The media, social scientists and a majority of young people report that “Hooking up” has replaced traditional dating relationships on college campuses.Couple kissing outside

 What is “Hooking-Up?”

Hooking up is defined as a sexual encounter including everything from oral sex to sexual intercourse, between two people who are strangers or brief acquaintances without commitment or expectations, and usually lasting no more than one night.

According to a 2013 article published in the Monitor of the American Psychological Association, between 60-80% of college students in North American report having had a hook-up experience.

Research discussed by Donna Freitas with college men and women corroborate these numbers; but suggest that it is a misconception to believe “everyone is doing it.”

It does seem, however, that media coverage, alcohol, and fear of being left out of the social scene may actually fuel the trend.

The Hype: Why “Hook-Up?”

The reasons for hooking-up and the benefits and risks involved, are a function of who is reporting and whether the disclosures by men and women about hooking-up are public or private.

A recent article by Kate Taylor in the New York Times, “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too” reports on hooking-up by women at the University Of Pennsylvania.

Both the title and the tenor of the article suggest that women are choosing “hooking up” as a functional choice to find sexual gratification without the hassle or time commitment of being in a relationship. Implied is the message that now women have taken back control of the sexual arena. They, like men, are free to choose uncommitted sex because their goal is a great resume—not a great relationship. The expectation is that when their career is all set, they will meet the right man.

The Reality of “ Hooking Up”

The other side of hooking up is described by Laura Sessions Stepp in her book, Unhooked, Donna Freitas in her book, The End of Sex, and even by Kate Taylor in her New York Times article.

The inside story includes the personal and private disclosures about “Hooking Up” given by women and men who associate it with compliance, regret, discomfort, guilt, and opting out after trying it.

  • In public, young people will describe hooking up as “ Immediate Gratification” and “Fast Food.” In private, they describe it as “ No Relationship,”  “ Increases Cynicism,” “ No Emotional Fulfillment.”
  • Some report wanting a relationship but feel they have no choice besides hooking-up.
  • Some hope hooking-up might bring a relationship, but report feeling used and disappointed.
  • Some men report have little respect for women who want to hook-up. Some report guilt.
  • Most young men report that with hook-ups alcohol or some other substance is almost always present.
  • Many women report needing to be drunk to tolerate hooking-up with a stranger and as a way to rationalize what happened the next day.
  • Woman report instances of sexual coercion and assault from hooking-up during which they were too drunk to protest and after which they did not feel entitled to protest.
  • Some men report keeping their hesitations to hook-up to themselves—particularly as there is social pressure “ to score.”
  • Andrew Smilier, author of Challenging Casanova, reports that the majority of young men don’t want an endless number of sexual encounters. Citing a study by Bradshaw, Kahn and Saville, (2010) he reports that 75% of guys say they would choose dating over hooking up. Essentially they want relationships much more than they want hook-ups.

 The Future

  • Whether a young man or woman hooks up by choice or social pressure, continual hook ups with no interest in connecting with the other person, take more than they give.
  • In addition to the rarely mentioned health risks, hook-ups preclude the options of meeting, forging relationships and building relationship skills at a time and place in life when there is availability and proximity to other young people.
  • In an uncanny way they invite practice of the very dynamics that derail relationships and marriages – estrangement ( partners are strangers), lack of communication (those who are hooking-up sexually are not communicating. If they are speaking, it is with friends about what happened in a hook-up; how drunk they were; and/or how much they remember or regret) and lack of sexual intimacy (true intimacy is fostered by trust, the feeling of being known and mutual sexual desire).

In a culture of young people who want to do it all, see it all, have it all, and know it– all in high-tech time, the trend of hooking-up gives too little and risks too much.

Listen in to Dr. Andrew Smiler on Psych Up Live “Challenging Casanova: How Promiscuous are Young Men?”