Hook-up culture, centred around physical pleasure without the emotional connection or commitment present in traditional relationships, has been labelled a major threat to modern romance, dates and relationships. Hooking up ranges from making out in clubs or bars to one-night stands or friends-with-benefits. University students have supposedly been hooking up with each other for as long as there have been universities, bu t has there really been a dramatic increase in hook-ups?

According to a study published in the Journal of Sex Research this is not the case, with researchers stating, “We find no evidence of substantial changes in sexual behaviour that would indicate a new or pervasive pattern of non-relational sex among contemporary college students.” The study compared the sexual practices of 18-25 year olds during two 8-year time periods (1988-1996 and 2004-2012) and found that the students during the 1988-1996 period were more likely to report having sex at least once a week in the last year and have had more than one sexual partner since turning 18. Alternatively, the 2004-2012 group were more likely to report having no sex partners since turning 18. The biggest change in college students’ sex lives was found to be an increase in the amount of friend-with-benefits hook-ups.

Apps like Tinder have made an impact on dating – if not on the amount of hook-ups then the ease at which they can be attained. There are currently 50 million Tinder users, with 25 million matches a day. Tinder is seen by many as a “numbers game” allowing users to talk to multiple potential hook-ups at a time, instead of just one or two at a bar. If all of those Tinder conversations end in hook-ups, it’s unsurprising many users report hooking up with 50-100 people a year. One of the biggest negatives to this trend is its implications for women.

Everday Feminism said in an article published on 16 February titled “5 Problems with Hookup Culture – And How to Take It Back from Sexism” that double standards are present in the way men talk about women. While men congratulate each other on a hook-up they often degrade women in the same situation. Everyday Feminism explains, “These men pursue women and try to convince them to have sex – sometimes even using coercion – and then turn around and call them sluts for agreeing. It would be like if I invited you over for a home-cooked meal and then call ed you greedy for accepting some food.”

This sentiment was echoed by a second-year BCom Accounting student who said that university hook-ups are seen as a normality, with men not being classified as “loose” or “slutty” after hook-ups, while the same is not true for women. While feminists such as Hanna Rosin in her book, The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, have embraced the so-called equality brought about by hook-up culture, and have praised the modern view of women being equally interested in casual, meaningless sex and therefore are more equal to men, some women have found that this is not the case.

Women are statistically far more likely to feel a need for an emotional connection or attachment, and less likely to enjoy sex outside of a relationship. In one study of 832 college students, 50% of men and 26% of women had positive emotional reactions after hook-ups. Anthony Townsend, clinical psychologist and guest lecturer for UP explained, “Research reveals that men and women have rather different experiences of casual sex (“hook-ups”) both neurochemically and emotionally. While the release of dopamine (the reward hormone) leads to ecstasy for both men and women, the release of oxytocin (the cuddle hormone) typically occurs more rapidly and in higher quantities for women than in men leading to the experience of emotional bonding for women that is not typically reciprocated by men. While hook-ups may represent an important step away from previous double-standards of sexuality between men and women, this emerging culture may also cause conflict for women between neurobiology and shifting social-emotional needs.”

Many students cite their reasons for choosing hook-ups over relationships as busy schedules, and a lack of interest in committing to a long-term, monogamous relationship.

With more and more of us becoming increasingly academically focused, with less pressure to settle down and marry and with more encouragement to build a career, it is no surprise that young people are leaning towards a no-strings-attached way of hooking up.

Graphic: Samuel Sherwood.

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