Are 'hookups' replacing romantic relationships on college campuses?

November 8, 2012

"Hooking up" has become such a trend on college campuses that some believe these casual, no-strings-attached sexual encounters may be replacing traditional romantic relationships. However, a new study by researchers with The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine suggests college students are not actually hooking up as frequently as one might think.

According to their study, published online by the , romantic relationships are still the most common context for , at least among women in their first year of college. Researchers report romantic sex with a boyfriend or relationship partner was found to be twice as common as hookup sex in this particular group of students.

"Hooking up is one way that young adults explore , but it's not the most common way, and it is often exploratory," said Robyn L. Fielder, M.S., a research intern at The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and . "So while hooking up gets more attention in the media, continue to develop romantic relationships, which are actually the most common context for sexual behavior."

"Hooking up" is a loosely defined term characterized by sexual intimacy, ranging from kissing to , between partners who are not dating or in a romantic relationship and do not expect commitment. However, Fielder says little is known about the frequency of sexual hookups, how this prevalence changes over time and whether hookups are replacing among college students in general.

Researchers surveyed 483 first-year female college students about their sexual behavior with hookup and romantic relationship partners during their freshmen year, as well as the summer after. They focused specifically on sexual behaviors, specifically oral or vaginal sex, that are most likely to have , such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or pregnancy.

Before starting college, one-third of incoming freshmen women reported having at least one hookup, while nearly 60 percent said they had sex at least once in the context of a romantic relationship. Forty percent reported sexual hookups during the first year of college, and less than one in five participants had a sexual hookup each month. However, more than half – 56 percent – engaged in oral and/or with a boyfriend or romantic partner during the year.

The average number of sexual hookups per month ranged from one to three, suggesting that – for most women – hookups are experimental and relatively infrequent as opposed to a regular pattern of behavior. Specifically, the highest rate of sexual hookups took place at the beginning of the academic year (October) and the lowest rate was during the summer (June). Sexual hookups were also more common among Caucasian students than they were among Asian or African-American students.

"These findings support what we know about the first year of college: That it is a time when we see increases in sexual behavior and substance use, as young people explore who they want to be and how they want to interact with others – especially romantic partners," said Fielder. "It's important that we gain a better understanding of students' sexual behavior, since it can potentially affect both their physical and mental health as well as their academic success."

Fielder said the study's findings could guide university health promotion efforts, including the need for STD and pregnancy prevention, since many studies have shown that condom use among college students is inconsistent and, in fact, decreases over the first year of .

Explore further: When it comes to college hookups, more is said than done

Related Stories

When it comes to college hookups, more is said than done

September 14, 2011
College students talk about hooking up -- a lot. In fact, they talk about it much more than it actually happens, and they believe other students are having the encounters more often than they actually are, as a new study ...

Love matters: Internet hookups for men don't always mean unsafe sex

May 23, 2011
If a gay or bisexual man seeks sex or dating online, the type of partner or relationship he wants is a good indicator of whether he'll engage in safe sex, a new study suggests.

Women decrease condom use during freshman year of college, study finds

February 28, 2012
Women gradually use condoms less frequently during their first year of college, according to a new study by researchers from The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine. This was particularly true ...

Does true love wait? Age of first sexual experience predicts romantic outcomes in adulthood

October 17, 2012
It's a common lament among parents: Kids are growing up too fast these days. Parents worry about their kids getting involved in all kinds of risky behavior, but they worry especially about their kids' forays into sexual relationships. ...

Recommended for you

Vitamin E-deficient embryos are cognitively impaired even after diet improves

July 27, 2017
Zebrafish deficient in vitamin E produce offspring beset by behavioral impairment and metabolic problems, new research at Oregon State University shows.

Sugar not so sweet for mental health

July 27, 2017
Sugar may be bad not only for your teeth and your waistline, but also your mental health, claimed a study Thursday that was met with scepticism by other experts.

Could insufficient sleep be adding centimeters to your waistline?

July 27, 2017
Adults in the UK who have poor sleep patterns are more likely to be overweight and obese and have poorer metabolic health, according to a new study.

The role of dosage in assessing risk of hormone therapy for menopause

July 27, 2017
When it comes to assessing the risk of estrogen therapy for menopause, how the therapy is delivered—taking a pill versus wearing a patch on one's skin—doesn't affect risk or benefit, researchers at UCLA and elsewhere ...

Blowing smoke? E-cigarettes might help smokers quit

July 26, 2017
People who used e-cigarettes were more likely to kick the habit than those who didn't, a new study found.

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.