The Myth of Hookup Culture

Hookup culture is a myth?

Hookup culture is a myth?

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 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! (With the average affected by those who actually are into it.)

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%of the student population 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.

This is a rerun for the holiday.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social 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. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on November 23, 2015, in men, relationships, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 45 Comments.

  1. Sounds like a lot of Emperor’s New Clothes…

  2. I found this article very interesting because of the statistics that are presented. At my school, it is very rare that students date, and if they do get into a relationship, it is either a very dysfunctional abusive one or perfect with no problems. However, I also have seen that a lot of people do not hook up other than making out; the excuse I hear is that the school is too small and everyone will find out and judge you. This I can understand from my small school, but from larger schools where no one knows anyone, I was very shocked. When they talk about most people want a relationship, I did not find this too shocking. Most of my friends will not hook up with guys because they don’t want to be too easy and they want to make them work for it; I believe this is a way to get the guy to know you and want to date. Overall, I completely agree with this article, at least for my school, and was very interested by the statistics because that really proves to me that the hookup culture in college is not all that it is hyped up to be.

  3. I appreciate your post and I find it very interesting. I am a mother of a senior, applying for college right now, which makes this interesting on several levels. First of all, I think people are people and the human condition is to find people we want to be around and love them. It does not surprise me at all that many young adults are not “buying into” what other people are doing and rather making choices for themselves. Young adults exist on a continuum, learning from the generations before them, the positive and the negative. I think that young people today are smarter, more aware of humanity and how society operates than the generations before them. Many have been taught to question cultural constructs and today’s society provides a place for everyone. I am not surprised at all, it is a good thing that people are authentically themselves. In fact, I have three teenagers, none of which are focused on a “relationship” yet who seek of friendships, and look forward to a time in the future when they wish to contribute differently. I have friends, especially in other areas of the U.S. whose children are promised for marriage in high school. Everyone follows their individual path.

    • And is interesting, and unfortunate, that so often young people today feel pressured to behave in ways that aren’t authentic to their experience. luckily, many of them aren’t going with that flow.

  4. I definitely get the idea that the ability to hook up = the idea of liberating, as I once bought into that notion as well. But liberation to me these days is more about ownership of my own sexuality and that freedom having nothing to do with anyone else really but my own sovereignty. It’s taken a lot of work to get to that point.

    • It’s ironic how we can think of liberation as being something that is quite the opposite, like feeling pressured into doing something that we don’t actually want to do.

  5. It seems like every generation or so, there are such reports and society is ‘shocked’ by such reports and how times have changed…only years later to understand that times really haven’t changed much at all. In this case, I think that is a good thing. In the sense of equality/objectification/etc…not a good thing.

  6. This article was very interesting to read as well as very relatable. I am a college student at the moment and I can see this article being really accurate. Not many people date in my grade or in college at all. I was always confused as to why, especially when the ultimate goal for most people is to have a marriage and a family when they are older. There are many reasons as to why hooking up is a common and true culture. Like mentioned above, people don’t want to be tied down and have to invest in a relationship when they have to focus on school. However, what I have observed is that this generation is all about instant gratification. We are used to always getting what we want and many people from older generations say that we have it easy because of this. Something simple like finding the answer to any question we have is easily accessible through things like google. It literally only takes less than a minute (depending on your service at the moment, of course). But because we are so used to this I think that it is how people are when it comes to fulfilling sexual needs. I know many people that can’t control themselves (hence hooking up) because they are so used to getting what they want. And the reason I can say these things about them is because they ultimately want relationships and are looking for that but complain that hooking up isn’t as satisfying. It’s because they don’t understand that relationships don’t work like that but they really can’t help themselves. I mentioned all this because I think that this is another reason as to why people are hooking up in college.

  7. This doesn’t surprise me. It’s the same as people being in FWB situations in which (allegedly) the women catch feelings and the men don’t. Hogwash. Most people from my experience and observation cannot engage in meaningless sex for long and actually enjoy it, and yes, that goes for the guys too! 🙂

  8. Twice now on your blogs my comments are not showing up. What’s the deal??

    • I edit them for trolls. But my blog isn’t the only thing I do. I also teach and go on vacation, like Thanksgiving. So I don’t approve comments the minute they come in. Sorry about that.

      • Well then that means apparently some of my comments were rejected even though I don’t use any crude language or profanity. And I am no troll whatsoever. A couple of them were quite long too as I sometimes put a lot of thought into my responses. As a web developer I suggest you add a pop up box that informs users that comments are moderated. When I hit reply I have no idea what happens to them. I’m not sure why some of my comments were never posted but it definitely makes me not want to write out anymore responses if theyre going to be discarded.

      • Your comments were all posted unless they don’t fit my comment policy. They just weren’t posted immediately because I needed to check them out first. You should be able to find all of them. I’ll ask WordPress about the box.

  9. Being in college takes a lot of time and energy because most of college students have to handle both work and study. They do not have time for romantic relationships. A serious relationship asks for commitment and a lot of effort. Therefore, some students start to think of hookup, which gives them sexual satisfaction for free and asks for no efforts in return. In my opinion, this is a not a bad idea because hookup is usually for people who really want to have sex so that it does not mean one partner forces the other. Hookup is voluntary and two people get benefits from each other. However, the only drawback I could think of is that college students might believe that sexual intercourse is easy and they take it for granted. They forget the true meaning of having sex of two people who actually love each other. With that said, they would live such a meaningless life and lack of emotional attachments. People think of themselves more than putting efforts on caring and loving the others. We cannot actually claim that students who do hookup are bad people because it is not really their fault but the responsibility and pressure in life that somehow makes them choose to do that.

  10. So many people go to college thinking they need to get partying “out of their system” – they think they need to hook up with tons of people, get belligerently drunk regularly, and just overall have some fun or crazy experiences. It’s generally accepted that this is normal behavior in college, and it’s almost frowned upon by other peers if you don’t participate. I believe that this is a social norm that creates a facade of freedom. College students think they are at the pinnacle of their fun years and have the ability to do whatever they desire. It has a feeling of freedom, but is it actually liberating if its forced through social expectations? I believe that everyone has different needs in life, and not everyone necessarily feels the need to go hook up with tons of people. I think that we live in a culture that encourages casual hookups because it allows people to focus on more important things like school or a career without becoming consumed in a romantic relationship.

  11. It’s interesting to me that the ability to have “meaningless sex” as a form of liberation. For some, maybe it is, but why is this seen as some type of feat when well over half of men and women want committed relationships with real meaning to them? It seems as though it’s not so much the desired route to have casual sex, but possibly the easier one. I agree that hookup culture is a myth and that it’s something people think college students do because they are now free to do whatever they want. It’s clear in reading this that hookups are anything but fulfilling, though I can see the appeal for a busy college student, because relationships do take a lot of time and energy. It makes me think, why not refrain from sex altogether if you’re getting nothing from it? However, I think that it is largely a matter of personal choice and there is no “wrong” way to go about having (or not having) a sex life.

  12. nicolette qubain

    I really enjoyed reading this post because I found most of the statistics to be very honest. I do think that in college a lot of people engage in some sort of casual sex at least one point because it seems “normal” since “everyone is doing it.” What I absolutely do not understand is, WHY!? I do not understand why guys think it is so awesome to have a bunch of one night stands with girls that they do not care about, and why girls give themselves to someone that doesn’t appreciate their worth. In the end, nothing positive can come out of a one night stand. First of all, I do not find it attractive if a guy has been with a large number of girls, and no, it does not impress me because ¼ people have an STD…so if anything it just concerns me. I feel that if people can’t talk about what they want with the person that they are hooking up with, then they shouldn’t be hooking up.

  13. Armen Garabedian

    I can totally relate to this because of my own personal experience. When I went to go visit one of my friends at UCSB for winter break, I thought that all i would be seeing is women exposing themselves and men getting laid everywhere i turn, only to find out I was completely wrong. Sure these women do dress as if they want a casual hookup, but a majority of the women were actually looking for a dedicated relationship. I think this is one of the main reasons why boys are so exited to go to a 4 year college, because they think their gonna hookup with so many girls. Little do they know that a very little percentage of college students enjoy a casual hookup rather than a committed relationship

    • Thanks for sharing your experience.

      A lot of the reason the women are dressed two look like they want To casual hook up — at least on some campuses — is because the frats hold the parties and determine who gets in. If women dressed in skimpy clothing they’re more likely to be allowed entry.

  14. I always been interested to see in real life those crazy college party, like to prove if it’s “true”. Maybe I’m hanging out with the wrong people. But I can say that my cousin, who is studying at DU, he tells me that parties aren’t that crazy, just a bit, no the hole picture. And he also feels a bit disappointed. Parties for them are, staying at an apartment, drink and watch sports games. I feel that there are people who does those parties, but not everyone likes the atmosphere. The people I have heard who joins those parties are the ones who do hard drugs or really want to get wasted, because they have a lot of issues going on. That’s what I see from it.

    • But the sex isn’t always happening at the parties (It often is). Sometimes it’s at bars. Or just hooking up with a study buddy.

      But mostly, it’s not happening in the way most people think it does.

  15. In addition to lack of pleasure, commitment, meaningfulness, skill, it may be possible that the college students have become more educated on STD’s, pregnancy, etc. Therefore, have taken more precaution and have avoided sex all together.

  16. This all makes a lot of sense to me since the hookup culture reflects expectations versus reality. Many probably seek the comfort of relationships and want to fit the expectations of college life, so they hide what they really want to fit the ideal they believe are expected of them. This clearly doesn’t work for most because they communicate something different from what they actually want, which inevitably leads to dissatisfaction.
    The main problem of the hookup culture is the lack of communication, which is the most significant part to any sort of hook up or relationship. There is fear taught through society in expressing a desire for a relationship or any emotions, which is natural for most to want, and communicating this desire would be much healthier and would redefine these expectations in college. It is okay to communicate that you want to hook up with someone and then want to see if this should lead to pursuing a relationship, and if that feeling is not mutual it’s better to express in the start. The dissatisfaction regarding pleasure probably reflects a lack of communication in what each participate wants out of the hookup or settling for someone that one is sexually incompatible with due to another lack of communication.
    The 11% of the population that enjoys only hooking up probably fit the lifestyle mention where some students can focus on their school since relationships cost too much time and energy to maintain. They also probably demonstrate better communication skills that is required to continue the strictly-casual sex they know they want because they already have limited time outside of schoolwork. This means they probably don’t want to waste time with others who do not reciprocate their approach or have sex with people who do not communicate what they seek sexually.
    Overall, it seems to me that communication is the missing factor to satisfaction in the hook up culture. Increasing open communication would undoubtably lead to a healthier environment where people can seek the same things they mutually desire and redefine their relationship to what works best for them, which doesn’t have to be a relationship. Open communication also gives room to defining new relationships that suit what each participant desires and do not always require labels, this would increase the general happiness of everyone on college campuses or social hubs.

    • You’re absolutely right. And the thing is that communication is pretty much off limits in hookups. Plus there are other reasons why people prefer relationship sex, too.

  17. Completely agree with this article. What I have realized as a college student myself, is that the media and society together create this illusion of what college is supposed to be like. The illusion is entirely not true and leaves some students feelings like they’re “missing out” when they’re not doing what the people in the movies are doing, when in actuality, no one in college is doing those things! Everyone thinks that college is about hooking up with different people every night and being okay with being “friends with benefits” when in actuality, through my experience, people are not hooking up with different people every night, most are either single or in serious relationships. And there is absolutely no way to keep a friends with benefits relationship without one person getting emotions involved in it. These are just myths that probably people who didn’t even go to college have made up.

  18. I think this kind of misunderstanding results from American movies, especially those that depict campus lives, in which students hook up all the time and find true love through it. In many TV series and Hollywood movies, like Gossip Girls, characters get laid in parties and then they have a chance to get to know about each other. Then somehow, they fall in love, crazily.
    Personally, I have had a hard time accepting this way of finding love as I have always been taught to distance myself from sex before a time, which they never tell me. I don’t think it works. Maybe it does but we shouldn’t exaggerate the truths.

  19. Interesting topic. I would like to contribute to this post by adding a personal perspective of my own. Coming from my own experiences of going out , a common problem I have noticed regards to ones innacurate assumption of someone else’s intentions. What I learned as a result is that one will usually not find the answers they want unless they simply ask. That’s why I prefer to be more straight forward with people when it comes to starting conversations because it helps provide clarity in discovering that persons actual interest quicker as well

  20. I feel that at times we exclude all men from the equation when we think about hooking up and relationships. I think that people will always look to the woman and think that they’re the only ones who catch deep feeling for another or are the ones who want the committed relationship, etc. Yes the statistics point out that this is true but only by the smallest bit.. Men do feel the same things as women. Even tho they may not show it all the time. They also want to committed relationship and everything that goes with that. And I feel that more men feel that this is better than just random hookups.

  21. After watching the video of Lisa, I started to question myself if I had hookup experience before. I went to a party last week, and by the end of the party a guy started to hold his hands around my waist. We had a couple conversations before that happened, but it definitely wasn’t close enough to do this together. I felt something for him so I did not stop him from touching me. Later I gave him and another guy a ride home, we went to Safeway and got water. I said I was cold so he gave me his jacket and rubbed my arms to warm me up. We talked about our dreams, hobbies and future directors in the car, nothing else happened. When we reached his house, he told me he really liked me and wish to see me on campus, he also asked me to text him later so we can talk more. I am a fairly conservative person, looking back on this incident and connecting it with the video made me feel confused at this stage. I am still not sure if he was interested in hooking up with me or something else. Hookup involves touching, I wonder if this count as a hookup. Hookup culture is truly a myth.

    • That’s not really hooking up. You’d have to at least made out/kissed to be counted as a hook up. And it’s possible that he actually liked you and is not just trying to hook up. He did have an actual conversation and asked about your hopes and dreams. And he didn’t try to initiate anything.

      • Yes that is true but he did try to touch my tight and he touched the bottom part of my bra.

      • Hmmmm, well looks like he tried to make it a hook up, but sounds like he didn’t succeed. I still don’t know enough about the situation to say for sure.

  22. I think this is an interesting read. Given the statistics, to me, it sounds as if people are not actually happy with the whole “hook up” idea but do it anyway. It seems like people are really just trying to fit in with the crown rather than do their own thing.
    Also, I agree with what the post said, that some people only hook up in search that they might find an actual relationship. It’s a little sad to see because sometimes one person is in it just for the purpose of the hook up, while the other person catches feelings.

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