For the book American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, I asked 101 college students to journal about their experiences hooking up. Here is what they had to say.
In a hookup culture, saving sex for romantic relationships is off-script and preferring monogamous commitments is old-fashioned.
“It’s not that dating relationships don’t occur, but . . . a lot of people look at it as something that they would never do.”
– Luke (white, gay)
Hooking up is the norm. Participating is all but obligatory, lest you seem boring, prudish, or judgmental.
“I know that I should want to have sex all the time and should take advantage of it when I get the chance. [When] I didn’t, I felt like a loser, or uncool.”
– Wren (white, pansexual)
Even women often try to adopt a tomboyish approach, since most hookup cultures value a stereotypically masculine attitude towards sex.
“I railed against the idea that women were needy, dependent, easily heartsick, easily made hysterical by men, attention-obsessed, and primarily fixated on finding romance. I did this by proving how very like a boy I could behave.”
– Eloise (white, heterosexual)
The rule is to not take anything too seriously. Sex in a hookup culture is “just” sex. Oddly, that means that other things—like holding hands, sustained eye contact, and forehead kisses—can carry substantially more meaning.
“To me, holding hands and cuddling is something that people participate in when they actually care about someone.”
– Arielle (Latina, heterosexual)
So, how do you ensure no one’s taking it too seriously? One way is to be drunk. “Sober sex” is something people do when they are exploring a romantic relationship. In contrast, hookups happen after people have been drinking.
“You don’t walk out of the house without your shoes on and you don’t walk into a party without a couple of shots of vodka. It’s real.”
– Nevaeh (black, heterosexual)
But if romance is off-the-table, how do students decide who to hook up with? In a hookup culture, the goal is to hook up with someone your friends think is hot. The currency is popularity and status.
“In our room, sex is a commodity [that] increases a man’s social status, especially if he ‘scores’ or ‘pounds’ an especially blonde girl.”
– Justin (Latino, heterosexual)
Afterwards, re-set the relationship, whatever it was, by giving it a temporary demotion. Acting a little cold, a bit aloof, and even ignoring someone says, “Don’t get any ideas. We aren’t any closer now than we were before.”
“Being mean was the best way to handle it.”
– Giselle (white, heterosexual)
What do students think of hookup culture? Some people love it. A quarter of college students are genuinely enthusiastic about hookup culture and the more they hook up, the happier they are.
“Practically unlimited and uninterrupted sex whenever I feel like it? I don’t think I could pass that offer up.”
– Monica (white, heterosexual)
About 40 percent participate ambivalently, having mixed experiences and mixed emotions.
“I’ve been going about it how I usually do, which is to hook up with them and hope the feelings come out of it.”
– Rhea (white, bisexual)
The remainder abstain. A third of students will never hook up a single time. Some opt out for religious reasons, but most do so because the “emotionless” approach to sex doesn’t appeal to them.
“I simply cannot behave that way.”
– Emory (white, heterosexual)
Even abstainers, though, have to contend with the norm of casual sex.
“Even if you aren’t hooking up, there is no escaping hookup culture.”
– Shawna (white, heterosexual)