Building the next generation of leaders for marriage, family, and sexual integrity

Frequently Asked Questions: Hookup Culture

What is hookup culture?

A hookup refers to any sexual encounter (from kissing to sex) that is meant to be casual and occurs outside of a relationship with no intention of commitment. “Hookup culture” refers to the set of attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that accept and promote casual sexual interactions (hookups).

In recent years, college campuses have become hotbeds for the hookup culture, with university sexual health programming and course reading lists often accepting casual sexual behavior and promoting sexually libertine ideas.

While the hookup culture is very present on college campuses, recent studies demonstrate that fewer people participate regularly in the hookup culture than is perceived, and among participants there is a great deal of disappointment and dissatisfaction. Collegiate hookup culture may be sold as harmless fun, but this is far from the truth. Aside from the health and safety risks of hooking up (which are many), young men and women report feeling confused, hurt, anxious, and even depressed as a result of the hookup culture.

What is the role of alcohol in hookup culture?

Alcohol consumption plays a central role in the hookup culture. In fact, it is safe to say that hookups rarely if ever happen without inebriation. Young men and women have even admitted to purposely getting drunk in order to lower their inhibitions so that they can bring themselves to perform behaviors they wouldn’t otherwise feel comfortable with.

How does the collegiate environment create pressure to be sexually active and to participate in the hookup culture?

Sexually libertine ideas are found at all levels of university life. University programming, course reading lists, extracurricular clubs, dormitory life, and social activities all reflect this libertine ideology. In such an environment, it is very easy to feel pressure to conform one’s beliefs and behaviors to what appears to be the orthodoxy on campus. Some young men and women do respond to this pressure by becoming sexually active and participating in the hookup culture. Others may experiment with it to a degree or go in and out of the culture. Contrary to common belief, the majority of college co-eds do not regularly participate in the hookup culture. In other words, while the pressure to conform exists, many young men and women choose alternative social options.

Don’t most people “grow out of it” once they graduate?

Certainly some men and women do “grow out of it,” especially once they are ready to “get serious” about “settling down.” However, it is also true that some men and women find it difficult to transition from taking sex casually and rejecting commitment, to cultivating a romantic relationship. The hookup culture is simply radically opposed to those attitudes and habits that aid in the proper formation of romantic relationships and healthy commitment.

Doesn’t experiencing more when you are in college help you know what you want out of sexual or romantic relationships in the future? Doesn’t that set you up for more stable, healthier relationships in the long run?

The more sexual partners a person has, the more that person is likely to encounter instability in their future relationships. The best way to know what you want in a future relationship is to surround yourself with couples whose relationships you admire. The sexual component of a relationship (what some term “sexual compatibility”) will inevitably fall into place if other key relationship qualities are there. There is no need to test sexual compatibility. It is more important to focus on other areas of compatibility (communication, values, interests, life goals, etc.).

Is there a connection between hookup culture and sexual assault on campus?

The hookup culture jeopardizes sexual health and safety. It creates an expectation for casual sexual encounters and is facilitated by inebriation. In short, the hookup culture creates an environment of increased risk for sexual assault on college campuses. We can be honest about the role hookups and hookup culture plays in sexual assault without worrying about “blaming the victim.” Recognizing the factors that contribute to the risk of sexual assault can only aid progress in addressing the tragedy of the sexual assault epidemic.

What are the physical and emotional risks of the college hookup scene?

The college hookup scene is sold as harmless fun. However, hookups only increase risk for the individuals involved. Extra-marital sex (aka, sex outside of marriage) and multiple sexual partners are associated with increased risk for sexually transmitted infections and emotional distress. They are also adversely correlated with future relationship stability.

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