Hooking Up



Over the years, the dating scene has been changing for young adults, particularly college students. Recent studies have been oriented towards a new phenomenon of the “hook-up” culture as social scientists attempt to discover why and how this movement has progressed. A new emphasis on physical contact before a relationship—or in lieu of a relationship—is becoming increasingly popular, while traditional courtships and dating are becoming outdated, this is the hook-up culture. Hooking up may lead to a new sort of open relationship termed the “booty call,” or may develop into a full-fledged monogamous relationship. The decision to keep a relationship monogamous or “open” depends on individual couples and depends on the amount of (usually) non-physical interaction that occurs before engaging in a hook-up. While hooking up and booty calls are becoming increasingly common among college students, many still engage in traditional relationships and embrace terms like boyfriend/girlfriend or partner. Others continue to practice abstinence.


The Hook-up

“Hooking up” is an ambiguous term that can signify any sexual act, from making out to oral sex to intercourse, outside the confines of a committed, monogamous relationship. The cryptic nature of what a “hook-up” involves appeals to many young people while describing or interpreting their experiences. Many young people deliberately want to be vague so they can exaggerate or hide their actions due to embarrassment or a desire for mystery. This can make talking about and describing what a hook-up really is and what it entails confusing2. Hooking up is an easier way for college students to act on their sexual desire without establishing a big commitment.  Hook-up behavior (including sexual and non-sexual acts) in a college atmosphere commonly occurs after a night of partying, although it can definitely happens outsideof this context.

Kathleen A. Bogle, assistant professor of Sociology at LaSalle University, recently conducted a study with college students on two different campuses to assess and categorize the sexual relationships of young adults. Bogle combined in-depth interviews with previous research on the subject to write the book Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus. She argues that dating is virtually nonexistent in college today and sexually active students engage in "hooking up" instead.4 The general lack of dating means many young adults do not fully understand how to initiate a monogamous relationship started without having hooked up beforehand. “For the majority of students, they're not going to dinner and a movie unless they have hooked up with someone. Some physical interaction comes before the dating,” says Justin Garcia, a State University of New York doctoral fellow at Binghamton (N.Y.) University who conducts research on hook-ups. He also said, “Often, dates happen after a relationship, rather than before.”1

One theory for the evolution of the hook-up culture is the increased number of women attending college who have busy academic lives to manage. In her recent book, “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin argues that hooking up is a “strategy for today’s empowered and ambitious young women, allowing them to have enjoyable sex lives while still focusing most of their energy on academic and professional goals.” Elizabeth A. Armstrong, a sociologist at the University of Michigan who studies young women’s sexuality, said that women at elite universities were “choosing hook-ups because they saw relationships as too demanding and potentially too distracting” from 

their future goals.2

These statements tie into another reason for why hooking up is so popular among young people. According to experts, the age at which people marry for the first time in the, United States and other western, countries has been steadily climbing, potentially from the increase of women and men pursuing college/higher education. In 2005 (in the United States) men married for the first time around the age of 27 and women around the age of 25. Almost universally, women surveyed on college campuses said they do not plan on marrying until their late twenties or early thirties.1

Scripts For Hooking Up

Young men and women have drinks, socialize, and as a result, sometimes begin looking for a potential hook-up partner. Both men and women list physical attraction as the main criteria when considering a possible partner, although women will, more often than men, give some consideration to secondary characteristics like intelligence, involvement with Greek life, social status, etc. Huge discrepancies exist in definitions for a hook-up. How far the pair wants to take their hook-up encounter depends on personal beliefs, as well as perceptions of standard peer behavior. Psychological researcher Karl Jonason found that one-night-stand hook-ups contain a relatively high amount of emotional tension compared to recurrent hook-ups or “booty call” relationships.5 This is somewhat surprising considering the conception most students have of one-night stands as being purely sexual encounters motivated by alcohol and devoid of all emotion. The "talking" phase is a state of limbo between a hook-up and a committed monogamous relationship where the individuals are considering their options and whether or not they would like to be in a long-term relationship with the other person.

Booty Calls or Hook-up Buddy

A recurrent hook-up buddy (or booty call) is a person with whom you engage in a  non-committal relationship typically organized by call, text, or the internet when they wish to engage in sexual activity. Booty calls are usually unplanned, spontaneous get-togethers that occur late at night. They differ from conventional one- night stands in that they often involve individuals with a history of sexual intimacy. In a booty-call situation, one individual typically contacts the other and arrange a meeting to engage in a hook-up.

 Psychologist Karl Jonason has called the booty call “a compromise between men’s relatively short-term and women’s comparatively long-term ideals.”6 He believes that men are attracted to booty calls because they allow access to sexual activity without the pressure of a relationship, while women often engage in these short-term relationships as a way to evaluate potential long-term partners. By Jonason’s standard, booty call relationships are attractive to women because they involve multiple encounters, thus there is a higher chance for emotional involvement and for the relationship to develop further. Hook-up buddies allow women the chance to evaluate potential partners in a short-term context with a possibility of securing a long-term relationship.6 Although some situations may follow his script, there are still many reverse instances where the woman desires a short-term relationship and the man hopes for a long-term one. Of course this type of dynamic may occur no matter what gender each person is in the relationship. One of the main problems with hook-up relationships is that it is common for one partner to become more attached to the other and wish for the relationship to develop further, causing emotional distress and conflict of interests; this might occur for both women and men.

Since hook-up relationships can often be short-term with little commitment, one partner may be engaged in several casual hook-up relationships at once or one-night stands with multiple people. The most important thing with any sort of sexual relationship is to establish clear boundaries early on to avoid leading your partner on, hurting their feelings, or having your own feelings hurt. It is very important for both partners to be tested regularly for STIs and use contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancies or STIs.

The Double Standard

Although both sexes are actively participating in hook-ups, there is still an enormous double standard that exists for men and women when it comes to sexual promiscuity. College men who have many sexual partners may be called a "pimp" or a "player." Though these words technically have negative definitions, they are oftentimes used in a joking manner and maintain an overall positive connotation; the idealization of a polygamous male in U.S. society leads many men to take pride in and strive for these labels. A significant number of men say they enjoy being with various women because college is a time for having fun and “playing the field,” not for settling down (as if that is what all women want to be doing in college). However, a woman can lose her “reputation” easily if she has a high number of sexual partners. If a woman were to hook up with several men who happened to be fraternity brothers or good friends, she might be viewed by her peers as a slut or “homie hopper.” This puts women in a double-binding situation: pressured to have sexual relations to avoid being “prudish” or “uptight,” while at the same time women are attempting to stay sexually “pure” to avoid being labeled as “loose.” In other words, women are help to an impossible sexual standard based on judgment and stigmatism. Women—like men—should be evaluated on their intelligence and achievements and not judged by centuries-old ideals of oppressive morality.  Many, but certainly not all, girls say they “cave” under pressure to hook-up with men they are romantically interested in, hoping it will develop into a “true” (meaningful and monogamous) relationship. This “caving-in” can happen for men as well, leading them into a hook-up relationship that they initially did not want to participate in, instead preferring a monogamous long-term relationship. Both men and women feel the pressure of the hook-up culture affecting the way they approach relationships with others, which may force them into uncomfortable or undesirable situations.

“Guys don’t seem to care as much about women’s pleasure in the hook-up, whereas they do seem to care quite a bit in the relationships,” Dr. England, a sociologist at New York University who led an online survey of 24,000 students at 21 universities called the Online College Social Life Survey, said of gender differences in hook-up sexual relationships. By contrast, women “seem to have this idea they’re supposed to be pleasing in both contexts.” In hook-ups, women were much more likely to give men oral sex than to receive it.3Jonason has substantiated this claim from an evolutionary perspective, finding that hook-ups and one-night-stands represent an ideal male mating strategy and allow them to “mate” with multiple females at low cost (with little to no investment in the woman’s welfare or that of her potential offspring).5 However, he also found that females have adapted to this situation, using hook-up relationships as an opportunity to evaluate multiple potential partners before attempting to forge a long-term relationship.5 Of course, within modern society these roles can be reversed: women might want to mate with multiple partners and solely for sexual gratification and men might be searching for steady relationships. Human being’s sexuality is not soley governed by evolutionary “instincts.”

After College

According to Bogle's interviews and other research, life after college reverts back to traditional dating styles.4 Some people, mature and enter the “real world,” they then begin searching for solid relationships that will hopefully result in marriage or life-long partnerships. It can begin to take more time, usually around three months, before two people are sexually intimate, as they try to get to know one another before moving to the next level. The environment in the “real world” is much different than a college campus and oftentimes entails significantly different standards. Although college may be a difficult time for those who enjoy monogamy and traditional dating roles, graduation opens the doors to a whole new world of relationships. Hook-ups may be the primary form of relationships on college campuses, but if desired, steady relationships can exist and can form out of a hook-up.


  1. Jayson, Sharon. "More College 'hookups,' but More Virgins, Too." USA Today. USA Today, 30 Mar. 2011. Web. 29 Jan. 2014
  2. Taylor, Kate. "Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too." New York Times. New York Times, 12 July 2013. Web. 29 Jan. 2014
  3. Wilson, Brenda. "Sex Without Intimacy: No Dating, No Relationships." NPR. NPR, 8 June 2009. Web. 29 Jan. 2014.
  4. Bogle, Kathleen. Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on College Campuses. New York: New York University Press, 2008.
  5. Jonason, P. K., Li, N. P., & Cason, M. J. (2009). The “booty call”: A compromise between men’s and women’s ideal mating strategies. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 1-11
    6. Jonason, P. K., Li, N. P., & Richardson, J. (2010). Positioning the booty-call relationship on the spectrum of relationships: sexual but more emotional that one-night stands. Journal of Sex Research, 47, 1-10.

Last Updated 2 Mar 2014