Hooking Up but Wanting to Date

A new study finds that college students actually would like to date, but they actually hook up at about twice as often as they date.

Definitions for “hooking up” range from kissing an acquaintance or stranger to having sexual intercourse. For this study’s purposes, the researchers defined a hookup as sexual intercourse that occurs once, with a stranger or casual acquaintance (as opposed to an on-going relationship).

The undergrads aren’t necessarily hooking up because it feels good. Rather, say the researchers from James Madison University, the students hook up because they think their peers are doing it and enjoying it. And yet, 95% of female students would rather date than hook up, while 77.5% of men prefer dating to hookups.

The researchers posited that dating seems more emotionally risky than hookups, i.e., a broken heart can cut to be very painful, while a drunken sexual encounter can be waived off as a stupid mistake. And most hookups occur when alcohol is involved.

The study was small, but it resonates with the stories my undergraduate students have shared with me. When out partying, both males and females have taken risks they might not take when sober. Condom use isn’t a sure thing when someone is horny and drunk.

Perhaps this study is a good reminder that adolescence lasts until age 24, which means that most college students don’t have the mental maturity to unpack the risks of acting on the basis of peer pressure rather than one’s personal preference.

What Can You Do?

  • Ask your teen or college student what he or she considers a hookup. Is it a common practice among peers and friends? Don’t judge; listen.
  • Ask what might be appealing about a hookup nad what the emotional or physical risks might be. Are there times when the benefits are worth the risk, or the risk outweighs the benefits?
  • Discuss ways your child can avoid being pressured into a hookup or can avoid pressuring a partner into hooking up.

For more tips, call Dr. Melanie Davis at 908-722-1632.