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The Rise of Hookup Sex Culture

With an increasing number of adults indulging in casual sex, there is a shift in the social forces and ideas that shape popular culture. Today, adolescents and young adults in America are no longer looking for traditional dating and romantic relationships but are more interested in uncommitted sexual encounters with no strings attached.

The spreading culture of hookups may be due to younger people today being more eager to take risks and are more open about their sexual preferences instead of being permissive. Findings suggest that a growing number of young men and women are now motivated to engage in hookups rather than a romantic relationship.

“When it comes to real life, most of today’s young adults report some casual sexual experience. The most recent data suggest that between 60 percent and 80 percent of North American college students have had some sort of hook-up experience.”–Sexual hook-up culture.

The rise in the number of free hookup apps and their popularity reflect the changing social scripts and the evolving sexual preferences in society which have become a cultural revolution.

Hookup culture is a concept that facilitates a wide range of sexual behaviors and encounters such as kissing, penetrative intercourse, and oral sex. Either partner is aware that there is no expectation of an emotional commitment from either side. Hook-ups are usually brief, which can include a quickie make-out session, to an overnight roll in the hay.

Casually referred to as friends with benefits or booty calls, friends and casual acquaintances are hooking up for sex-only liaisons and one-night stands, which is equally popular with opposite-sex partners or a same-sex partners.

Everybody is doing it.

But what are the consequences?

The Positive and Negative Sides of the Hookup Culture

Hook up culture has both positive as well as negative effects on young men and women. On one side, most report a positive effect with the majority of college students feeling good about it afterwards, having enjoyed a better quality of sex, with feelings of arousal and desirability being enhanced.  However, those that didn’t feel positively about their casual sex experiences reported feelings of regret, being embarrassed, a loss of self-respect, feeling used, relationships issues and depression. Positive and negative feelings fluctuated during hookups as compared to afterwards, when more feelings of regret were reported, as well as a variety of other mixed emotions.1

Strangely enough, many individuals partook in casual sex encounters even though they felt uncomfortable about it because it was the “sexual norm”, and many perceived their partner’s comfort to be higher than it actually was. This begs the question: do young people hook-up because they feel pressure to fit in, or due to the belief that casual sex is normal so they should be doing it? Is hook-up culture just one of the perils of college life?

Alcohol and drugs may have also played a part in loosening inhibitions, with more participants engaging in penetrative sex where alcohol was involved, as well as non-consensual sexual encounters happening more when alcohol and drugs were used. People were also more likely to consent even though they really did want to have sex when under the influence.

In The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy, author Donna Freitas notes that after surveying thousands of college students,  many of them report that they are unhappy and, “meaningless hookups have led them to associate sexuality with ambivalence, boredom, isolation, and loneliness… [Tragically, they are] miss[ing] out on the romance, intimacy, and satisfying sex they deserve.”

Researchers observed that there are striking gender differences when the outcomes and expectations of hookups are concerned. The women want their casual sexual encounters to develop further into romantic relationships, while more men desired sex without any emotions or commitment. However, a small percentage of men also hoped that their relationship with the hookup partner could develop further.

Hook-up culture is a “complicated phenomenon”, says Fretas, and has lead to a culture of “melancholy, insecurity and isolation” on college campuses. While casual sex is becoming more acceptable socially, and more young people are doing it, not everyone has a positive experience with it, and it may be creating a culture where young adults feel compelled to hook-up, just because it is popular, or because it is the only option they have.


  1. Sexual hook-up culture. Justin R. Garcia, The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Indiana University, Bloomington; and Chris Reiber, Sean G. Massey, and Ann M. Merriwether, Binghamton University, State University of New York. February 2013, Vol 44, No. 2.
  2. The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy, Donna Freitas. Basic Books; 1st Edition (April 2, 2013).

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