Researchers explore the complex world of college students' sexual hookups
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 hook-up culture.
Their findings 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,” Justin R. Garcia, a research fellow at The Kinsey Institute, said.
“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 colourful 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 behaviour 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,” he said.
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,” Sean Massey, co-author of the study, said.
“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,” Massy said.
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,” Garcia said.
“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,” he said.
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 behaviour 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,” Chris Reiber said.
“But what was interesting was the role alcohol played in many hook-ups: sometimes consumed on purpose to facilitate hooking up, and other times given as a reason why hook-ups went further than expected or wanted,” he said.
The researchers say alcohol and drug use can drastically increase the risks associated with hook-ups.
However, 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,” Garcia said.
“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,” he added.
The study has been published in the Review of General Psychology.