Understanding the Hookup Culture

Allison Kasic

10/20/2008 2:52:45 PM - Allison Kasic

Now that the school year is in full swing, many parents are probably wondering how their children are adapting to their new educational environment.  For those parents with children in college, it can often be hard to get an accurate assessment of campus life.  After all, campus life is a lot different from when they went to school, and students are so busy that calling home isn’t always their first priority.

Unfortunately, parents have reason to be concerned with the campus culture surrounding sex and relationships.  Dating is an institution of the past.  It has been replaced by a culture of hookups, or physical encounters without an expectation of a relationship.  The hookup culture dominates campus life and many students struggle to find their place in this social structure.  Fortunately for parents, a new book may help shed light on the campus social scene, and therefore provide a better understanding of the challenges that their children face at school.

In Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus, sociologist Kathleen Bogle delves right to the heart of campus culture by interviewing students and telling their stories.  Unlike other recent books on the hookup culture, Bogle leaves judgment aside in favor of painting a sociological picture of the modern campus climate.  Parents are left to form their own opinions about the hookup culture, but Bogle’s book is certain to leave them with an accurate understanding of what it is like to be on campus.  In that regard, it plays a critical role in understanding the myths and realities of the hookup culture.

For starters, the hookup culture is widespread.  As Fogle points out, “Although students have many options about how they conduct themselves within the hookup culture, they cannot change the fact that hooking up is the dominant script on campus.”  In other words, all students don’t participate in the hookup culture, but it is still the primary means for initiating sexual and romantic relationships.  It is therefore worthwhile for parents to understand exactly what the hookup culture entails, so that they might help guide their children towards healthy decisions.

Parents need to understand just how dramatic a change the hookup culture represents.  The hookup culture is a complete inversion of the traditional dating script:

“College men used to ask women to go on dates with the hope that something sexual, such as necking or petting, might happen at the end of the date.  In the hooking-up era, this sexual norm is reversed.  College students, following the hookup script, become sexual first and then maybe go on a date someday.”

In terms of expectations, it is largely female students that hope a hookup might turn into a relationship.  In her study Bogle found that “female students seem considerably more interested than males that hooking up would lead to a relationship or at least something more than a one-time encounter.”  But since the most likely outcome of any particular hookup encounter is “nothing,” described by Bogle to mean “not hearing from the person again unless you coincidentally see him or her at another social event and decide to hook up again,” many young women are left disappointed and confused.  Almost 50 percent of college students who engaged in sexual intercourse during a hookup said they never saw the person again.

Parents should also know that:

-Alcohol is a major enabler of hookups.  The students that Bogle interviewed believe that drinking lowers their inhibitions, thereby making a hookup possible.  This finding is backed up by other studies that demonstrate “that alcohol consumption is correlated with the decision to have sexual intercourse as well as engaging in so-called risky sexual behavior, such as having casual sex.”

-Friends matter.  Bogle found that a student’s circle of friends “was a good predictor of how entrenched he or she was in hooking up.”

-Students overestimate their peers’ level of sexual activity and number of partners.  In turn, they judge themselves against these inaccurate standards.

-The hookup culture carries with it a host of health concerns, from binge drinking to STDs to sexual abuse.

In today’s fast-paced world, knowing the nature of a problem is half the battle in coming up with a solution.  Parents who want an insight into their children’s campus life should consider picking up a copy of Hooking Up as a first step to helping their college-age children make their college experience healthy and fulfilling.