While the topic of college hookups isn’t new, Lisa Wade, associate professor of sociology at Occidental College, argues that students are gaining very little from them.
Rising reports of emotional distress are consistent with college students engaging in these hookup encounters, Wade said. She found that less than a quarter of these students derive emotional satisfaction from them.
Wade was invited by the WoMen’s Center community coordinator, Marlene Romero, to talk about her book “American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus,” which used data from 101 students who journaled about their experiences with college hookups.
“It’s not the hookup that’s causing the problems for college students, it’s the hookup culture,” Wade said.
What exactly is “hookup culture”? Wade defines it as having sex purely for the physical desire of sexual intercourse with no expected romantic future, sometimes not even a second sexual encounter.
Cindy Nguyen, a fifth-year marketing major, believes hooking up has evolved in a good way.
“I’m for saying ‘Yeah, go and hook up.’ I think it’s good for people’s self esteem,” Nguyen said.
Casual hookups have become mainstream on college campuses and can sometimes be considered an exciting new experiment for students. But Wade said there’s also something that is making them unhappy because of it.
“There seems to be this persistent disappointment and frustration,” Wade said. “Just the sense that the ‘four-year orgy’ wasn’t all it was cracked out to be.”
Before the mid-1990s, hooking up was simply an option on college campuses. Now there is a looming obligation for students to participate in this hookup culture if they want to do college “the right way,” Wade said.
When college students observe that this is the new norm, Wade said they’re pressured to want the same thing or risk being seen as boring or old-fashioned.
The most important emotion to avoid is love, noting a widespread wariness among students about the dangers of “catching feelings,” Wade said.
Nguyen participates in the hookup culture but tries to limit her encounters to those she’s already acquainted with. She used to let her emotions get the better of her during hookups.
“After a while you really learn from it. It’s just a hookup. You shouldn’t let it take a toll on you for so long,” Nguyen said.
Emotions have been so removed from these interactions that signs of tenderness are more significant than actual intercourse, Wade said.
“Some guys agreed holding hands was more emotional than getting a hand job,” Wade said, quoting a 2014 New York Times article.
In addition to stripping emotion from sexual encounters, college students feel the need to dissociate from the other person outside of sexual intercourse.
“Students are playing this game so hard that they break their own hearts,” Wade said.
The driving force behind those who participate and excel in this hookup game, Wade said, is based on impressing your friends with the attractiveness of your hookup, a “hierarchy of physical attractiveness.”
This hierarchy can create a hostile environment that can affect the confidence levels of both men and women, due to insecurities about their bodies and the peer pressure to gain approval from friends, Wade said.
“Two-thirds of students would rather be in relationships than be hooking up. Two-thirds of students wish there were more opportunities to go on dates instead of just hooking up, more men than women. The desire to change is there,” Wade said.
Students most likely want a dating environment that is healthy, considerate and nurturing, but to do that, college students need to chip away at the cultural dominance of random sexual intercourse, Wade said.
“Even the playing field so every student has the same power to shake the sexual culture,” Wade said.