Sex at First Sight

Some students trade traditional dating for immediate physical intimacy

Heather L. Mueller

As the week winds down, students go through a ritual of drinking, flirting and dancing in hopes of finding a partner to take home for a night in the sack.

“A lot of people go out Friday night or Saturday night with the intention of ‘I’m going to drink a little, I’m going to get a little wild and if something happens, I don’t consider myself as responsible for it,’ ” said psychology junior Tony Anderman.

The most common definition of “hooking up” refers to a situation in which two people consent to sexual intercourse or oral sex when there is little to no likelihood of future commitments, dating or a relationship.

Put simply, these terms refer to “meaningless” sex.

Each year, 5 to 7 percent of sexual partners in the United States are pick-ups, one-night stands or prostitutes, according to a 2006 American Sexual Behavior survey data update supported by the National Science Foundation.

Although noncommittal sexual behavior and one-night stands aren’t new to college students, their frequency and perceived normalcy is changing the way students view sex, dating and relationships.

The prevalence of Internet networking sites compromises traditional notions of parting after a one-night stand by luring curious partners to profile searches in the digital world.

Who’s up for hanky-panky?

While past generations were expected to marry and start a family in early adulthood, students today take advantage of their freedom in college to play the field.

“A lot of people don’t view sex as being a big deal,” said global studies senior Sandy Anderson. “People aren’t looking for that serious of a commitment as much as before.”

Recent national studies suggest 70 percent of college students have engaged in sexual intercourse with a partner who they were not romantically involved with. About 50 percent of males and 30 percent of females in the United States had engaged in casual sex.

Casual sex relationships are sexual experiences with strangers, acquaintances or friends.

Social and cultural extremes create varied opinions about the role of sex, or lack thereof, in a relationship.

Biochemistry junior Nadar Ali said for many Muslims, hooking up means introducing two people who wish to be friends or date romantically. And in her Somali culture, young adults are expected to seek out relationships, not sex.

In America, Ali said, it’s as if sex occurs after a few dates.

“But to me, that is just wrong,” she said. “Casual sex in America is socially acceptable; through media, magazines and TV – it promotes that.”

Because of pressure by mainstream culture, people are driven to act on physical attraction, Ali said.

Global studies first-year student Laura Guyn, who supports abstinence, said students who engage in impulsive, lustful sex view hookups as “like a first date but a bit more intense.”

“Some students might not be ready for a relationship because they’re still figuring out their future and may not want to compromise that,” Guyn said. “There’s an element of fun, thrill and excitement that comes with knowing you can say, ‘peace; that was fun’ in the morning.”

Facebook folly

The “call after three days rule” has been replaced by more technological forms of post-coital communication.

Program in Human Sexuality Associate Director Dr. Bean Robinson said more people are meeting online, and it’s improving communication before and after a hookup. It’s another way to initiate conversation for people who are shy or less assertive, she said.

First-year agriculture education student Sarlyn Morse said communicating online is easier than ambushing someone you barely know over the phone.

Morse said it’s fairly easy to search for someone using their first name or scrolling through profile pictures. It’s always funny to view someone’s pictures the day after, she said.

“They can see how powerful their beer goggles were the night before,” she said.

And in some ways, the technology has taken the anxiety out of initiating communication.

Facebook wall posts and text messages are less personal ways of communicating with your hookup partner, Anderman said.

“There’s a lot less chance of feeling rejected Ö and more of a chance that if they don’t have feelings for you, they’ll be polite in their (written) rejection,” he said.


Education junior Lauren Matysik, whose hookup turned into a three-year relationship, said women speculate men prefer casual sex, but women are just as likely to initiate, seek out and agree to hookups.

“Guys want relationships just as much as girls,” she said.

But Guyn said men tend to avoid commitment, so women make themselves available for hookups, with the hopes that sex will become a friendship or relationship.

Anderson said there is more social pressure for men to participate in hookups and “guys are prepared to walk away.”

Women comply or engage in casual sex to please their partner or to increase the likelihood of a relationship, according to survey results of “No Strings Attached: The Nature of Casual Sex in College Students,” published in 2006 in the Journal of Sex Research. Males comply with casual sex relationships to increase their sexual experience level, peer status or popularity.

Anderman said women enjoy casual sex just as much as men, but men are more likely to admit to a hookup because there’s less social backlash.

“I think that sense that girls don’t like sex as much, don’t engage in it as much is really old-fashioned and outdated,” he said.

Art sophomore Charlie Her Many Horses said views about the definition of a hookup create double standards.

Men apply the term “hookup” to sex without commitment, whereas women use it to characterize anything from dating to making out, he said.


After flirting over a few drinks, decreased inhibitions lead students to act on sexual attraction rather than emotional connections.

But the decision to have sex while under the influence isn’t always rational or an indication of healthy sexuality.

Brian Willoughby, a family social science researcher and doctoral student, said deciding to binge drink is the same rationale as participating in noncommittal sex because both often go against a person’s moral values.

“It’s easier to think like that if you’ve got a couple of drinks in you,” Her Many Horses said. “You’re more impulsive and everyone tends to look better.”

Willoughby said both men and women often overestimate the opposite gender’s comfort with hooking up. An individual might not want to engage in noncommittal behavior but do so under the premise that it’s the norm and “everyone is doing it.”

About 42 percent of women and 46 percent of men indicated having a “really terrible hooking up experience,” according to a 2000 study, “Hooking Up: Dangerous New Dating Methods?”

Men characterized their sexual experience as “terrible” when women wanted a relationship or excessive use of drugs or alcohol occurred. Women had negative experiences because they felt pressured to go further then they wanted to.

Laurel Crown, a researcher in the department of human development and family studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studied college women’s negative sexual experiences.

“It may not be devastating but those regretted experiences – waking up in the morning saying ‘what did I do? I’m so embarrassed, I feel awful’ – those are not healthy kinds of experiences,” she said. “Those are not the kind of experiences that lead people to develop a healthy sense of who they are (sexually).”

Crown said traditional sexual health education and research tends to address the negative effects of sexuality by focusing on disease, unwanted pregnacies and sexual violence.

“If we only focus on avoiding the really bad stuff, we’re sort of ignoring the emotional, psychological and relationship components of sexual intimacy,” she said.

Anderson said students will be happier in long-lasting friendships and relationships.

“It makes life so much better than just dealing with the heartbreak (of hookups).”


-Dr. Drew Pinsky, addictionologist and relationship expert

Q: Could our generation of college students be characterized as the hookup generation?

A: You’re certainly part of the hookup generation. The whole hookup culture has been evolving and galvanizing for the last seven to 10 years. And to the extent that it’s not set in place.

Q: Why do people hook up? What’s their motivation?

A: I think we are still evolving. I have the perspective of the historical horizon that I’ve lived through. Having been there when the sexual revolution happened in the ’60s, the whole notion of so-called free love was something that (generation) imagined (today’s) young people would follow. It became a cultural residue that we still live with, that everyone is supposed to live up to (but) doesn’t fit everybody.

Q: Is it socially acceptable for college-aged students to hook up and have one-night stands in our culture?

A: It is socially acceptable. It is normative; yet, it’s not a majority of college students doing it, necessarily. You guys sort of expect that on a Thursday night you’re going to drink a lot. And a hookup may be part of that experience.

Q: Who’s hooking up more in today’s society: men or women?

A: It’s definitely something that’s shared by both sexes. In terms of it being a priority, the males will have a much higher sense of it as a motivational priority. Women will sort of shroud their thinking of hooking up in really a state of denial. For instance Ö women said (hooking up) is good conversation, maybe a little touching Ö the guys were all (sex).

Q: Is hooking up about instant gratification?

A: It’s using sex as a drug. The whole hookup culture is so, sort of intense, and to use a stronger word, unnatural, that people sort of have to. What I find is men drink and get loaded because it’s a motivational priority for them. Women tell me they drink to suppress their feelings. And then also they blame the alcohol for their behavior.

Q: Do people use hookups and one-night stands as a substitute for sexual intimacy because of fear and anxiety?

A: There’s a reality component to this. You’re in a very intense environment with lots of other priorities and this is your way of blowing off steam. It can be a substitute or surrogate for intimacy.

Q: Is hooking up emotionally or physically damaging?

A: You could put yourself in harm’s way physically if you’re not wearing a condom when you (have sex). Emotionally, if it becomes a compulsion Ö yeah. You miss the opportunity that college should also be used for spending time with your peers and really having true intimate contact – face to face, share-a-meal-together intimate dialect. That’s a really important emotional developmental process.

Q: How has human sexuality evolved?

A: Throughout human history women could expect to die in child birth, die of a urinary tract infection, die of any sexually transmitted disease they came in contact with. Men had less of a risk, but certainly STDs could kill. So the urgency of containing adolescent sexuality was of life-threatening importance.

on the web

For tips on sex, relationships, or for advice, go to:

To check out Dr. Drew’s television show Loveline, go to Loveline Uncensored at:

We were just cut loose from that 40 years ago. And as a result we’re trying to contend with it. And young people Ö are going to figure out what this ultimately is going to be in the new biological reality.

Q: Is it true that when women have sexual intercourse they biologically make a connection with their partner?

A: Oh, yeah. And that’s what they’re trying to medicate away when they drink. Ö Men do not, because testosterone flushes that all out.

Q: Do you find that most people who hook up have low self-esteem or high self-esteem?

A: Again, in every study the one thing that always falls out is that men who have lots of sex have high self-esteem and women who have lots of sex have low self-esteem. The thing about the human is we’re attracted to repeat. If an experience is terrorizing we are automatically going to repeat the circumstance again.

People who were abused, abandoned, neglected, sexualized at a young age, they will act out sexually. Bipolar people act out sexually. Addicts act out sexually. So people with varying degrees of psychological issues are the ones most prone to sexually acting out.

Q: Do most hookups result in regret or guilt?

A: I think if there was really a powerfully negative response to it people probably wouldn’t do it so much. But every college I’ve ever spoken at has a “walk of shame.” If that was a thing that was something to be proud of – why is there a walk of shame and why is it the women that mostly have to walk that walk of shame? The burden that women bear in all this is disturbing to me.

Q: How can people recognize if they have a problem?

A: Blacking out, doing it when you don’t want to do it, having very serious negative consequences: health, emotional, otherwise, and yet continuing to do it. Ö Now you have a problem.

Q: How do you break that problem?

A: If you truly can’t stop you’re going to need help. Or if people around you are telling you, “you need to stop, you’re going to hurt yourself” and you can’t see it, you need help. Now if it’s short of that and you don’t want to get into trouble, a simple solution is Ö ask people on dates.

Q: Is dating dead?

A: It’s dead and it’s coming back. It’s resurrecting. It’s been coming back particularly in the Southeast (United States). Where you see dating, you see less hookups. You see people happier about their social lives. Ö Ladies, figure out what you want and ask for that. Men want to please.