So You “Hooked Up”? Translation, Please

I have hooked up with so many girls. Like, so many girls. Last weekend, I hooked up with, like, four girls in the same night. I might as well be the Hookup King, considering how many girls I hook up with, like every weekend. Man, I just love hooking up. This one time, me and this girl were hooking up and someone walked in on us. I was like, “Come on, man! Can’t you see we’re hooking up?” Jeez, I’ve got so many crazy hookup stories about all the crazy times and crazy places I’ve hooked up. Tonight I’m definitely gonna hook up. I just love hooking up. It’s so chill and awesome. So many hookups. So many hookups, man.
It will be difficult, I know, but try and ignore the fact that this person is a complete shmuck, and consider this:
If he was telling the truth, would you believe me if I told you he’s had sex with over 50 different women? Or, what if I said—and again, he was being honest—that this guy is a virgin, having taken a vow of celibacy until marriage? Considering the ubiquity and, moreover, vagueness of the term “hook up,” you’d have no choice but to believe me either way.

 Please tell me what these people are doing.
“Hooking up”? ... Yeah, still doesn’t help.

In a non-sexual context, the term is consistent and benign, as in, “Rick, hook up the N64—I’m gonna work you in Mario Kart” or, “Hey girls, Angie totally got us the hookup for NKOTB/BSB tickets!” When your mom uses it—“Honey, take the car keys, so you can hook up with your sister after lunch”—she doesn’t realize that, to you, she’s inadvertently suggesting incest. Parents just don’t understand—but at least we can understand what they’re saying.
As a college student, on the other hand, if a friend says he “hooked up” with someone, I literally have no idea what he means. The definition of the term can be as varying as the physical acts it ineffectively describes. “Hookup” could refer to a bunt single just as easily as a towering walk-off homerun (I’m not sure what either of those mean, really, but maybe you do). “Hooking up” could mean what Evelyn Goldman and I did for approximately eight seconds as prepubescent seventh-graders on the dance floor at Jake Katz’s bar mitzvah party. Or, it could mean triplets. 
When I asked a friend his definition of “hookup,” he responded with confidence, “In 99 percent of contexts, to me, it means the same thing: you went home, or went to a locked room and did something with someone.”  “Something” with “someone”? What is this, a Mad Libs? That could mean anything from ”sex” with “my girlfriend” to “Yahtzee” with “Ingrid Michaelson” to “Tuesdays” with “Morrie.”
“Hookup” could mean anything or everything, so, in reality, it means nothing. Beyond meaning different things to different people, a person is likely to change his or her definition depending on crowd, context, and convenience. The term means nothing and the nothingness evolves, which is also the name of the emo punk band I’ve been meaning to start.
So, why is there no universally recognized definition for a term that’s used with such frequency and imbued with such significance?
The vagueness is no mere accident; it’s intentional. Without knowing it, college students designed a unique term to counteract the unique realities and evils of the sexual culture to which to applies.
For one, the inherent ambiguity of “hook up” provides some semblance of privacy for people who otherwise aren’t afforded any. Whether through Facebook gossip, the audible complaints of “sexiled” roommate, or your cross-campus walk of shame, dorm hallways, dining halls, and Greek houses will be abuzz with the now-public knowledge of what you and so-and-so did last night until five in the morning—probably before five in the morning. 

Maybe you’re being coy in public form (use “hookup” at the lunch table and save the juicy stuff for your besties), maybe you’re looking to exaggerate (say “hookup” to describe a make out and let the imagination of your friends run wild), or maybe you’re just showing respect from your partner (“hookup” can protect the intimacy of his or her body and actions). Whatever it is, for one (good) reason or another, you don’t want every sorority sister and her little knowing every little detail of your “Tuesday” with “Morrie.” Maybe you’re not one to kiss and tell: using “hookup” means you can fornicate while they merely speculate.
The spectrum of sexual activity and the experience of the people engaging in it is at its widest during college. Some students are having their first kiss, while other have had dozens of sexual partners before—or even during—freshman orientation. That said, “hook up” is conveniently—but not coincidentally—versatile; it covers everything from a dance-floor make-out (DFMO, if you will—and you probably will) to things you thought only happened in cyberspace or Thailand.
No matter how unfairly, those on either end of the sexual spectrum are often ostracized. The least experienced or sexually inactive are seen as prude and the most sexually active are seen as licentious. As an all-encompassing term “hookup” allows everyone to “fit in,” to avoid the conspicuous and stigmatized sexual margins and instead situate themselves somewhere in the middle, a place of refuge and equality, socially as well as semantically. As it turns out, “hooking up” makes you “normal,” as if that means anything, either.