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College Students, Sex and What It Means to Hook Up

Sex and hooking up

If you are a college student or are hip to the latest slang, then you are probably familiar with the phrase “hook up,” a term that generally refers to engaging in sexual encounters between friends or acquaintances with no strings attached. ” A new study from researchers at the University of Portland (UP) suggests the popular perception of the “hook up” may not be what you think it is.

Whatever happened to dating?

Do you remember when young people used to ask each other out on a date, as in “Would you like to go to the movies with me on Friday?” If you do, you probably also realize that times have changed quite a bit since then. In particular, today’s college scene can include binge drinking parties, trips to local hookah bars, and the phenomenon known as hooking up, which researchers at the University of Portland decided to explore.

Martin Monto, a sociology professor at UP, and co-author Anna Carey, a recent UP graduate in sociology and psychology, compared data from the General Social Survey, which included more than 1,800 individuals ages 18 to 25 years who were questioned about their sexual activities. The responses from two time periods were examined and compared: from 1988 to 1996 (earlier students) and from 2002 to 2010, the latter of which was designated the “hook up” era.

Despite the popular perception that college students in the hook up era were (and are) having lots of uncommitted sexual encounters when compared with 17 to 25 years ago, the author discovered the following:

  • 65.2% of earlier students said they had sex weekly or more often during the past year compared to 59.3% of the contemporary hook up students
  • 31.9% of earlier students reported having more than one sexual partner during the past year compared with 31.6% of hook up era students
  • 51.7% of earlier students said they had more than two sex partners after they turned 18 compared with 50.5% of the hook up generation
  • College students in both eras reported similar attitudes about sexual activity among 14- to 16-year-olds, premarital sex, and cheating among married adults
  • Contemporary college students were more accepting of sexual relations between people of the same gender than were earlier students

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However, there were a few findings that indicated sexual norms have loosened in some areas. For example:

  • 44.4% of contemporary college students said one of their sexual partners during the past year had been with a pickup or casual date compared with 34.5% among earlier students
  • 68.6% of contemporary students reported having sex with a friend compared with 55.7% of earlier students
  • Contemporary students were less likely to have a regular sexual partner or a spouse (77.1%) than were their earlier peers (84.5%)

Overall, the authors concluded that the idea of the hook up generation being promiscuous or more likely to engage in no-strings attached sex when compared with college students about 25 years ago does not hold water. As Monto noted, “We were surprised to find this is not the case,” and that “sexual behavior among college students has remained fairly consistent over the past 25 years.”

Parents of college-aged children may worry about rising tuitions, drinking and drugs, that their kids are not eating right, and if there will be any jobs, all factors of growing concern. But when it comes to sex and the concept of hooking up, it appears things haven’t changed a lot in recent years, regardless of whether you approve of them or not.

A new standard of sexual behavior? Are claims associated with the ‘hookup culture’ supported by nationally representative data? Presented at the 108th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association

Image: Morguefile