Researchers Find College Students’ Sexual Hookups More Complex Than Originally Thought

Released: 17-Oct-2012 12:00 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Binghamton University, State University of New York
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Citations Review of General Psychology

Newswise — BINGHAMTON, NY -- Between 60 to 80 percent of college students have experienced some kind of sexual ‘hook-up,’ according to new research published in the Review of General Psychology.

Researchers from Binghamton University and The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, collaborated on a comprehensive academic review of the sexual hookup culture. Their finding concluded that these encounters, which are increasingly becoming the ‘norm,’ mark a shift in the openness and acceptance of uncommitted sex among U.S. “emerging adults” during the transitional developmental period between adolescence and young adulthood.

“What we were able to see in the literature was a real change to dating culture,” said Justin R. Garcia, a research fellow at The Kinsey Institute. “Since the 1920s, we’ve seen a gradual movement away from dating under parental supervision, in fact, taking it out of the house completely. This project provided a very colorful snapshot of where we are today by focusing on a unique transitional period in an emerging adult’s life – the college years. What we found presents a new take on sexual behavior today, which is that we’re dealing with a culture among emerging adults that views sex in a non-committal way, emphasizing experience over committed relationships.”

Drawing a team of researchers from a broad range of disciplines, the project presented an opportunity to look at the issue of uncommitted sex from a multifaceted theoretical perspective.

“We brought together a real mix of forces to tackle this project,” said Sean Massey, research associate professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Binghamton University, and co-author of the study. “We tapped into the expertise of an evolutionary biologist, an anthropologist, a social psychologist and a developmental psychologist – people who were able to collaborate intellectually but able to draw from different spheres and methodology. The result is a comprehensive view that we believe offers a much better understanding of sexual activity and perspectives.”

The anthropologist - Chris Reiber, an associate professor - and the developmental psychologist - Ann M. Merriwether, both of Binghamton University - joined Garcia and Massey in conducting a full review of studies and opine from each of their respective fields to formulate a comprehensive snapshot of the cultural phenomenon known as ‘hook-ups.’

“Even though a large percentage of emerging adults ‘hookup,’ it’s not just about the sex,” said Garcia. “Many men and women are looking for something more – in essence, looking for love, a romantic relationship. With dating culture being so dramatically different among youth today, we’re left to ask how emerging adults achieve both sexual and romantic goals - as desires for both are at the core of the human condition.”

And it’s not all about the stuff emerging adults see on TV or listen to on their iPods. Tapping into the barrage of cultural references in movies, television shows, and music that emerging adults are subjected to, the study suggests that pop culture is pulling double-duty, simultaneously representing aspects of actual sexual behavior while providing sexual ‘scripts’ for young adults.

The researchers also found that alcohol and drugs had a lot to do with uncommitted sex. In fact, alcohol was involved in over a third of the hookup cases. “It certainly wasn’t a surprise to us,” said Chris Reiber. “But what was interesting was the role alcohol played in many hookups: sometimes consumed on purpose to facilitate hooking up, and other times given as a reason why hookups went further than expected or wanted.” The researchers say alcohol and drug use can drastically increase the risks associated with hookups.

But according to the researchers, it’s not all bad news. The study presents a unique opportunity for parents and anyone dealing with college-aged populations to have a better understanding of this stage of a young person’s development.

“We neither condemn nor condone any consensual sexual activity," said Garcia. "But we do endorse the need for emerging adults to be aware of, and honestly communicate, their own intentions, desires, and the comfort levels of themselves and of their partner(s) during engagement in sexual activity.”

Massey hopes the study will help parents and those who interact with emerging adults to be better educated about sexual behavior.

“Hookups have become a major part of today’s social discourse, and to the sexual development of many young people,” said Massey. “We hope this review and our other studies on the hookups provide an entry point to talk about this issue much more openly, and based on the available data. There are both negative and positive sides of the issue, but more importantly, the data demonstrate tremendous variety in human sexual expression.”

The interdisciplinary research group is currently working on several empirical studies regarding sexual hookup behavior, with several articles recently completed on the topic. Future studies aim to understand the relationship between hookup culture and sexual satisfaction, sexual orientation, risk and condom use, alcohol use, and pregnancy, amongst other issues.


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