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Are Hookups Killing College Romance?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

College freshmen quickly learn that "hooking up" means engaging in a physical relationship with someone who you may or may not have known beforehand and with whom you have little or no expectation of a future relationship. The last few years have been especially big years for hooking up, not because college students are hooking up more, but because academics, journalists, and doctors have begun writing about it.

Among others, recent titles include: Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both by Laura Sessions Stepp; Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus by Kathleen Bogle; Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America's College Campuses by Donna Freitas; and Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student by an anonymous M.D.

These authors are finally figuring out that hooking up is not an isolated experience of a few college students, or a fad. Rather, the hookup culture dominates college campuses. The authors use different methodologies and analyze hooking up from their own perspectives. They all conclude that hooking up has serious negative consequences for women, whether in the form of sexually transmitted diseases, infertility, depression, or problems with trust in future relationships.

Surveys, interviews, and statistics have convinced these authors of such dangers. Despite the evidence, many college women have not taken notice.

Valentine's Day is supposed to be a day of celebrating love, romance, and the sweetheart in your life. Yet, for many college women, it only serves as a reminder of the lack of love, romance, and sweethearts in their lives. I witnessed this firsthand when I walked past our famous frozen yogurt place at the University of Virginia -- Arch's -- on Valentine's Day one year when the holiday fell on a weekday.

Usually, this popular frozen yogurt stop has a constant flow of people. But on that Valentine's Day, something was different. You might have thought Arch's was giving away its famous frozen yogurt for free, because the line stretched out the door.

The inside was different also. Instead of individuals or pairs picking up their treats and leaving, groups of three, four, and five women were filling tables, enjoying their "Death By Chocolate" (chocolate frozen yogurt, gooey brownies, and chocolate sauce), "Cherry Bombs" (chocolate frozen yogurt, Oreos, and cherries), and other combinations of vanilla or chocolate frozen yogurt with sweets.

I went inside and overheard more than one young woman complaining about some guy and the lack of dating on campus. They put the blame on the guys, apparently oblivious to their likely complicity in the current hookup arrangements. Since Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday this year, these same conversations were likely happening in bars instead of dessert places.

These women were having a girls' night at Arch's, and certainly those can be a lot of fun. Yet, many of those women are likely the same women who are hooking up with guys and calling it no big deal the next day. In Unhooked, Stepp cites studies showing that almost 80 percent of undergraduates had hooked up.

Freitas finds that even if students are not hooking up that much, they think others are, so hooking up has gained dominance on campus. It is not all the guys' fault; women are partially responsible for the campus culture.

The hookup culture is a tough competitor. Many women are tempted by the instant gratification of a hookup. Even headlines such as "Study: One-Fourth of NYC Residents Have Herpes" from last July seem abstract and are ignored with an it-won't-happen-to-me attitude. Yet, days like Valentine's Day might be able to do more to change the college campuses than scary statistics.

While these young women sit in a dessert shop complaining about men and their lack of a love life, it becomes all too apparent that as much fun as they have hooking up with guys, hooking up is all it is. It is not a real relationship.

Hookups do not buy you flowers, bring you candy, or take you out to dinner.

While men may be content with the hookup culture, it poses special problems for women. Not only are women more likely to end up with a sexually transmitted disease than men, they more quickly tire of the sex without commitment. Instead of leaving women empowered, liberated and fulfilled, it ends up leaving women disappointed, confused, and hurt.

By participating in the hookup culture, women continue to perpetuate it, and this discourages dating.

If books documenting the harmful consequences of the hookup culture on women are not enough to convince more young women to stop, then maybe Feb. 14 did the trick this year or will do so next year. Valentine's Day should be a wake-up call to all young women that they should rethink the hookup culture and their active participation in it.

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