In my many years of teaching, I have found that the hookup culture is the number one negative issue with a majority of college-age students, and especially young women. Only about 15% of students, many of them fraternity males, say they enjoy hookup culture. About a third don’t participate in hooking up at all, and around 50% of students take part because they falsely believe “everyone is doing it,” according to research by sociologist Dr. Lisa Wade. In many cases, young people are going against the values they arrived on campus with.
Relationship researchers Drs. Justin Garcia and Chris Reiber may have put it best: they point out that findings show a majority of both college-age women and men who are motivated to take part in hookups actually desire a more romantic relationship. This view is consistent with a nuanced perspective that takes into account changing social expectations, new developmental patterns, and the cross-cultural and biological importance of the pair bond.
I advocate for an even stronger movement away from hookup culture. It is time for a romantic renaissance on college and university campuses.
This romance movement may already be starting. As Chelsea Samuelson reported in The New York Post, the website, OKCupid.com, has been asking their customers personal preference questions since it started over 10 years ago. The 21st-Century media culture trend has been moving steadily towards more celebrity risqué behavior, porn, and an overall sex-saturated media where hookups are portrayed as the norm, as STD rates skyrocket.
At least until 2016.
In 2016, as Samuelson explained, OKCupid users’ personal preferences began to change as the site continued asking the same questions. The answers to two particular cases were the most telling. One asked, “Would you consider sleeping with someone on the first date?” Compared to 2005, every single demographic group was more likely to say no. When asked, “Would you date someone just for sex?” again, a larger share of every demographic group said no compared to 2005. There was an overall decline of about 10 percent.
Relatedly, a large U.S. national research study of over 3,000 young adults and high school students was released in 2017 by Harvard University. It found that a large majority of young adults are overestimating how many other young people are hooking up. They also discovered that 85% of young adults would prefer other options over hooking up, such as hanging out with friends or having sex within a committed relationship. The study agrees with Garcia and Reiber, who say that when this overestimation occurs, young people can feel ashamed or embarrassed to not be a part of the casual sex scene they perceive as the norm.
These insights are a step in the right direction of a romantic renaissance. I encourage young people, especially young women, to think carefully about this whole scenario and consider joining what I call a back-to-romance movement. This means going back to traditional courtship, where emotional relationships are developed first and then the relationship may increase in intimacy as opposed to the current norm that calls for sex without any relationship.
As an example of what this looks like, consider the actions of Boston College professor, Dr. Kerry Cronin, who observed the hookup culture her students were participating in and, seeing the damage done, began giving them an important assignment. The assignment required them to ask someone out on a date face-to-face, without the use of electronic devices. The students were required to go to dinner or something similar, where they have to talk to each other throughout the evening. No hanging out, texting, or social media permitted. A time limit is enforced and no sex is allowed. Her class caused so much of a stir that it is now documented in the film, The Dating Project.
The reactions from the participants in The Dating Project are very moving. One young man described that successfully asking a young woman out felt better than any hookup he had ever experienced. It seems that having respect for themselves and others leaves young people with a very happy and fulfilled feeling. I believe young people, in general, will experience this for themselves if they give dating a chance. Dating was a very efficient means of couple’s formation for decades prior to hookup culture. Sometimes, the old school turns out to be the best school.
Joe Malone, Ph.D., is a relationship educator, who has taught for many years at Middle Tennessee State University. He is the co-author of the book, Battle of the Sexes.