College Campus Hook-up Culture

Researchers have always been fascinated with college hook-up culture (Kaats & Davis, 1970; Siebenbruner, 2013). Over decades, “hooking-up” trends have changed from extremely formal relationships to casual friends with benefits. Past research has shown that couples used to meet through classes, friends, parties and began dating before engaging in sexual activities — which is not the case with college “hook-up” culture today (Johnson, 2012). Today, it is more common for people to meet in these settings and develop a continuous “hooking-up” relationship rather than exclusively dating (Kuperberg & Padgett 2015). With each generation, comes a new ‘normal’ in the world of romantic relationships. 

I had the opportunity to conduct a research study that evaluated college students' experiences and understanding of their past “hook-ups”. An anonymous survey was sent to Cal Poly students and other university students between the ages 18 and 23 (about 40% male and 60% female). The survey asked 13 different questions, including: 

  • “Were you or your partner under the influence of alcohol in the initial “hook-up”?”

  • “Describe your last “hook-up”: How did it begin/How did you meet? How did it progress?”

  • “How did you feel after the “hook-up” (Mentally/Emotionally)?”

These results provided insight into the current “hook-up” climate and trends that are present on college campuses. 

When looking at “hook-ups” today, a common question is whether or not people are under the influence of alcohol during the initial “hook-up.” Research has shown that alcohol plays a huge role in the college student dating scene. Specifically, women tend to consume about four drinks while men consume six drinks before engaging in a “hook-up” (England, et al., 2008). Our study discovered that over half of the participants indicated that alcohol was involved during the time of the initial hook-up for both themselves and their partner. 

One part of this study was looking into participants' last “hook-up” encounter. Let’s just say that participants did not hold back on sharing their personal stories. We were really able to see the different ways students meet on campus and how their relationship progressed. Many participants shared stories of meeting between mutual friends or at a party and engaging in sexual activities that night. Then, some relationships ended immediately whereas others reported that the one-time “hook-up” continued and eventually turned into an exclusive relationship.

An interesting part about these stories was the difference between how males and females responded to the open-ended question. More often, females’ responses were very in depth and descriptive and included some type of “emotional” language, whereas the male responses were shorter and more to the point. This raises the speculation that males and females interpret “hook-up” encounters very differently. 

When looking at how participants felt after their “hook-up” experience, there was a range of feelings and emotions. Research has shown that when individuals have more hook-up partners and unprotected sex, it relates to feelings of psycological distress (Napper, 2016). Our research revealed that some participants felt “connected, satisfied, and fantastic”, whereas others felt “lonely, used, and insecure”. Specifically, 40% of participants reported feeling “Good”, 23% felt “Neutral”, 24% felt “Bad” and 13% felt “Uneasy” after the “hook-up” encounter. 

One compelling factor from other research is that females tend to express more regret after casual “hook-ups” compared to males (Dubé, et al., 2017). Researchers believe this could stem from the societal shift in gender roles and expectations that has occurred over time. There are less regulations and expectations of women compared to the past but ultimately, women tend to express regret after engaging in sexual behaviors (Eshbaugh and Gute, 2008; Gilovich et al., 1995).

This evidence and data is just a small glimpse into the world of college campus “hook-up” culture. It is clear that over time, “hook-up” trends have changed and will continue to do so. From “going steady” to “talking” to “netflix & chill”, each generation brings forth a new ‘normal’. One thing that never changes in the dating world is the importance of putting yourself first. Remember to always be safe, cater to your mental and emotional needs, and engage in activities that make you feel happy & empowered.