The Truth About College Hookups

  • Share
  • Read Later
Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times / Redux

Students at a concert at UPenn's Spring Fling in Philadelphia, on April 13, 2013.

Recent claims about the hookup culture among college students are greatly exaggerated, it seems.

Despite racy headlines suggesting that college kids are increasingly choosing casual liaisons over serious relationships, a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association finds that just under one-third of college students have had more than one partner in the past year.

And that’s exactly the same proportion of students who were surveyed between 1988 and ’96, and between 2002 and ’10; both groups also had the same number of partners. So kids aren’t hooking up more than they ever were, or even more than their parents did, which is what recent media coverage has implied.

“College students today are not having more sexual partners [after] age 18, more sexual partners over the last year or more sex than their parents,” says the study’s lead author Martin Monto, professor of sociology at the University of Portland in Oregon. Gen Xers were actually more likely to have sex weekly or more frequently compared with millenials, according to the research.

The research did show a slight decline in the number of college kids saying they had a “spouse or regular sex partner,” but that doesn’t mean that college romance is dead. Indeed, 77% of students said that they’d had a regular partner or spouse in the 2000s, compared with 85% in the earlier generation. In other words, today as in the past, most students having sex are still doing so in the context of some type of ongoing relationship.

“We do see a decrease, but it’s not huge,” says Monto. “And part of that can be accounted for by a change in age of marriage.”

(MORE: Looking for Love: College Students May Prefer Relationship Sex to Casual Hookups)

The research involved data on nearly 2,000 people from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey that asks a wide range of questions and has been carried out since 1972.

Kathleen Bogle, author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus and an assistant professor of sociology at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, whose work initially described the hookup culture in the scientific literature, says the latest study is “very interesting,” but naturally disagrees with the authors’ representation of her work.

Bogle argues that what is now called hookup culture began in the 1970s, after birth control became widely available and the age of marriage began rising. At that point, the couple ceased to be the center of college social life, and dating with the aim of marrying in college or shortly thereafter fell out of style.

She argues that this ultimately flipped the dating script — so that couples tended to get physical first and acquainted later, rather than the other way around, as occurred in the 1950s and ’60s. But Monto says there is no evidence that such choices are more common now than in the recent past — and there’s no data going back further to provide objective answers.

(MORE: What Everyone’s Getting Wrong About the Ivy League Hookup Culture)

Of course, much of the debate revolves around the definition of hooking up — a term both researchers acknowledge is deliberately ambiguous and can encompass everything from just kissing to intercourse. That means that it’s not clear whether what Bogle has labeled as hookup culture is really different from what the “one-night stand” or “making out” seen on past campuses as something that may or may not lead to further intimacy. Haven’t college students of any era always had similar struggles with getting partners to commit to more-serious relationships?

But Bogle and Monto do agree that students tend to think their peers hook up far more frequently than they actually do. One study found that on average, students report a total of five to seven hookups in their entire college career. But when Bogle surveyed students about how often they thought their fellow students were hooking up, they typically said seven times a semester. “That would be 56 people” in four years, she says.

In fact, 1 in 4 college students is a virgin and in the new research, only 20% of students from either era reported having six or more partners after turning 18.

(MOREWhat the U.S. Can Learn from the Dutch About Teen Sex)

That discrepancy in perception may explain the conflicting beliefs about whether college kids are really hooking up more than they used to — or not. The current study did find — based on reports by the students of their own sexual relationships — some evidence that recent generations of college students are having slightly more casual sex and so-called friends-with-benefits relationships. About 44% of students in the 2000s reported having had sex with a “casual date or pickup,” compared with 35% in the 1980s and ’90s — and 68% reported having had sex with a “friend” in the previous year, compared with 56% in the earlier group.

How students think of their liaisons with fellow students has clearly changed, and so has the college culture, apparently. All of the evidence points to the fact that college kids today are drinking less, taking fewer drugs and even having less sex than their parents’ generation. Hooking up just isn’t what it used to be.

39 comments
AbdulQadirKhatri
AbdulQadirKhatri

I just thought it may be an idea to post incase anyone else was having problems researching but I am a little unsure if I am allowed to put names and addresses on here. Leveling in ESO

zeeshantapra
zeeshantapra

There are several factors that make the Electronic Cigarette is the best way for smokers to keep their habits, fun gesture and taste of tobacco without the evils and dangers of ingesting really harmful toxic substances body. The Electronic Cigarette also allows people who want to quit smoking gradually wean the "normal" cigarette but also not interfere with their environment odor of tobacco and cigar..     E-cigarette

HigherEdHookups
HigherEdHookups

"Hooking up just isn’t what it used to be" ...?  Well, yeah!

That's where sites like Higher Ed Hookups come in.  Lots of college students out there just need a new means for finding other like minded students who just want to hook up.  

Rio
Rio

The surveys have so much room for error.  For instance: define relationship.  A person who is in a FWB would say that they were in a "relationship" when it comes to sex.     Also another report had a difference in socioeconomic class as a determinate factor.  Those with greater resources had more choice of intimates and would see that as their right while lower socioeconomic classes saw it very differently.   Perhaps because of the lack of resources to fix what ever problems that would come up.   Also the consequences would be that much more difficult to deal with. 

TimJohnson
TimJohnson

I've never assigned gender roles to any party, and I think the idea is idiotic.  There are good ideas and bad ideas, and all parties have plenty of each.

ruthownes
ruthownes

I really disagree with that about "hook up culture". Its just a tradition today's point of view. Most of the students wants to be in relationship with other i.e tradition of today age but not a hook up culture. In fact most of mango peoples enjoys with his/her partner and happy with our partners. Even a research told that if you do sex with our partner at least two times in a week then you need to be exercise @BranxFitness  .

annerodgers54
annerodgers54

College students hook up for a variety of reasons. I wrote a book about women's sexual desire and one twenty-something's comments stuck with me. She lost her virginity at 13, but didn't fall in love until 21. Now that she has experienced sex with love attached, she won't settle for hook-up sex. She wonders why she wasted her time. "Now romance has to be involved," she told me.

I was fascinated by how women's desire fluctuates throughout their lifetime and wondered what impacts it. So I teamed up with gynecologist Dr. Maureen Whelihan and did a survey with 1,300 of her patients about sexual desire. Then I interviewed 100 of them and wrote a book with their answers to questions like "What stimulates your desire?" "When was the best sex of your life and why was it the best?" and "What is the one thing in regards to sex you wish your partner wouldn't do?" These women really told the truth. Just some amazing tales. The book is called "Kiss and Tell: Secrets of Sexual Desire from Women 15 to 97." On Amazon. Check it out if you wonder what fuels women's desire over a lifetime.

buffalo.barnes102
buffalo.barnes102

There is no truth involved in college "hook-ups". Say anything. The end just might justify the means.

united_we_stand
united_we_stand

The statistics are flawed because over 1 in 4 students is a foreigner. The majority of the 1 in 4 who is a virgin probably came from a more conservative culture and if not 1st probably 2nd generation Americans. Looking at the people practicing traditional conservative ways doesn't tell us anything useful about the new paradigm we are moving towards. 

brentsurf1
brentsurf1

Went to college in the late 60's. The truth is I got laid three times in the first three weeks I attended college. Thought I had died and gone to heaven after messing with the fickle high school girls for a couple years. Just the facts - 1st time was at a kegger in the woods, 2nd was at the drive-on movie, 3rd was in a girls dorm room. These girls were raging to get naked and have sex. Still bang the kegger girl when I see her every couple years just for old times sake; we usually go for a quicky then laugh about the olden days.

Neondancer
Neondancer

It's much less interesting these days.  The tradition of course is that whatever your parents did before you is inherently uncool, so if mom was the village hippie bicycle in school, no sane millennial would ever want to take that same path. Furthermore, as a generation, we're attempting to not make the same mistakes as our parents generation. 

jacob.shtellman
jacob.shtellman

LOL, simply there are the ones that are outgoing and good looking (lots of sex). And then there are averages and below averages in that sense. The first group makes up for the overall stats while the second, third group have barely any contribution to it. ;)

Pilots_TV_show
Pilots_TV_show

College kids lying about how many people they hooked up with?!? The hell you say! This article should win best investigative reporting of the year.

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

Freaking millenials can't do anything right.

BrianSchroeder
BrianSchroeder

They forgot the other, very important statistic:  2/3rds of college students lie about how many partners they've had in the past year. 

MichaelWong
MichaelWong

In other news, right-wing puritanical fearmongering is shown to be right-wing puritanical fearmongering.  More details at 11.

JustinTArthur
JustinTArthur

The "headlines" this article refers to are usually about middle to high school students, which the referenced study does not include. In suggesting those articles have been misleading, this article is in itself misleading.

gfr7071
gfr7071

I`m glad I went to college in the 70`s....we had a sexual freedom today`s college kids can only dream about.....We didn`t have all the diseases back then that people today have to worry about,just gonorrhea and crabs! If you happened to catch gonorrhea,you`d get a shot of penicillin,lay low for about three weeks or so, and you`d be back in the saddle! Plus,the college women took care of the birth control and guys didn`t have to worry about condoms....

joelp77440
joelp77440

It really depends on where you go.  I went to WVU, so you can do the math on that one. 

CrimsonWife
CrimsonWife

I was a sorority chick in the 90's and there was definitely a "hookup scene" then, even if it wasn't called by that name. I didn't participate in it, however, as I'm an old-fashioned girl. I met my now-husband during freshman orientation, got engaged my junior year, and married him 2 weeks after I graduated.

WilfTarquin
WilfTarquin

"Hookup-culture" is a myth invented to sell books through titillation and moral indignation. Society has obsessed about, and grossly overestimated, youth sex since at least the 19th century, probably through all of human history.

positivecynic86
positivecynic86

@united_we_stand I don't think you know as much as you think you do about American college students.  I had more friends who were virgins in college than friends who were not (graduated in 2007). Maybe the commenters on this page went to so called party schools, but in community colleges and small liberal arts colleges, 1 in 4 is not an unbelievable number at all.  

peonybloomer
peonybloomer

@jacob.shtellman 


not all good looking people have a lot of sex, and not all outgoing people have a lot of sex either. It depends on what "lots of sex" you mean. A couple have sex everyday? An individual? Think before you throw out ignorant comments.

MartyC909
MartyC909

@BrianSchroeder This is true. The guys lied about having more partners, the girls less. So in the end it evened out.

Neondancer
Neondancer

@gfr7071 I don't really see why you'd want that.  More partners=more drama.  Besides, college is for education, not partying. 

smcallah
smcallah

@joelp77440 I can only do the math if you let us know how many of your cousins and sisters attended at the same time as you.

bryanfred1
bryanfred1

@CrimsonWife I was on the other side of the gender equation during that time period, and my take was there was a very visible contingent that got around - probably making it seem more widespread than it was.  There was a lot of going home together but it rarely led to full-on sex. 

olderbutwiser
olderbutwiser

@WilfTarquin YOu could not sell a book on what actually does happen.  The funny thing is that the declining population esp in Europe means less sex is happening

united_we_stand
united_we_stand

@positivecynic86 I don't claim to know anything just that I have a hard time interpreting stats on sexual frequency and virginity loss to say something about our overall 'culture'. In a pure hookup culture I would expect more virgins and less overall sex in society.

gfr7071
gfr7071

@Neondancer @gfr7071,give it a rest.....we went to classes and studied hard,but we played just as hard...and there was NO drama to having multiple partners,NONE!

olderbutwiser
olderbutwiser

@bryanfred1 @CrimsonWife you are correct.  Many guys want to make their friends jealous but 95% of the time you could have put the end result on TV beteeen 9 and 10.  It is in the interest of the media (divorced 40 something men mostly) to make up this culture of "hookup" girls, "cougars", etc to satisfy thier imagination.  Never happened, never will and thank God for that. I think it is telling that every comment from a  women says "it exists but i did not do it"..

peonybloomer
peonybloomer

@gfr7071


wild animal, that's why humans are still behind in civilization. Can't control their desires; all desires including sexual.