Defining the Hook-Up Culture

What exactly does it mean and how is it affecting young adults' behavior

hookup-inside

As a young professor at a big university, I’m able to talk to my students about rather personal issues like hooking up, relationships and sex. In one class, I asked students to diagram, on a large whiteboard, the evolution of a relationship — from first meeting to marriage. This was a fascinating exercise, and highlighted one key challenge in the dating game for young adults: “Hook-ups” are very common, but no group of college students can agree on exactly what the term means.

Studies tell us that more than half of college relationships begin with a hook-up. Translation: Before two college students have a dinner date, a meaningful conversation or even exchange phone numbers, there’s a good chance of a hook-up.

But what is a hook-up?

Does hooking up mean smooching? Some intense making-out? Maybe some hands wandering? Or does it mean sex? And what are the emotional expectations surrounding a hook-up?

Back in my day (I graduated from college in 1999, so a while ago, but not eons in social change terms), if a friend told me she’d hooked up with a cute guy the night before, I’d have assumed they made-out, maybe a bit more, but certainly not had sexual intercourse. Today, some of my students tell me that hooking up usually means sex — or “at least” oral sex — while others say just kissing can be considered a “hook-up” as well.

And it’s this ambiguity that causes problems.

False information

If you hear tales of many friends “hooking up” and you assume that it’s sex, then you would also assume that everyone else is having a lot more sex than you are. Then, when you’re in an intimate situation, you might go farther sexually than you might otherwise feel comfortable doing, because you think that “everyone’s doing it.”

But everyone isn’t doing “it”: Repeated surveys of college students find that the average undergrad has one or fewer sexual partners in a year.

Think of it this way: If the reality is that hook-ups are more innocent — passionate kissing, for example — then you’ve just been given some false information. That false information gives you a skewed idea of what other people are doing, and it’s dangerous, because it impacts what you might do, too.

TAKE THIS SURVEY!!

What is a hook-up?

When does a hook-up happen in the evolution of a relationship?

What is expected after a hook-up?

Take the Hook-Up Culture survey here and share your opinions and insights. In a future column I’ll post the results.

As young adult Catholics, often we struggle to figure out how to both follow the Church’s teachings, and be socially “normal” when it seems like everyone else is having sex all the time. It’s hard enough to try to live out these teachings with support — but with lots of misinformation and social pressure, it often seems impossible.

So let’s define our terms and help clarify things. You tell me:

What is a hook-up?

When does a hook-up happen in the evolution of a relationship?

What is expected after a hook-up?

Take the Hook-Up Culture survey here and share your opinions and insights. I’ll share your opinions and insights in future columns.


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