National conversations regarding hookup culture on college campuses have been prone to sensationalism. They are embellished with suggestive headlines and improbable details about fleeting liaisons. While research consistently shows that this perception does not match reality, the recurring chastisement of rampant sexuality is misdirected regardless. More telling than the frequency of casual sex among youth is the attitude surrounding it. According to a survey that examined college students’ sentiments, 41 percent “expressed sadness, regret and ambivalence” the morning after a hookup. Furthermore, several studies show that many students would actually prefer to be physical within the context of a romantic relationship than have a meaningless hookup. Given these findings, students’ rationales for choosing empty sex before dating speaks volumes.
Both collegiate men and women regularly report that they consider relationships to be a distraction from academics, internships, graduate school and career planning. While they may long for true intimacy, the students craft excuses for their active negation of commitment. With female undergraduates outnumbering male undergraduates, some young men say it is no longer necessary to woo their peers to find sexual partners. Conversely, some young women report that their engagement in hookup culture is founded in desire to avoid romantic attachment and belief that commitment could compromise professional opportunities. Former Harvard student Leah Reis-Dennis, who was interviewed for a March 30, 2011 USA Today article impeccably conveyed this resounding sentiment, saying “Hooking up is kind of an easier way for college students to act on their sexual desire without making a big commitment.”
This callous characterization of hookup culture reveals its disingenuous nature. It might be a different situation if these students pursued casual sex after displaying emotional maturity, taking proper precautions and assuming responsibility for any negative consequences. None of these indicators are present in hookup culture. Students instead deliberately avoid romantic relationships because they are terrified of becoming attached to other human beings. Maturity is completely absent from the dynamic. College men and women who have casual sex in this counterproductive fashion shelter themselves from meaningful connections in fear that the relationship could fail, leaving them with an emotional void.
Accompanying this attitude is a failure to recognize that vulnerability is inevitable of any significant bond. Relationships regularly fail, but it is a natural part of interpersonal development. This desperate evasion of companionship can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Believing that one can suddenly be prepared for a committed relationship or marriage after solely hooking up throughout college, graduate school and a few years of employment is unrealistic. Hookup culture at best denies students the opportunity for emotional maturation — at worst, it irrevocably hinders one’s ability to form substantive connections.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Sept. 25 print edition. Email Christina Coleburn at [email protected]