The quintessential college party: keg stands, and inevitably, one-night stands. Or so we think. As people begin to examine hookup culture on college campuses, it becomes apparent that there is a disconnect between the reality we evoke in our minds, and the reality we live. That is, there is a persistent mindset that “everyone is hooking up more than me” — yet, they are not.
Rice University sociology students recently conducted research concerning people’s beliefs about hookup culture, and how well those preconceptions reconcile with reality. The results were unsurprising: the majority of Rice students hook up with relative infrequency, yet believe everyone else is getting it much more often. Perhaps slightly more surprising is that while students largely affirm the existence of hookup culture, they indicate a wish to diverge from this norm, as the large majority of Rice students express ultimately, they want a relationship.
This phenomenon is not unique to Rice. Leah Fessler wrote her senior thesis at Middlebury on hookup culture there, and reached similar conclusions. She explained that while women overwhelmingly sought and idealized relationships, they became trapped in hookup culture. The pain path into relationships was perceived as through hookups; however, women encounter the ever-persistent double-bind: the slut/prude dichotomy. They would hook up with guys as a pathway into a relationship, yet in doing so, would be labeled “not relationship material.”
This is troubling, as Fessler illustrates a campus filled with intelligent, successful women who can’t even get a guy to eat breakfast with them. Moreover, she suggests a vulnerability accompanying the culture. While women may engage in a series of hookups, they hesitate to take the one step further, for fear of being labeled “clingy” or even “crazy.” We’ve — ironically — romanticized detachment; the non-committal, non-exclusive relationship has jettisoned to the forefront of our modern dating culture, claiming to encompass all the benefits of a relationship while still preserving independence. Yet why doesn’t this manifest as perfectly in reality?
However, a Time article positing that gender ratios can drive hookup culture sheds some light on the issue. Research suggests that when a college campus is overwhelmingly female, where men have their “pick” per se, hookup culture flourishes. Conversely, when females are in high demand and low-supply, the culture lends itself to exclusive relationships. It boils down to power: Whoever is on the winning end of the classic scarcity dilemma sets the scene for the dating culture, and the classic male/female double standard emerges.
Is this an issue of a male-dominated society, where men have an inherent tendency to discard relationships in favor of random hookups? Or does the problem — that hookup culture is pervasive yet disliked — carry more nuance?
Maybe men and women alike continue to proliferate and contribute to this culture with such voracity because they are afraid to be dissidents. Unlike political or social discord, a rejection of this culture does not come from a place of strength; rather, it involves a raw confession that we as a society truly seek love and vulnerability. Furthermore, that we have dichotomized strength and “wanting a relationship” is even more telling. The conflation of relationships and vulnerability is not new or controversial; you can argue it is inherent. But the way we’ve extrapolated from that to invoke this vulnerability to taint one’s character is problematic. Just as Fessler and her friends shied away from the “crazy” label, so too do we pretend to avoid “the love we don’t think we deserve because someone at some time let us know we were foolish to want it.” Because at the end of the day, we’d all like to think we “don’t need anyone” and we “never WANT to need anyone.” Perhaps this fear of vulnerability drives hookup culture in college.
But these articles that have cropped up to address the myth of the hookup culture do only present one side of the issue. There are problems inherent within this culture; however, not everyone is “trapped” in it per se, and not everyone needs saving. Female empowerment has numerous manifestations, from sex positivity to deliberate abstinence, and everything in between. Hookup culture can be toxic; it can also be liberating. While it may be a myth, it’s here to stay.