Hookup Culture

College students are having sex, but not as much as you might think. And most of them are kind of disappointed about the whole thing.

Sociologist Lisa Wade told MTV that’s what she learned after interviewing first-year college students. You can see the three-minute video at Sociological Images.

Rumor has it that at four-year universities one and all are hooking up with random strangers to have no-strings-attached, emotion-free sex. Everyone thinks everyone else is having great sex, and lots of it. But not them. Turns out, they’re not alone. They’re typical.

Throughout the entire four years of college, most average only 4 to 7 different hookups. That’s just more than one a year!

And nearly one third of the women have opted out entirely, figuring if the only sex they can get is with acquaintances or strangers, why bother?

Others tolerate the hookup hoping to find love, or at least relationship. But things don’t usually work out as hoped.

And most are dissatisfied by quality, too.

Almost everyone is drunk, which doesn’t help. Women complain that men are not skilled. And an awful lot of these encounters involve women giving men oral sex, but getting nothing in return.

Only about 11% say they enjoy hooking up.

Students wanted at least one of three things:

  • pleasure
  • meaningfulness
  • empowerment

But few were getting any of these.

Yet everyone assumes they know what everyone else wants so no one ever asks.

Wade found that 70% of women and 73% of men wanted a committed relationship, but thought that everyone else felt differently. And they don’t want to talk about it because they fear they’ll come across as repressed, dysfunctional, or needy.

So no one says anything and hookup culture ends up the only game in town.

Wade says casual sex can be a good thing for students who want to focus on school since relationships — and breakups — take up a lot of time and energy.

But with widespread dissatisfaction, she feels that hooking up shouldn’t be the only option.

Students think no-strings sex is sexual liberation. But if you believe you have no other choice, is it?

Maybe it’s time for students to talk to one another.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on October 10, 2011, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, relationships, sex, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.

  1. Gds1 Gretchen Sturkey

    I can understand why people would want to hook up with strangers instead of start a relationship when in school. Relationships can bs stressful and a lot of work just like college. One may have to divide time betweenthe two which could bs thought of as impossible. When people commit to relationships there are aloof emotions and time that must factor into the equation. When people are serious about school and wanting to start a career, time and patience as well as stress are involved. To maintain healthy relationships and study habits both need 100% of a persons mentality. Sex for some is the easiest circumstance forget about. Once it’s over, it’s over is simply what these students might believe. I can feel their point of view and honestly might indulge in the same activity. Sex with strangers allows one to release sexual energy and emotions for a short time and get back to their priorities in life. More power to the ones who can control their feelings enough to have fun, and return back to work!

  2. I watched the video and I as a college student I agree with the findings. From my experience it does seem like college students are attempting to have casual sex but it is not working as well as some students would want it to. Casual sex is a tricky thing, it takes two people who desire a sexual relationship while not a emotional one, I think finding people like this is near impossible. Sex is powerful and it creates a bond between two people that is in a way exclusive to those two people, this is where problems arise. When two people have sex they bond together and affection can result from this whether or not it was intended to. If this does happen you can have people living in a lie when they have to deny any true feelings for someone for fear they will be rejected as an emotional connection is not what two people looking to have casual sex want….right?? I think casual sex is a lie and it only serves to hurt us when we are forced to hide emotions behind the idea that this is only “casual” sex.

    • I agree with everything you said. Especially the last sentence. Hiding my emotions is something Ive become too good at doing. It’s sad. But its good to know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

  3. I agree with Ted when he says that casual sex is tricky, because it usually ends up that someone will become attached, and someone will end up being hurt in the end. However, if two people can find themselves to abide by the no strings attached method, then more power to them. College school work itself takes up a lot of time and causes stress in everyday life, so if you can avoid adding the committment of a relationship on top of that stress, then hooking up doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. I don’t think there is anything wrong with hooking up as long as its safe/clean and as long as the people who are hooking up are both single. Unfortunately, it is usually inevitable that someone gets hurt in the end, and often times people automatically assume it will be the female, but that definitely isn’t true for all cases. As much as women think men are players, girls can play the game twice as hard, and that can really bring a guy down. In the end, having a hook up is a challege to succeed with mutual non-emotional feelings, but if it’s done right with the right intentions then it could be a win win for everybody!

  4. Corinna Peixoto

    I think that the concept of hooking up with out attachments is a good idea in theory, but in reality i dont think it can work. when one engages in a sexual relationship with another person they undeniably create some sort of bond. As much as anyone tries to avoid an emotional attachment, it always arises. I believe that somewhere hardwired into, us we associate sex with love and feelings and emotions. This idea of focusing on school and just using sex as a means of sexual release and then moving on, would be great if we could separate sex from our feelings, but this is not our reality. if you think about it, to even have a hook up you must know, and like that person to some extent, so therefore there creates a feeling and then sex just enhances that emotion. For myself I cant have casual sex AND get satisfactory pleasure from it with just a physical attraction in place, i need more depth from that person so i can feel the sexual connection.

  5. Ted just dominated the logistic of this whole topic. I don’t know what else to say. Hahah.
    But I’ve had my brother&friend told me some pretty legitimate stories on hooking up.
    My brother always found it wise to get around just to see what you truly want in a relationship.
    My friend lived in Stockton & told me that a lot of her ‘home-girls’ had booty calls back in High School.
    What did I get out of this? It’s an easy way to express your love, limit your point of stress and broaden the type of people that you want to be associated with. It’s experience and by experience, it leads up to your knowledge of containing something better in the future.
    So I guess the main question that goes through most college gets that get around is, “Why not?” “What do you have to lose?”

  6. I believe that we have choices when we decide whether we want to engage in sexual activities or a committed relationship. We all make choices on a daily basis, and to have sex with someone is quite similar to having a half-hearted relationship to me. Someone once told me that two key parts of a relationship are communication and sex. If you have sex with another person, you have a physical relationship with them, and communication makes up the emotional part of the relationship. By the end of the day, you choose how to act on your desires, whether it is a committed relationship that you want or a no-strings-attached relationship; you made a choice and if you are miserable with it, then just leave the relationship and start anew by being honest with yourself and go after what you genuinely want. Deciding on casual sex or not, I feel that being able to have choices is quite liberating.

    • Ok, but these college women feel they have no choice but hookup sex, because they think that’s the only thing that’s done on campus And they’re right, that pretty much is. What don’t realize is that most people want other sorts of relationships.

  7. College students and sex mix beautifully.. More alcohol, more sex, less stress .. College students are taking relationships they share with one another for granted.. Know the person your sleeping next to ..know What your getting yourself into , might get burned in more ways then one .. No strings NO rules ..e z

  8. I can understand why college students have hook ups. College itself is stressful and having a relationship while trying to stay focus on school can be hard and more stressful. Just hooking up can maybe relieve the stress by not thinking about and just have fun.46 But like the statistics say many would like a committed relationship, but feel the other doesn’t. They just don’t say anything and keep going with life. I think if they do feel something about the other they should try to work something out without making their lives more stressful. Relationship can work out while going to school if you make it work.

  9. I See why students like the thought of the no-strings attached type of thing because it seems easy and fun. But girls shouldn’t go into that type of thing hoping for meaningful feelings afterwards. most of the time the men have sex just to have sex for no feelings, so for the women to sort of expect anything more out of is in a way stupid. you shouldnt feel like you have sex to keep a man around or even have him interested in you. Hooking up is actually really overrated. sex is suppose to be a healthy thing so everyone fussing about wanting random hook ups is dumb.

    • I too can understand why the thought of a no-strings-attached type of hook up might be a good temporary fit for you typical busy and often stressed out college student. They have enought things on their plate, and a causual hook up might be a way for them to just relax and have a bit of fun. I personally dont think they are healthy, and this could quite possibly be due to the fact that I am a woman and sex for me is not and never has been just meaningless sex. Like the article above mentions, most of these students are looking for a commited relationship, so even if you are a girl and can manage to trick yourself into believig that its “just sex” or “no strings attacted” your fooling yourself. If its a one time thing, you may be able to pull it off but if it becomes part of your routine, your body is going to naturally react and start to develop feelings towards that person. So should you try to turn that relationship into something more and the feelings not be mutual, you will probably develop anger and or hurt and in a worse position the you were prior to this casual hook up. I think alot of students are also on the opposite side of the fence here too,they dont want to waste their time on casual hook up and find satisfaction in other areas of their lives. Also I personally would rather not bother not only because my time is valuable but also I dont feel its safe these days to engage in casual sex, there are so many std’s/sti’s going around its scary when you really think about it.

  10. I understand the hookup thing, its perfectly natural for two people who are not in committed relationships to want to still have sex. and having one stands is in some way exciting because its spontaneous and theres no emotions attached. but i still feel like to even have any sexual encounter in some ways there is still emotion. its pretty hard to escape the fact that at least one person will catch feelings and get too attached. most people think it’ll automatically be the girl but thats not always true. hooking up is a healthy idea but as for emotions its not too smart if you know you get attached easily.

  11. I think that if you are simply hooking up with “randoms” for a one night stand then you dont have the issue of someone getting hurt, because its just that, a one night stand. If you continue hooking up with the same person for casual sex thats when it gets tricky, that is when the likelyhood of someone gaining feelings happens. I do think you are right that students need to talk to each other because life is essentially about meeting people and developing relationships whether it be a friendship, boyfriend/girlfriend, or sexual relationships and eventually finding the person your going to be with. In the meantime, I guess hooking up all thats left.

  12. It’s funny that you picked this subject to talk about because this is something that I talk to my friends about quite a bit. Being in college and in my early twenties I feel pressure for society and media that these are the years that I’m supposed to be having casual sex. With the few times that I have done this I have been left feeling dissatisfied and wondering if this “casual sex” thing is easy for everyone else. I definitely identify with everything in this article. I was worried that admitting that I prefer a committed relationship would come off as needy or dysfunctional but it’s comforting that I’m not the only one feeling this way. I don’t understand how sex can be fulfilling when it’s meaningless and with someone I don’t know. In my personal experience, it has not left me feeling empowered which is what I was expecting going into it in the first place.

  13. It is sad that so many people are too afraid to let their voice be heard and say what they actually want or are looking for in their lives. Our society looks at things as black and white with nothing in between. These students are all making a choice and that choice seems to be to let their fear of being labeled needy or repressed out weigh their lack of being fulfilled with hookups. If they are so unhappy about it why don’t they do something different? I understand that they feel there is no other option out there, but keeping quiet about their unhappiness is not going to change anything. I think they need to reevaluate what’s important in their lives. Has no one thought of the fact that if they actually voiced what they are looking they are looking for in terms of a relationship they may actually find it?

  14. Although I am not in a 4-year college, this topic is very interesting to me. I can imagine that the amount of one-night stands occurs a lot more in a 4-year than a 2-year college because, from my experience, 4-years seem to have a lot more going on around campus, such as fraternities/sororities, parties, students hanging out on campus more, dorms, etc. Honestly, my only knowledge of these types of hookups would be from what I have seen in movies. However, I don’t like the thought of hooking up with someone just for the sex. I have always been against it. I understand that it may be different for many college students who aren’t in a relationship and everyone has sexual needs. I think it would make me feel really bad about myself if I continuously had one-night stands because I am a very emotional person and I can’t be with someone if there is no connection between the two of us. Everyone is different and everyone has different ways of living their lives.

  15. This is interesting to me because I can’t count how many times I hear “I’m in college I don’t want to be tied down to just one person. I want to explore my options and just do me.” Yet what that really means is I want someone to be mine and only mine. This sort of just proves that communication really is key in any situation. Even in these hook ups because one of the partners could want a relationship and the other may not want one. That can cause a lot of confusion and some emotions and feelings hurt in the process all because people fail to express themselves in a simple way when yet they are expressing some feeling by having sex which I believe is an act you can’t just do with anything that has a pulse. Some emotion of attraction or something might be between both parties to of had sex. But I do understand where some people come from when they are trying to focus on their studies and still be able to balance school, work maybe, family, and friends, and then to add a relationship to all of it can be difficult. A relationship can be time consuming, stressful at times, and distracting. By just hooking up with people to release sexual tension can be understandable only because why go through the motion of a relationship if you really don’t want to be in it or don’t feel like you’re giving it your all?

  16. Jaylene Caampued

    I can understand this article because one, I am a college student and two, I have a lot of guy friends and all they talk about is what girl they have hooked up with, who they want to hook up, what they did with that person and all that stuff. They can have a girl friend and still be hooking up with other girls and I think the reason is because people are only going to school for not only education but also to socialize and meet people, hook up a d get noticed. A lot does have to do with all these college parties, getting drunk or high and start to flirt then one thing leads another. I enjoyed reading this because as a college student I can see everything going on now that’s in the article .

  17. This was funny because recently I have wondered about how much students actually have casual hook ups in different colleges. I would have to guess that more casual sex happens in 4 year colleges than it does the 2 year colleges and that would be from dorming with each other and going to all the fraternity and sorority parties together. But in a 2 year college, how often does that happen? You don’t really have a roommate to get to know and explore the college atmosphere with, so how does that really work for students who don’t have much of a given opening to make these friends? Though I do believe in a way it could be liberating for a student to have casual sex if it were just to release sexual frustration. But I don’t believe in the whole friends-with-benefits ordeal, I think that that would eventually lead to something either greater or hurtful to either one or both of the participants in the hookup.

  18. I am really surprised after reading this article on Hookup Culture that students all think everyone is having casual sex but they really don’t seem to be. This study found that 70% percent of women and 73% of men wanted a committed relationship. I think it’s a matter of media hype that makes everyone believe that this is going on. The video clip “Hook Up Culture” on MTV states that “students would love to be friends with benefits but they have a hard time being able to be genuine friends with the people they are having casual sex with. They are basically assuming what everyone wants, but not really talking to each other to find out”. I think it’s because sex is very intimate and it’s hard to just be casual about it. Something seems to be really missing in the communication if everyone believes this is the standard.

  19. I 100% agree with Ted Esparza. As a college student I have also felt the pressure to have sex and until I had started college I had no desire to experience it. The hard part has always been finding the right person who is willing to take the time to get to know my body and vice versa. I think a large reason that students are not finding pleasure, meaningfulness, and empowerment is because it cannot be found in “casual sex.” What determines sexual please for one person may not be the same for others so how can one expect a casual hookup to know how to please them without taking the time to bond with them and get to know their desires. The meaning of meaningful is “having meaning or purpose” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). The word casual means “feeling or showing little concern” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). So i ask the question how does one look for meaning when engaging in an act that requires little concern from all parties involved. I also agree with Ted when he says that there is a bond formed when two people have sex. There is a need for acceptance and I think many people would attempt to impress one another during sex which requires effort; again, defeating the purpose of casual. It is hard not to repeat what others have said but I do not think it is possible to engage in sex without involving emotions.

  20. No-strings sex is definitely not a sexual liberation if one feels that he or she has no other choice. If one feels this way, there is a problem. Personally, I am against no-strings sex because I feel that most people, men or women, think that they want this but don’t. I have many friends who are single and claim that no-strings sex is the best thing because they don’t have to deal with the daily issues of being in a relationship. But, after they have one night stands, or “hook-ups”, they aren’t so thrilled. I truly think that most people use no-strings sex as an excuse for not wanting to be in a relationship when they are actually only afraid to commit.

  21. I completely understand how people would want some no-strings attached fun. Especially in college, school is stressful, and not many people want the stress of a relationship on top of that. But, I have found that sex doesnt come without emotions. I have seen it so many times, sex is a binding thing with emotions that don’t just go away. I think it is physically impossible for a woman to have sex and not have emotions from it. Either right away, or even later down the line. Also, I think it is extremely hard to create a relationship after a one night stand. Many girls go into the one night stand thinking that by having sex, it will start a relationship. But what they don’t understand is that once the girl hooks up with the guy, it crosses the line from relationship potential, to hookup buddy. After a girl has sex with a guy, he only thinks of her from now on as a booty call.

  22. The first thing I think of is the two movies that came out this year that were both about casual sex. I only saw one of them and it ended with the casual sex partners growing feelings with each other and falling in love. I don’t know how the other one ends but I assume the same way. I could be wrong. It shows that casual sex is accepted but it also makes a point that it is impossible to do without eventually feeling a connection. I know that men don’t ever want to be the ones who say they want to be in a committed relationship because they have a stereotype to live up to: Men want sex and that’s it. Media has made men weak for wanting a relationship and turning down meaningless sex. And women who want casual sex and no relationship are seen as sluts. It’s a lose lose situation and a vicious cycle that ends with a bunch of single people.

  23. Personally, I do think such hook up culture is tremendously influenced by mass media, especially in the forms of movies and TV series. For instance, we (audience in young age, particularly) see the characters on the screen hook up easily. And these hook-up events are usually designed into romantic scenarios which sometimes come with sexual attractiveness. The males and females who hook up are always appealing to audience with their appearance: masculine, smart, sometimes talented guys, and sexy, seductive, pretty hot girls. This might create an illusion that “being involved in a hook up event means the guy/girl attracted by myself is as good as whom the movie and TV series depict” or “I am the type of person that appeal to all those guys/girls just like the ones on the screen are.” Hooking up with others, in this case, is a proof of charm. And relationships, as what the TV series depict, are interfered by hook up events a lot, which has been presented as the result of bothering relationship. I am surprised a little bit by what the sociologist found out. However, it is reasonable and actually not that hard to understand: hooking up with different others all the time is exhausting even for ourselves, and so for others.

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