First hookup in college

The Hookup Culture
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All participants lived in on-campus residence halls during their first semester and were not yet eligible to join sororities. All procedures were approved by the Institutional Review Board. After providing written informed consent, students completed two surveys.

The surveys were linked using a non-traceable code. Upon completion, participants received course credit. In the first section of the survey, we requested information about sociodemographic characteristics i. Next, we assessed the prevalence of hookups. Here, they were asked: Participants indicated g what specific sexual behaviors occurred, and whether a condom was used if h oral sex or i vaginal or anal sex occurred.

For all questions, women had the option to indicate that they had never hooked up. Participants indicated e what specific sexual activities occurred and whether a condom was used if f oral sex or g vaginal or anal sex occurred. For all questions, women had the option to indicate that they had not engaged in physical interaction with a romantic relationship partner. Table 1 displays the prevalence rates of seven sexual hookup behaviors as well as the mean and median number of hookup partners for three time intervals: Across all participants and both survey occasions, unique hookup events were described the number of hookups exceeds the number of participants because some women reported unique events at T1 and T2.

Forty-four percent reported that their most recent hookup was not the first time they had hooked up with that particular partner. Participants reported consuming an average of 3. Across all participants and both survey occasions, unique romantic events were described the number of events exceeds the number of participants because some women reported unique events at T1 and T2. Participants reported consuming an average of 0. Hookups and romantic interactions were compared using data from the 99 participants who reported on both a hookup and a romantic event.

Percentages reported in this section refer to only these 99 participants. We applied a Bonferroni correction to alpha of. Alcohol use was more common prior to hookups than prior to romantic interactions. Touching breasts, touching genitals outside of clothing, touching genitals underneath clothing, oral sex, and vaginal sex occurred more often during romantic interactions than during hookups. Among both hookups and romantic interactions in which oral sex occurred, no participants reported condom use.

This study advances knowledge regarding the behavioral epidemiology of hookups by a estimating the prevalence of specific behaviors in the hookup context and b providing more detailed information about the context and behavioral topography of hookups. We assessed specific sexual behaviors in order to obtain precise hookup prevalence rates.

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Knowing the percentage of late adolescents and young emerging adults who engage in penetrative sex during hookups affords a better understanding of the public health implications of the hookup culture. Participants provided ample details regarding their experience before, during, and after hookups, and several key findings emerged. The association between alcohol use and hooking up increases the risk for sexual victimization during these encounters Abbey, ; Flack et al. Second, most women hooked up with someone they knew well, such as a friend or ex-boyfriend. Thus, conceptualizing a hookup as an interaction between strangers or brief acquaintances may miss many hookups.

Third, students use the term hookup to refer to a wide range of behaviors. Using the term hookup in research is problematic if some believe it to mean having vaginal sex but others believe it to be any intimate behavior e. Accordingly, researchers need to use specific behaviors when asking about hookup experiences cf. These findings suggest a need for continued efforts to promote condom use among sexually active young people. The comparison of romantic interactions with hookups also yielded several interesting findings.

First, participants reported consuming alcohol more often and in greater amounts prior to hookups than prior to romantic interactions. These data reveal that alcohol plays a pivotal role in the hookup culture, not simply in general sexual activity among college students.

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Second, hookups were less likely than romantic interactions to involve touching of the breasts and genitals, oral sex, and vaginal sex. This pattern might be expected given that hookup partners are not involved in any kind of committed relationship and may therefore be less likely to assume that such behaviors are appropriate or welcome by their partner.

Third, women reported enjoying romantic interactions more, and regretting them less, than hookups. The preference for sexual interaction with a romantic partner over a hookup partner may stem from physical or psychological reasons. For example, a long-term partner may be more likely than a new hookup partner to be able to please them sexually; indeed, women are more likely to report orgasms from romantic interactions than hookups England et al. Enjoyment and regret of the interactions may also be affected by psychological processes. For instance, perhaps females enjoy romantic interactions more than hookups because they do not have to worry about pejorative labels or developing a negative reputation Bogle, The limitations of this research should be acknowledged.

First, our sample of primarily heterosexual Caucasian females may limit the generalizability of the results. We focused on females because of their greater risk for negative consequences of hookups, but future research should sample males; ethnic minority students; and gay, lesbian, and bisexual students. Members of fraternities and sororities may be of particular interest because they tend to have more sexual partners and to have sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs more often than independent non-fraternity- or sorority-affiliated students cf.

A second limitation of the study is its atheoretical nature. We developed our research questions after a review of the empirical literature on hooking up; we attempted to fill in gaps in the knowledge base and resolve inconsistencies or debatable points. Future research, guided by psychosocial theory, can extend the results of this empirical investigation. Third, the prevalence estimates we obtained reflect the assessment methods we used. The ambiguity inherent in the term hookup makes it difficult to assess its prevalence. However, the methods we employed enabled a more accurate measurement of hookup prevalence relative to prior studies.

Moreover, in our assessment of hookup characteristics, we asked participants to self-label hookups so we did not limit our study to only those situations that we understood to be hookups. Fourth, the study design does not permit causal inferences or exploration of the health consequences of hooking up. Longitudinal research might examine physical and mental health consequences of hooking up cf.

Moreover, the prevalence of hooking up suggests that it confers benefits to young people so research could examine whether positive outcomes accrue from this behavior e. These results suggest that a majority of female students engage in sexual hookups during high school and their first semester of college.

Thus, recent reports describing a new hookup culture among students may be accurate. This study increases understanding of the hookup experience with regard to partner types, alcohol use, sexual behaviors, condom use, and emotional reactions. The defining characteristic of a hookup seems to be the lack of mutually understood romantic commitment rather than a particular relationship or pattern of interaction. Less clear, and worthy of research, are the implications of hookups for health. Research exploring these outcomes is needed before we can draw conclusions about the effects of this increasingly prevalent sexual behavior pattern.

The authors would like to thank Hillary L.


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  • Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Hookups Among First-Semester Female College Students.
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Bishop for her help with data collection and data entry. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. J Sex Marital Ther. Author manuscript; available in PMC Jan 1. Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Center for Health and Behavior, Syracuse University. See other articles in PMC that cite the published article. Prevalence Confidence in prior estimates of the prevalence of hookups is undermined by the use of imprecise definitions of hookup partnerships and behaviors.

Procedures All procedures were approved by the Institutional Review Board. Survey Materials In the first section of the survey, we requested information about sociodemographic characteristics i. Results Prevalence Table 1 displays the prevalence rates of seven sexual hookup behaviors as well as the mean and median number of hookup partners for three time intervals: Open in a separate window.

Hookup Characteristics Across all participants and both survey occasions, unique hookup events were described the number of hookups exceeds the number of participants because some women reported unique events at T1 and T2. Alcohol and drug use Participants reported consuming an average of 3. Romantic Interactions Across all participants and both survey occasions, unique romantic events were described the number of events exceeds the number of participants because some women reported unique events at T1 and T2.

These data were coded independently by two coders, and then kappa was computed for each code. To aid with interpretation, Bakeman and Gottman characterized kappas of. Reliability was excellent for all five codes, with kappas ranging from. Disagreements between coders on this subset were resolved through discussion, and the remainder of the data set was coded by one of the coders who had been part of the reliability assessment. With regard to personal hooking up participation, Coping, a motive focused on avoiding negative emotions, was the next most frequently cited Qualitative examination of the data was used to explore specific motives that participants invoked in each of these categories.

These responses revealed the following: When citing enhancement motives, participants described a variety ways in which hooking up might enhance well-being. Thus, not only was enhancement the most frequently cited motive, but participants described a number of different ways in which enhancement might play out. Interestingly, social motives included two opposing desires: That is, those who reported that hooking up behaviors reflected coping motives were less likely to cite the other two motives.

As shown in Table 2 , women who had hooked up in college were significantly more likely to state that female peers hook up for enhancement reasons a positive motive and the most frequently occurring motive category , but were significantly less likely to state that peers hook up for coping or conformity reasons negative motives. Further, coping motives were cited by Perceptions of social and external motives for hooking up were not associated with personal participation in hooking up.

Two thirds of participants reported the perception that college women hook up for enhancement reasons e. In contrast, participants were far less likely to perceive that same-sex peers were motivated to hook up for coping reasons hooking up to regulate negative affect , social reasons hooking up to obtain social rewards or avoid undesirable social outcomes , conformity reasons hooking up in response to social pressure , or external reasons hooking up because of external circumstances, internal states, or personal qualities.

These high prevalence rates of hooking up, and with multiple partners, are consistent with prior collegiate research showing hooking up as a normative sexual behavior among women during this developmental stage. For example, women who themselves hook up may be more likely to view hooking up more positively compared with those who do not, and thus these women may be inclined to report enhancement-motivated normative perceptions.

Conversely, women who do not hook up may view their peers who do hook up as doing so for unhealthy reasons—whether conforming to social pressure or as a means to alleviate negative affect—which they feel they are able to resist.

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The discrepancy between normative perceptions and negative outcomes indicates that college women may benefit from open and nonjudgmental interventions that juxtapose positive normative hookup perceptions against statistics conveying negative post-hookup outcomes. Targeted interventions would enable at-risk subgroups of college women e. Moreover, protective strategy skills training may help women maximize the positive aspects of hooking up while minimizing potential negative outcomes of hooking up.

Both hooking up and alcohol consumption are prevalent risk behaviors in collegiate populations, and these findings highlight parallels that may be drawn between motivations for engaging in both. It is possible then that a more general motivation for enhancement may underlie engaging in both of these high-risk behaviors. Therefore, it would be interesting to assess whether students reporting greater enhancement motives for drinking are also more likely to report that they hook up for enhancement reasons.

Sexual harm reduction interventions targeting heavy drinkers who may be predisposed to risky enhancement-motivated drinking and hooking up may be warranted. In reviews of event-level studies, Weinhardt and Carey found little evidence supporting a prospective link between drinking with sexual risk-taking, whereas Cooper found strong causal support for a situational-specific alcohol-risky sex relationship: In eight of nine between-persons event-level analyses and two of two within-persons event-level analyses, drinking was positively associated with having casual sex partners.

Further event-level investigation, particularly ecologically valid diary studies, is needed to test the causal effects of alcohol consumption on hooking up behaviors. Methodologically, the current study used a straightforward coding framework and single open-ended question that offers an easy-to-implement method of assessment with considerable potential for replication and transportability.


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  6. This approach could be applied to a number of populations e. The current study is limited by its correlational and cross-sectional design. Future research is needed to shed light on the directionality of the relationships between normative perceptions and personal hookup behaviors. It is possible that normative perceptions may shift across a longer assessment period, perhaps as a function of hookup participation.

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    For example, women who subsequently engage in a hookup may experience a shift in the attitudinal judgment they attach to hooking up motivations. Therefore, longitudinal designs can be used to confirm the directionality of underlying relationships between normative perceptions and hooking up behaviors. Additionally, future research should aim to uncover variables that moderate the relationships observed in the current study. For example, there is evidence that college hookup prevalence rates may differ by race Owen et al.

    Therefore, exploring how normative hookup perceptions differ by race and ethnicity, and whether the relationships we observed hold across demographic groups, would yield greater insight into subgroup differences in hooking up processes among young adults. A final limitation of this study is that we were unable to differentiate hookups that involved sexual intercourse from those that did not.

    Descriptive data demonstrated that Although this does not indicate that the other In sum, the high prevalence rates of hooking up on college campuses, along with evidence showing negative outcomes that can result from hooking up among women in particular, highlight the importance of identifying the processes that contribute to decision-making concerning this potentially risky behavior. Thus, social motives involved external positive reinforcements; enhancement involved internal positive reinforcements; conformity involved external negative reinforcements; and coping involved internal negative reinforcements.

    National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Int J Sex Health. Author manuscript; available in PMC Feb Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Address correspondence to Joseph W. See other articles in PMC that cite the published article. Hooking up, normative perceptions, hookup motives, first-year college women. Normative Perceptions of Hooking Up College women are found to hook up for a variety of reasons.

    Study Objectives and Hypotheses The current study explored hookup-specific normative peer beliefs by examining the open-ended responses of a large sample of first-year college women. Positive rewards might come from sexual partners or peers. Enhancement refers to hooking up behaviors that are in the service of obtaining positive emotional or physical internal states but not for the intention of trying to avoid or ameliorate negative emotions.

    The latter statements are coded under Coping. The idea of filling a void must be explicit and cannot be inferred. Open in a separate window. Hooking Up Participation as a Function of Normative Perceptions As shown in Table 2 , women who had hooked up in college were significantly more likely to state that female peers hook up for enhancement reasons a positive motive and the most frequently occurring motive category , but were significantly less likely to state that peers hook up for coping or conformity reasons negative motives.

    Limitations The current study is limited by its correlational and cross-sectional design.

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    Footnotes 1 Event-level studies capture data specific to one event e. From decisions to actions: A theory of planned behavior. Kuhl J, Beckmann J, editors. From cognition to behavior. The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. Ajzen I, Fishbein M. Understanding attitudes and predicting social behavior. Orgasm in college hook ups and relationships. Families as they really are. Bakeman R, Gottman JM. Handbook of infant development. Sex, dating and relationships on campus. New York University Press; Normative perceptions in relation to substance use and HIV-risky sexual behaviors of college students.

    Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology. The evolution of desire: Strategies of human mating. Motivations for alcohol use among adolescents: Development and validation of a four-factor model. Alcohol use and risky sexual behavior among college students and youth: Journal of Studies on Alcohol Supplement. Motivations for sex and risky sexual behavior among adolescents and young adults: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

    A motivational model of alcohol use. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. The gendered society reader. Oxford University Press; Eshbaugh EM, Gute G. Hookups and sexual regret among college women. Journal of Social Psychology. Prevalence and characteristics of sexual hookups among first-semester female college students.

    Review of General Psychology.