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The landscape of casual sex

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Navigating the hookup culture on a college campus

Hookups, or casual sexual encounters, have been happening for decades on college campuses. However, has something changed over the course of time? Researcher Lisa Wade, the author of American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, suggests hookups have become an institution unto itself on American college campuses. With this, college students are indicating that engaging in casual sex is an expectation of college life. And attached to those expectations are sexual encounter norms, including not caring.

Sharing is Caring
Wade’s research with college students revealed the campus hookup culture often does not include respect or caring. Rather, caring is reserved for relationships only. With this, hookups can be seen as an invitation where anything goes, including being strategic, inconsiderate, and unkind toward a hookup partner. This is a highly concerning finding since every person is worthy of respect and caring, whether in a conversation or sharing intimacy in a hookup. Excessive alcohol often plays a role in unhealthy hookup interactions where boundaries get blurred and inhibitions are tossed to the curb.

Drunken Hookups
Wade borrowed from Thomas Vander Ven, a sociology professor who coined the word “drunkworld” where being wasted is central theme in hooking up. Referring to Vander Ven’s “drunkworld” Wade was quoted in an interview with Salon, “I think at some point, he calls it a “temporary insanity.” Wade suggests in the interview this state of insanity opens the door to an “alternative reality” where standard social rules no longer apply, pushing partying to the edge of risk. In this altered state students may become more aggressive towards obtaining sex or easily coerced into sex, an interaction that may be regretted the next day. Drunken hookups also often lead to unprotected sex with a by-product of potential sexually transmitted diseases adding to further regret and concern. With very little upside, why aren’t drunken hookups avoided?

Hooking Up is Hard to Do
Many students have a natural curiosity about sex and seek to explore its landscape during college. However, if hooking up either by choice or peer pressure, Wade’s research indicates it’s not an easy encounter for many individuals without the aid of alcohol. The antidote is individuals choosing or being persuaded to drink copious amounts of alcohol, finishing the night off with a hookup.

Choosing to hookup can be done safely and respectfully with little to no alcohol. This scenario provides a setting where mutually conscious decisions can be made to engage in consensual intimacy. Being able to comfortably communicate boundaries of intimacy and use protection is also more likely to occur in a more conscious state. If you find yourself not able to hookup without being wasted, maybe it’s not for you. It’s important to give yourself permission to not hookup without judgment on yourself or toward others.

Choosing Not to Hookup
There are individuals who want to be in a mutually committed relationship to share sexual intimacy. Others want to wait until they are married. Wade’s research suggests college students who make these choices can suffer socially. Peer pressure can be applied to align with the hookup culture and its associated norms. If refused, one’s social circle can dwindle. Wade notes friendship bonds seem to form when friends are wasted together navigating the trials and errors of their behaviors. With this, the importance of respecting students’ choices not to hookup without socially ostracizing them is an area needing attention by the student population.

Where from Here?
Unhealthy sexual encounters do not have to remain the norm on college campuses. However, changing the norm will require student voices to initiate a different culture. Hookups have happened and will continue to happen, but recognizing the red flag hookups where strategy, drunken states, and disrespect are present is crucial in stopping unhealthy sexual encounters. For those that choose to participate in hookup culture, making it a safe, respectful, and caring encounter is important. Look for an upcoming article providing tips about navigating the hookup culture while supporting the well being of yourself and others.

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