Partying is "built into the rhythm and architecture of higher education. Arman was 7, miles from his family, one of the roughly million international students who were enrolled in U. Dropped into the raucous first week of freshman year, he discovered a way of life that seemed intensely foreign, frightening, and enticing. The behavior of some of his fellow students unnerved him. He watched them drink to excess, tell explicit sexual stories, flirt on the quad and grind on the dance floor.
He was deeply torn as to whether to participate in this new social scene. Ceding to or resisting that culture becomes part of their everyday lives.
One night, he succumbed to temptation. He went to a party, drank, and kissed a girl on the dance floor. When the alcohol wore off, he was appalled at his behavior. A few months later, he would lose his virginity to a girl he barely knew.
His feelings about it were deeply ambivalent. For my book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus , I followed college students through a semester of their first year.
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They submitted weekly journal entries, writing about sex and dating on campus however they wished. In total, the students wrote over 1, single-spaced pages and a million words. I dovetailed their stories with 21 follow-up interviews, quantitative data from the Online College Social Life Survey, academic literature, hundreds of essays written by students for college newspapers, and 24 visits to campuses around the country.
Arman was an outlier. Thirty-six of the students I studied reported being simultaneously attracted to and repelled by hookup culture upon arrival at college, compared to thirty-four who opted out entirely, twenty-three who opted in with enthusiasm, and eight who sustained monogamous relationships. For students like Arman, who are unsure of whether they want to participate, hookup culture has a way of tipping the scales.
Its logic makes both abstaining from sex and a preference for sex in committed relationships difficult to justify, and its integration into the workings of higher education makes hooking up hard to avoid. Hooking up is immanently defensible in hookup culture.American Hookup: Real Facts and True Stories about Hookup Culture - Lisa Wade
All of these ideas are widely circulated on campus—and all make reasonable sense—validating the choice to engage in casual sex while invalidating both monogamous relationships and the choice to have no sex at all. For the students in my study who were enthusiastic about casual sex, this worked out well, but students who found casual sex unappealing often had difficulty explaining why, both to themselves or others.
Many simply concluded that they were overly sensitive or insufficiently brave.
Transforming Hookup Culture: A Review of American Hookup
Faced with these options, many students who are ambivalent decide to give it a try. In the colonial era, colleges were downright stodgy. Student activities were rigidly controlled, curricula were dry, and harsh punishments were meted out for misbehavior. The fraternity boys of the early s can be credited with introducing the idea that college should be fun.
Their lifestyle was then glamorized by the media of the s and democratized by the alcohol industry in the s after Animal House. Today, the reputation of higher education as a place for an outlandish good time is second only to its reputation as a place of learning. Not just any good time, though. A particular kind of party dominates the social scene: Such parties are built into the rhythm and architecture of higher education.
Almost all of the students in American Hookup were living in residence halls.
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Among other things, it means people can be much more open about their desires. Apps may make the process feel more mechanical, and less organic, but they also offer an opportunity to present yourself exactly how you want to be perceived. Swipe anxiety aside, people are still meeting each other through the usual means — bars, parties, and friends of friends.
And, of course, totally randomly. We hooked up to the same playlist each time, which gave the whole experience a reassuring familiarity. But it was fulfilling. Our movements made my bed move. There was an intimacy in it.
We tried to be good to each other. In the rare instances aforementioned… it feels amazing! You can make life what you want! But more often, it leaves an aftertaste that's a bit strange. Sometimes I get caught up in some slightly existential mild anxiety, but then I get an iced coffee and it fixes itself. I want it to feel like a sport. I want to satisfy something more intellectual.
You learn a new body, you delight in a new person's actions and reactions. You get to enjoy the sudden pivot from being strangers doing solitary calculations and negotiations over a drink to strangers who are naked and comfortable and stroking each other's hair.
But is it always uncomplicated? I wondered, how did people go about navigating the intersection of sex, feelings, and other emotional dilemmas? For some, like Megan, hooking up itself was the solution. For others, like Sarah and Alex, their racial and sexual identities influenced the way they experienced casual sex.
I feel like most people knew what the situation was, though, so breaking things off was never that hard. You can end up feeling used, or in uncontrolled or unwanted states of vulnerability, which can be hard.
For many, ghosting — when you simply stop messaging the other person or returning their texts and essentially disappear from their lives — just feels practical. Ben in particular had strong feelings about it, writing to me: It's such a naked expression of selfishness.