Hookup Culture: Fact vs. Fiction
Though one-night stands and romantic flings seem to dominate college life, the numbers tell a different story.
By Katie Hovan, University of Miami
On a typical Saturday night out in college, you might notice your friend cozying up to another person across the room.
She gives you the look – “Bridesmaids” style – to head back home without her, and you can infer what’s going to happen without even exchanging words. The next morning, you catch her returning home, heels in hand and last night’s curls looking like a bad 1980s perm. It might be called the walk of shame, but it’s a sign of accomplishment for some, and you can find plenty of students doing it on weekend mornings. (Pro tip: Avoid the prospective student tour groups.)
Turning on the television at any given moment, perhaps you can also find MTV showing “American Pie” or “Awkward” reruns, two programs with plot lines centered around hookups. After all, nothing is more appealing to an audience than a combination of sex and drama. Even the internet preserves the so-called hookup culture that seems to have replaced traditional dating today. Scrolling through the “Cosmopolitan” Twitter account will reveal article after article about the craziest college sex stories and tips.
With peers, movies, television shows and magazines alike, it’s no wonder that hooking up in college seems to dominate students’ perceptions of dating culture within their age groups. In college, social life appears inundated with hookups and spontaneous flings, and studies have confirmed that students think this lifestyle is the new norm.
A 2011 study conducted at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln revealed that 90 percent of students believed that the average student “had been involved in two or more hookups.”
As a self-proclaimed “relationship person” navigating through a world of hookups, this number doesn’t seem all that shocking to me. Between hookup stories friends have told me and situations I’ve seen unfold at parties right before my eyes, people seem to be hooking up around every corner of campus– and trust me, that’s not just a figure of speech.
While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with casual hookups or an undefined relationship in college, it’s important to look at the actual statistics to understand hookup culture in college before believing all of the hype. Do casual hookups really rule college-age relationships? And does the number of people actually hooking up match the way hookup culture is perceived by college students?
According to several studies, the answer is no. In reality, the study at the University of Nebraska revealed that only 37 percent of students actually had two or more hookups throughout the school year, compared to the 90 percent who believed the average student had two or more hookups.
Another study by sociology professor Arielle Kuperberg surveyed students at 22 different colleges across the U.S. Kuperberg’s study revealed an almost equal divide between students who hook up and those who are dating.
Kuperberg writes, “College students have essentially equal rates of hooking up and dating. Since beginning college, approximately 62 percent reported having hooked up, while 61 percent said they had gone out on a date.” She adds, “Only 8 percent of all students had hooked up without ever going on a date or being in a long-term relationship. More than 3 times as many students – 26.5 percent — had never hooked up at all.”
Not only that, but people don’t even shy away from talking about hooking up.
Many students are open about their sexual escapades to anyone with a willing ear. Still, it’s important to note that the term “hooking up” itself is tremendously vague and doesn’t carry a single definition for every community, or even for every college student.
Growing up, hooking up simply meant kissing another person using your tongue. It’s not exactly as intimate as straight-up sex, but it was a clear, communally defined term among the students at my high school. It wasn’t until my first week as a college freshman that I learned there was a real discrepancy in the definition of hooking up.
During freshman move-in week when students are still traveling in packs in an effort to not look like loners, I went out with a few girls who lived on the same floor as me. As the night began to wind down, one girl casually described her most recent hookup on the second night of college.
I listened fixedly to how they met at a bar, and suddenly, the details of their night together went further and further until I legitimately felt as if I were listening to a story fit for “Sex and the City.”
For the first time in my life, I realized that hooking up had a different definition outside of my little bubble-of-a-hometown. Earth to brain: you’re not in high school anymore. Though I felt embarrassingly naïve about the new definition that I was being introduced to, the experience also gave me some insight into the truth about hooking up.
It seems that numbers confirm my initial confusion. When asked about what hooking up actually entailed, more than half of students surveyed described it as “involving sex,” 9 percent described it as not having sex and about a third claimed that the term was ambiguous.
Essentially, when the uncertainty surrounding “hooking up” is coupled with the people who regularly discuss their hookups, it’s fairly easy to see where hookup culture becomes misconstrued. More times than not, students who talk about their hookups either have various ways of defining the term or are simply the vocal minority. There’s no truth to the notion that hooking up is what all college students are doing or should be doing, because just as many students are successfully dating or in relationships.
On a larger scale, it’s all about a person’s preference. If casual hook-ups and the no-strings-attached lifestyle seem ideal, go for it. And if a relationship sounds more inviting, keep an open mind. At the end of the day, who or what you surround yourself with is the only way to ensure that sex in college is meeting your needs. Don’t let the outspoken few fool you into thinking that romance is dead. Both “relationship people” and hook-up enthusiasts exist in pretty equal numbers out there, but it’s up to you to find what you’re looking for within the statistics.