Prior to her current position as non-resident research associate at the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame, Donna Freitas was a professor. While teaching a dating and spirituality class, she became intrigued with the hookup culture on college campuses.

Her students often talked about how great hooking up was and that everybody was doing it. Following spring break, students discussed what happened over the break. One woman who hooked up all the time said, “I hook up a lot. Not sure why I do it. I don’t like it.” One by one, other students said they felt the same way.

This sent Freitas on a quest to discover if her students were different from students on other college campuses.

For nine years, Freitas has traveled to college campuses to talk with students about sex and hooking up. Freitas interviewed students at private secular, public and Catholic colleges and universities. Her findings shed light on what drives the hookup culture.

Forty-five percent of student interviewees said young adults believe they are expected to be casual about sex in college. Thirty-six percent thought their peers were too casual about sex. When asked about the definition of a hookup, students preferred a very broad definition because of the pressure to hook up. They defined it as anything from kissing to sex.

Freitas also discovered an official social contract surrounding hooking up.

  • Hookups must be brief, which could mean five minutes in the corner kissing or a quickie in the restroom.
  • Those involved are to feel zero emotion to avoid attachment. They think communicating is bad, because it could lead to feeling, which is completely against the rules.
  • Hooking up often involves alcohol. Many students said that without alcohol, nobody would ever get together.

When asked about their attitudes concerning hookups, 41 percent said they were profoundly unhappy. Another 23 percent expressed ambivalence about their feelings toward the experience, and 36 percent said they were more or less fine with it.

Many students said that hookups were efficient because they were really busy, over-scheduled and always on the go. They really didn’t have time for relationships in college so hookups were an efficient way to get sex. Yet when Freitas asked students about dating, both men and women said that nobody dates on campus, but that they wished they would. In reality, many respondents said if someone would ask them out on a date they would go. There was much interest in dating, but the students felt like they couldn’t date. Additionally, Freitas said there was so much yearning for romance and a connection of knowing and being known.

So what is the response to the hookup culture? Freitas makes these three recommendations:

  • Teach young adults to slow down. Many students go and do without thinking which perpetuates the hookup culture.
  • Press the pause button. Encourage them to take a break, if only for the weekend, from the party culture.
  • Start talking about love, romance, dating, intimacy and relationship skills. Most young people lack relationship skills, unwittingly advancing the hookup culture.

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