utah.
Today’s young people see hooking up as an alternative. It provides another means of getting to know someone. Call it a trial run, if you will.
“I’m up for dating people after [hooking up],” says C. “I always give out my number if they want to try something. Whether they follow through is up to them.”
Jean Lee, a 19-year-old junior from Canada, and C. are both gay males who have had their fair share of hookups. “It’s different for young gay men,” says Lee. “Unless you have someone in your circle that’s also gay and interested that you could get to know before getting involved, gay teens always turn to hookup apps like Grindr.”
One could easily argue the negative aspects of casual sex. Unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and lowered self-esteem are all important matters to consider before engaging in sexual activities. While alcohol consumption and hooking up often go hand in hand, the majority of college students are not blind to the risks of participating in the hookup lifestyle.
“It’s not for everyone,” says Denver. “The only time I think it is acceptable is when someone can come away from the experience feeling better both physically and mentally.”
“If I feel a situation is super sketchy, I won’t do it at all,” says C. “However, if I feel like it could be OK, I still take the precaution of telling more than one friend what is going on – giving them a name, phone number, address and even a picture just so if things happen, they can call the cops the next day if I don’t call them by noon.”
“I don’t think hookup culture is degrading,” says Hanne, a university student in Norway. “People should be able to do what they want.”