Conflict Over Hook-Up Culture

What exactly is it? What is the perception of the frequency? What is the reality?

PSPL_110-hookup-flash

What is a hook up?

As a not-that-old, not-that-out-of-touch college professor who teaches classes on the sociology of marriage, family and gender, this is one of my favorite questions to ask a class of undergraduates for three reasons: It wakes ’em up; everyone is interested in the answer; and it stirs up quite a debate.

But in the three years I’ve been asking this question, there’s never been a class consensus. Some students tell me it’s sexual intercourse, with a zero-to-sex pick-up speed, within hours (and many beers) of a first meeting. Others tell me hooking up means making out or kissing, and might not happen until two people have hung out together in a group of friends for a while.

So a few months back, I put it to you: How do you define a hook up?

Defining the hook up: Survey results

As always, Busted Halo readers were more than willing to share thoughts and responses. More than 250 of you filled out the online survey, and the results are fascinating.

Amanda, 26: “If a friend or sibling used this phrase… I always asked for clarification. You never know what it means!”

Who took this survey? The average age of respondents is 26. Of those who took the survey online, 57% are single, 25% are in a relationship or engaged, and 16% are married. Two-thirds of the respondents are female, and half are college students.

What does a hook up mean? More than a third of respondents said a hook up means sex. Here’s a chart with the breakdown of possible definitions.

pspl110-chart1

But… when you run the numbers on college students, the definitions change a bit: Only 28% of college students (compared with 34% of all respondents) said that if a friend told them they’d hooked up the night before, they’d assume that meant sex. Among college students, the most popular answer — for 30% of respondents — was that hooking up meant kissing and touching with clothes on.

Elizabeth, 29, commented, “Before I was married I did a lot of ‘random make-outs’, as my friends and I called them or sometimes called them hooking-up. But hooking-up usually meant that there was little more than making-out happening. I always said that I didn’t care if he called but when it came down to it, I always hoped that he would. Most of the time he did not unless he was looking for another random hook-up. I think my girlfriends would say the same. It was a hard habit to break when I decided I wanted ‘real relationships’ as opposed to random hook-ups and make-outs.”

Chris, a 20-year-old single guy, said he’s been confused by the term for a while. “I always assumed it meant intercourse, but one time a friend told me about a hook-up he had where he simply kissed a girl that he liked.”

Katie, 22: “I know it does happen, and I would assume that it often entails sex, though that doesn’t really pressure me. As a young Catholic, I don’t really care about being ‘socially normal,’ and I believe as Christians we are called in many ways to be counter cultural.”

Says Amanda, 26: “If a friend or sibling used this phrase in college or now (it’s less common now that I’ve been out a few years), I always asked for clarification. You never know what it means! Hook-ups are often sex, and I have friends with more than a dozen one-time partners because of it. I’ve done it once myself. And in most cases, the woman either feels embarrassed and regrets the event, or desperately wants the man to express more commitment than he will, watching her phone for calls or texts. To quote Erica Jong, ‘It’s desperation and depression masquerading as freedom.'”

And does this definition issue even matter? “We’re just getting wrapped up in the terminology,” says Katie, 22. “I know it does happen, and I would assume that it often entails sex, though that doesn’t really pressure me. As a young Catholic, I don’t really care about being ‘socially normal,’ and I believe as Christians we are called in many ways to be counter cultural. However, I do see the importance of speaking to those who do feel pressure from the world, and could be negatively influenced by it.”

When does a hook up happen? Among Busted Halo respondents, 46% say two people are most likely to hook up immediately upon meeting, while 39% say the hook up will usually happen after hanging out in a group setting for a while. Only about 9% of respondents even think that hooking up can wait until the first few weeks of dating. (Although, perhaps then you wouldn’t call it a hook up? If not, what would you call it?)

“My experience is it is significantly more common when alcohol is involved,” said Christina, 23, who defined a hook up as including oral sex. “Unfortunately, this can ruin an otherwise promising relationship because it sets a starts with the wrong focus.”

But timing and circumstances matter, argues Kate, 24. “If it’s a random guy you meet at a party while drunk who you’ve never met before that will probably not lead to anything. If it’s someone you know and have spent time with in a social setting that has more potential to turn into something more meaningful.”

What happens after the hook up? To me, this is where it gets really depressing. According to respondents, 47.5% say a woman should expect nothing from a hook up — no call, no date, no relationship, nada. And the man shouldn’t expect anything either. It was just casual. Only 15% of respondents say the woman should expect a call from the guy. Check out this un-romantic chart. The chart for what guys should expect looks pretty similar.

pspl110-chart2

One respondent suggested that there should be rules and time limits to hook ups — physical contact for a set period of time — to manage expectations. Others described a hook up as a way to “test the waters” to see if there should be future contact. Not romantic stuff.

“I do believe the definition has shifted from ‘make-out’ to more intense physical connection,” mused Samantha, 30. And as for what happens next, “If you expect nothing except physical pleasure than you won’t be disappointed by the short-term.”

Says J, a 22-year-old single guy, said in one of his hook ups, “I walked a girl-friend home, we hooked up passionately on the street, texted and so on since, went out once, but it was awkward so we’re just friendly acquaintances now…”

(I think the key word there is “awkward.”)

Kathleen, 19, raises a great point: “The less practicing Catholics are as likely to hook up as anyone else. Those Catholics regularly involved in campus ministry programs are much LESS likely to hook up.” Studies back this up, and that’s of some comfort to those in the Church who are horrified by such casual sexual behavior.

Should a hook up be emotionally meaningful? The majority of respondents want a hook up to be emotionally meaningful. I asked whether people agreed or disagreed with this statement: “Hooking up is just fun, and doesn’t have to be emotionally meaningful.” Some 59% of respondents disagree. Which is really nice, except… how does that add up with the previous chart about the low expectations of post-hook-up interactions? Romance isn’t dead, but it seems most young adults are shielding their hearts and preparing for the worst after these interactions.

“As long as the hook-up doesn’t evolve into meaningless sex, it’s harmless and fun for both parties,” says Tara, 17.

But Patrick, 27, who defined a hook up as meaning sexual intercourse, disagreed: The whole “hook-up culture is a shame,” he said. “Too many men and women have come to look upon the human body as a tool for pleasure. It’s also a shame that the popular idea of sex is void of a deeper meaning.”

Do young-adult Catholics act differently? You don’t think so: 68% of respondents say young-adult Catholics are just as likely to hook up as non-Catholics. Gallup poll research suggests this is probably true. Catholic attitudes and behaviors tend to track with the general population, for better or for worse.

pspl110-chart3

Yet Kathleen, 19, raises a great point: “The less practicing Catholics are as likely to hook up as anyone else. Those Catholics regularly involved in campus ministry programs are much LESS likely to hook up.” Studies back this up, and that’s of some comfort to those in the Church who are horrified by such casual sexual behavior.

Are hook ups equal-opportunity pleasure? Stanford sociologist Paula England has shown that there’s an “orgasm gap” in college hook ups. Men are getting pleasure from these encounters at much higher rates than women. And respondents seemed to agree (presumably without knowing about this research): Some 57% report that they think women don’t get as much pleasure from hook ups as men. “It’s very degrading towards men and women,” says Tori, 18. “Men walk away with a sense of success and callous towards women. While most women walk away hoping they’ll hear from the guy soon.”

Is everyone else gettin’ more than you are? Due largely to media messages in our generally oversexed culture, we think everyone is constantly doin’ it more than we are. But here’s some news to make you feel good about not going on a drunken hook up spree: Two-thirds of respondents say they’ve hooked up somewhere between 0 and 5 times total. This fits with other national research, too. However, three-quarters think that the average college student has hooked up significantly more than they have.

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.

That’s right, says CMC, 22, “I just graduated and I am constantly astounded by the actual statistics about people’s sexual experiences versus what I have heard. It does sound like “everyone is doing it” but this is generally not the case, at least, people aren’t having sex (“hooking up”) with just anyone. I think the people who actually are doing that are just more vocal than the rest of us because they are looking for acceptance of their actions.”

So where do we go from here? Let’s get a discussion going and shake it up a bit. You must have thoughts on this — so share them here in the comments section. And if you haven’t taken our survey on defining the hook-up culture, it’s still open, so please take it now. I’ll update the results and bring in your thoughts in my follow-up column.


DONATE NOW