You have a few cups of punch and some flirty eye contact at a house party, and next thing you know, you’re hooking up.
According to experts, college students have flings because they want it all: sexual gratification as well as the potential for a lasting relationship.
A hook-up is a sexual encounter between people who are not dating or in a relationship, where a more traditional romantic relationship is not an explicit condition of the encounter, said Justin Garcia, a doctoral student in the Laboratory of Evolutionary Anthropology and Health.
Garcia and Chris Reiber, assistant professor of anthropology at Binghamton University, have researched hook-ups and uncommitted sex at BU. Garcia will also teach a new summer course, HDEV 333: Bioculture of Love and Sex.
“Our studies consistently show that approximately two-thirds, or about 65 percent, of BU students have experienced a hook-up,” Garcia said. “Dating, such as dinner and a movie, has been replaced with hooking up.”
“The fact is that many will never go out on a ‘date’ unless they are already actively dating someone. So, that raises the question of how they initiated their relationship: They hook up.”
A vast majority — 90 percent — of both men and women say that one of their motivations for engaging in a hook-up is simply physical gratification, Garcia said.
When they asked students to explain the multiple factors motivating their hook-ups, Garcia said they found that roughly half of all who have hooked up do so because they have a desire to initiate a more traditional romantic relationship.
“This is interesting as it helps dispel the myth that men just want sex and women just want love and babies,” he said. “In fact, both men and women ideally want it all. A vast majority of us want to feel the excitement of love and being loved.”
Students should recognize that sex should be lots of fun, Garcia said, but in order to do that, sex must be taken seriously.
“It is important to know about the potentially negative outcomes [of hooking up] so they can be avoided and prevented,” Reiber said.
We know that many hook-ups are facilitated by the use of alcohol and other drugs, and this drastically increases the overall risks, Garcia said. These risks range from emotional distress, to neglecting use of protection for pregnancy and disease, to what amounts to unintended rape. It seems that when people engage in behaviors that diverge from their true intentions, the consequences are much more severe.
Garcia also adds that there is a possibility of catching any number of sexually transmitted diseases from sexual activities, including oral sex.
“It is terribly neglectful to not use condoms and other forms of protection when engaging in sex, most especially in a hook-up,” he said.
“I think it is critical for students to protect themselves at all times,” she said. “All sexual behavior should be safe sex. Condoms are cool!”
Reiber also warned that hooking up can lead to psychological trauma from misunderstandings, which can lead to self-esteem problems and use or abuse of drugs and alcohol.
“For instance, if a woman feels pressured to hook up with a man but she really is not comfortable with engaging in particular sexual behaviors with him, she could be quite emotionally injured by the encounter,” she said. “This is why it is so important for people to be honest about how they feel about these situations and behaviors.”
Both genders overestimate how comfortable the opposite sex is with virtually every sexual behavior which, Reiber said, has the potential to set up a very dangerous dynamic.
“In example, men correctly rate women’s comfort levels as lower than their own, but they think women’s comfort levels are much higher than women report them to actually be,” she said. “Men appear to be unaware that women are actively uncomfortable with many sexual behaviors.”
“Everyone needs to be aware that their perception of others’ comfort level may not be accurate, since misunderstandings of this sort have the potential to do very real damage when sexual scenarios play out,” she added.
Garcia added that you need to be comfortable and ready with both yourself and your partner when it comes to sexual activity.
“Casual sex is never truly that casual, and that’s something people should keep in mind,” he said. “When we have sex, especially when its orgasmic sex, our body goes through a number of chemical changes, one of which promotes bonding and attachment. One should ask themselves if having casual sex with this person will lead to what they are really looking for, or will they be making a risky gamble.”