Sociologist speaks to college hookup culture



Mariah Davis

Hookup. It’s a commonly used word in today’s culture, but it’s also very vague. What does it really mean? What does it mean for our generation? Paula England, a sociologist and professor at NYU, asked herself these questions before embarking on her 10-year study of “The American College Hookup Scene.” Last Thursday, Oct. 29, England visited the University to share the results of her study and get to the bottom of this relatively new cultural phenomenon. In 2005, England created an Online College Social Life Survey and distributed it across 21 public and private four-year schools to receive quantitative data from undergrads recruited mostly from sociology classes. Her goal through this research is to provide a descriptive portrait of today’s college hookup culture, as well as to point out how gender equality takes part in shaping what is going on. The number of subjects answering her survey has reached more than 20,000 in the past 10 years, and through the results England feels she has a handle on the college hookup scene for small, large, public and private colleges.

The questions on her survey asked basic, general questions, which she believes provide the most honest and accurate results, as they reduce observer bias (answers that subjects feel the researcher is looking for). The questions inquired about most recent relationships lasting longer than six months, number of hookups over time spent in college and how frequent hookups occurred with the same person. In each applicable question, the survey asked subjects to use “whatever definition of hookup you and your friends use,” which proved telling as to how students defined “hookup” and that the definition varies highly per subject. 

England found that about 70 percent of both male and female students have at least one hookup by their senior year of college. Results also demonstrated that over 50 percent of the recorded hookups were noted to be the first time hooking up with a partner—a finding that may come as a shock because it implies that almost 50 percent of hookups are “repeat hookups,” or those with the same person.

England also asked how well the subjects knew the person they had hooked up with beforehand, and how many drinks they had consumed that night. It may come as a surprise with stereotypes surrounding the concept of “hooking up,” but results showed that only 13 percent of subjects did not know their hookup partner “at all” beforehand. Results showed that 41 percent knew each other “a little bit, or somewhat,” and 46 percent recorded that they knew each other “well.” However, the mean and median number of drinks for men was six and five, respectively, and for women, four. Many would describe this as “binge drinking,” according to England. Still, England also measured men and women not interested in a romantic relationship with a partner before and after a hookup, and results showed that many subjects of both genders are interested in a relationship with the other person both before and after a hookup.

With all this emerging research on the hookup culture, many are questioning the disappearance of older methods of courting. More specifically, after relating this information gathered by her surveys, England asked us, “Does the hookup culture mean that the date is dead?” The term “dating,” she then describes, is now used in reference to couples already exclusive with each other. However, it is pre-arranged dates among people not already in an exclusive relationship that are more rare than they were decades ago. However, according to England, the date is not dead. Though they take place less frequently, dates still exist today. Additionally, dates today can also come after hookups and are a way of signaling interest in a relationship. England also found that hookups are only slightly more common than dates through her research, and 74 percent of women and 66 percent of men recorded that they have had a relationship of at least six months by their senior year of college.

The tone of England’s presentation then shifted as she discussed hookups and respect. One of the questions she asked in her survey was, “Have you ever hooked up with someone and afterwards respected them less because they hooked up with you?” The first reaction that the crowd had when hearing this question was laughter. What kind of messed up logic would lead people thinking less of the person who hooked up with them? Someone with seriously low self-esteem? However, England revealed the results that showed a significant gender gap between answers—31 percent of men answered yes compared to 54 percent of women. Then, England asked subjects if they had ever felt that their hookup partner respected them less for hooking up with them. Again, a higher percentage of women answered yes to this question than men. The double standard of sexuality, then, is still present today in the hookup culture as it was in previous dating cultures. Still, the nature of hookups suggests an acceptance of casual sexual encounters, and the results show an equal amount of hookups for men and women on average throughout the first four years of college. However, the research also shows a much higher rate for women feeling as though their hookup partner respected them less afterwards than the rate that men recorded actually respecting a woman less after a hookup.

Finally, England discussed sexual assault and explained that her survey also asked general questions about assault, avoiding the word “rape,” and how these kinds of questions historically receive higher, more replicable and presumably more accurate results. Twenty-five percent of the women in England’s study said yes to one of the questions crafted in such a way, as well as about half that many of the men.

So, how did Villanova students react to England’s research? As soon as she finished the last slide on her presentation and opened the floor for questions, hands shot up in the air from all over the room. Questions ranged from details of how her study was conducted to how she sees the hookup culture evolving in the future. Overall, England received positive reviews from many of the students attending. “I thought she did a really good job of overturning stereotypes of what it is to have a hookup in college and painted a better picture of what the ‘hookup culture’ is,” Jennifer Jones, a junior psychology major, said. Another student praised her question formation process. “I thought it was interesting how she approached how to ask questions, and change the words around to make people more comfortable answering,” Aleesha Kapour, a junior biology major, said.