Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

The four college hookup cultures

In their survey of research on hookup culture, Caroline Heldman and Lisa Wade noted that:

“Examining how institutional factors facilitate or inhibit hook-up culture, or nurture alternative sexual cultures, promises to be a rich direction for research. We still know very little about how hook-up culture varies from campus to campus…”

In my research, I attended different campus cultures and their supporting institutional structures, attempting to understand how their differences might affect hooking up. When I did, I found not “a” hookup culture but four different ones.

First, there is a stereotypical hookup culture.

Stereotypical hookup culture is what most students and researchers assume to be the norm on all college campuses. It does exist. There are people who hookup without expectations of anything afterwards, and they do so frequently. The issue is that they are, in fact, a minority of students on a campus. In their “A New Perspective on Hooking Up Among College Students,” Megan Manthos, Jesse Own, and Frank Finchman found that about 30% of students accounted for almost 75% of hookups on campuses. Heldman and Wade estimated that only around 20% of students hooked up ten times or more. In my work, only 23% of students hooked up more than five times in the course of a year, and only 12% hooked up more than 10 times a year. Moreover, this minority of students shared similar traits: white, wealthy, and come from fraternities and sororities at elite schools.

Second, there is a relationship hookup culture.

While hooking up is not supposed to include any subsequent expectations, many people use it as a way into relationships. In “Sexual Hookup Culture”, Justin Garcia and his fellow authors found that not only did most people hope for a relationships—65% of women and 45% of men—many people even talked about it—51% of women and 42% of men. This hope for relationships partially helps to explain that hooking up is rarely anonymous or random.Almost 70% of hookups are between people who know each other, almost 50% of people assume that hooking up happens between people who know each other, and more people hookup with the same person than hookup with a person only once. This culture, which seems to encompass the largest percentage of students, tended to operate on campuses where there was lots of homogeneity in the student body, places like small, regional colleges.

Third, there is an anti-hookup culture.

While it might seem strange to name not hooking up a hookup culture, it is a culture that exists in opposition to the assumed norm of stereotypical hookup culture, a reality seen by the fact that those who don’t hookup are often pushed to the fringes of campus social life. They tend to be racial minorities, those of the lower economic class,members of the LGBTQ community, and those who are highly religiously committed. These are not the majority of students, but they are a substantive minority, large enough to be a factor on most campuses. While the typical campus with an anti-hookup culture is one that emphasizes and promotes its religious identity, places like Harvard University had 24% of students who did not have sex while there, and 21% who never had a relationship.

Finally, there is a coercive hookup culture.

Coercive hookup culture takes stereotypical hookup culture and attempts to legitimize the use of force in sexual activity. This is done in various ways. Some utilize gender stereotypes and cultural norms to legitimize coercion. Others rely on beliefs about masculinity or rape to rationalize their actions. Alcohol can make force seem more acceptable, while pornography can make coercion seem normal. Whether through one of these means or some other, perpetrators’ legitimization of the violence enables the rampant sexual assault on college campuses, a coercive hookup culture. According to the Center for Disease Control, around 20% of dating relationships have non-sexual violence, and 20% of women in college experience completed or attempted rape. 85% percent of these assailants are known, usually boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, or classmates. Even though these sexual assault numbers have been practically unchanged since 2007, only recently have colleges and universities started to wrestle with them, and then only after the Department of Education’s began investigating several institutions of higher education for Title IX violations in early 2014. While there is some evidence that this culture is more pervasive amongst male student athletes, this just adds further supports to the research that this coercive culture exists on most campuses.

Attending to the distinctive aspects of campuses helps researchers to see variations in hookup culture. Colleges differ in size, geographic location, mission, and student demographics, just to name a few factors that inevitably affect students. I examined Catholic campuses, and, even within these institutions, I found variations in their Catholic identity that led to variations in their hookup cultures. Thus, as the topic is studied, researchers should be attentive to the context in order to accurately understand what is occurring.

This diversity of hookup cultures can also be useful for students. Knowledge of different hookup cultures can help to identify coercion and assault by distinguishing it from other types of hooking up and, in doing so, facilitate better means for stopping it. In addition, knowledge that stereotypical hookup culture is just an assumed norm and not a statistical one means that those who want something other than a stereotypical hookup are not alone. In fact, they are probably the majority. As such, they can be more vocal about and comfortable with pursuing alternatives. There need not be a banishment of stereotypical hooking up but rather a greater tolerance for those who want something else.

Featured image credit: Georgetown Jesuit Residence, by Patrickneil. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Recent Comments

There are currently no comments.