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Sexual violence is notoriously difficult to measure, and there is no single source of data that provides a complete picture of the crime. Based on those interviews, the study provides estimates of the total of crimes, including those that were not reported to police.

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Although scholarly research on the hookup phenomenon has begun to emerge, two fundamental questions remain unanswered: How common are hookups? The current research addressed these two important questions. Confidence in prior estimates of the prevalence of hookups is undermined by the use of imprecise definitions of hookup partnerships and behaviors.

Hookup behaviors have also not been defined precisely e. Using investigator-generated definitions for hookup does not resolve this methodological challenge because students may disregard this definition and answer questions with their own personal understanding of the term. Therefore, to address these concerns in the current study, we did not use the term hookup when assessing prevalence.

Instead, we defined a casual partner in such a manner that captured the essence of hooking up cf. The ambiguity inherent in the term affords privacy but obscures a precise understanding of the phenomenon. Therefore, the other purpose of this study was to explore the defining characteristics of hookups as reported by college women. We investigated eight dimensions of hookups that have either not been well-researched or have been subject to conflicting : 1 partner type e.

At study entry, participants also reported an average of 2. All participants lived in on-campus residence halls during their first semester and were not yet eligible to sororities. All procedures were approved by the Institutional Review Board. After providing written informed consent, students completed two surveys.

The surveys were linked using a non-traceable code. Upon completion, participants received course credit. In the first section of the survey, we requested information about sociodemographic characteristics i. Next, we assessed the prevalence of hookups. Here, they were asked: a when the hookup occurred, b with whom they hooked up stranger, acquaintance, friend, ex-boyfriend, otherand c if it was the first time they hooked up with that partner.

Participants indicated g what specific sexual behaviors occurred, and whether a condom was used if h oral sex or i vaginal or anal sex occurred.

Prevalence and characteristics of sexual hookups among first-semester female college students

For all questions, women had the option to indicate that they had never hooked up. Participants indicated e what specific sexual activities occurred and whether a condom was used if f oral sex or g vaginal or anal sex occurred. For all questions, women had the option to indicate that they had not engaged in physical interaction with a romantic relationship partner. Table 1 displays the prevalence rates of seven sexual hookup behaviors as well as the mean and median of hookup partners for three time intervals: a before college T1b during the first semester of college, and c lifetime T2.

Across all participants and both survey occasions, unique hookup events were described the of hookups exceeds the of participants because some women reported unique events at T1 and T2. College girls sexual encounters percent reported that their most recent hookup was not the first time they had hooked up with that particular partner.

Participants reported consuming an average of 3. Across all participants and both survey occasions, unique romantic events were described the of events exceeds the of participants because some women reported unique events at T1 and T2. Participants reported consuming an average of 0. Sexual behavior. Hookups and romantic interactions were compared using data from the 99 participants who reported on both a hookup and a romantic event. Percentages reported in this section refer to only these 99 participants. We applied a Bonferroni correction to alpha of.

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Alcohol use was more common prior to hookups than prior to romantic interactions. Touching breasts, touching genitals outside of clothing, touching genitals underneath clothing, oral sex, and vaginal sex occurred more often during romantic interactions than during hookups. Among both hookups and romantic interactions in which oral sex occurred, no participants reported condom use.

This study advances knowledge regarding the behavioral epidemiology of hookups by a estimating the prevalence of specific behaviors in the hookup context and b providing more detailed information about the context and behavioral topography of hookups.

We assessed specific sexual behaviors in order to obtain precise hookup prevalence rates. Knowing the percentage of late adolescents and young emerging adults who engage in penetrative sex during hookups affords a better understanding of the public health implications of the hookup culture.

Participants provided ample details regarding their experience before, during, and after hookups, and several key findings emerged. The association between alcohol use and hooking up increases the risk for sexual victimization during these encounters Abbey, ; Flack et al. Second, most women hooked up with someone they knew well, such as a friend or ex-boyfriend.

Thus, conceptualizing a hookup as an interaction between strangers or brief acquaintances may miss many hookups. Third, students use the term hookup to refer to a wide range of behaviors. England et al.

Using the term hookup in research is problematic if some believe it to mean having vaginal sex but others believe it to be any intimate behavior e. Accordingly, researchers need to use specific behaviors when asking about hookup experiences cf. Penhollow et al.

Sexual hook-up culture

These findings suggest a need for continued efforts to promote condom use among sexually active young people. The comparison of romantic interactions with hookups also yielded several interesting findings. First, participants reported consuming alcohol more often and in greater amounts prior to hookups than prior to romantic interactions. These data reveal that alcohol plays a pivotal role in the hookup culture, not simply in general sexual activity among college students.

Second, hookups were less likely than College girls sexual encounters interactions to involve touching of the breasts and genitals, oral sex, and vaginal sex. This pattern might be expected given that hookup partners are not involved in any kind of committed relationship and may therefore be less likely to assume that such behaviors are appropriate or welcome by their partner.

Third, women reported enjoying romantic interactions more, and regretting them less, than hookups. The preference for sexual interaction with a romantic partner over a hookup partner may stem from physical or psychological reasons. For example, a long-term partner may be more likely than a new hookup partner to be able to please them sexually; indeed, women are more likely to report orgasms from romantic interactions than hookups England et al.

Enjoyment and regret of the interactions may also be affected by psychological processes. For instance, perhaps females enjoy romantic interactions more than hookups because they do not have to worry about pejorative labels or developing a negative reputation Bogle, The limitations of this research should be acknowledged. First, our sample of primarily heterosexual Caucasian females may limit the generalizability of the. We focused on females because of their greater risk for negative consequences of hookups, but future research should sample males; ethnic minority students; and gay, lesbian, and bisexual students.

Members of fraternities and sororities may be of particular interest because they tend to have more sexual partners and to have sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs more often than independent non-fraternity- or sorority-affiliated students cf. A second limitation of the study is its atheoretical nature.

We developed our research questions after a review of the empirical literature on hooking up; we attempted to fill in gaps in the knowledge base and resolve inconsistencies or debatable points. Future research, guided by psychosocial theory, can extend the of this empirical investigation.

Third, the prevalence estimates we obtained reflect the assessment methods we used. The ambiguity inherent in the term hookup makes it difficult to assess its prevalence.

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However, the methods we employed enabled a more accurate measurement of hookup prevalence relative to prior studies. Moreover, in our assessment of hookup characteristics, we asked participants to self-label hookups so we did not limit our study to only those situations that we understood to be hookups. Fourth, the study de does not permit causal inferences or exploration of the health consequences of hooking up.

Longitudinal research might examine physical and mental health consequences of hooking up cf. Moreover, the prevalence of hooking up suggests that it confers benefits to young people so research could examine whether positive outcomes accrue from this behavior e. These suggest that a majority of female students engage in sexual hookups during high school and their first semester of college.

Thus, recent reports describing a new hookup culture among students may be accurate. This study increases understanding of the hookup experience with regard to partner types, alcohol use, sexual behaviors, condom use, and emotional reactions. The defining characteristic of a hookup seems to be the lack of mutually understood romantic commitment rather than a particular relationship or pattern of interaction.

Less clear, and worthy of research, are the implications of hookups for health.

These graphs tell a shocking story about the rampant college hookup culture

Research exploring these outcomes is needed before we can draw conclusions about the effects of this increasingly prevalent sexual behavior pattern. The authors would like to thank Hillary L. Bishop for her help with data collection and data entry.

National Center for Biotechnology InformationU. J Sex Marital Ther. Author manuscript; available in PMC Jan 1. Robyn L. FielderM. CareyPh. Author information Copyright and information Disclaimer.