Hooking Up : Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus

BOOK: Hooking Up : Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus
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K AT H ll E E N A . B O G ll E


Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus

New York University Press

New York and London


New York and London


© 2008 by New York University

All rights reserved

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Bogle, Kathleen A.

Hooking up : sex, dating, and relationships on campus / Kathleen A. Bogle.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN-13: 978-0-8147-9968-0 (cloth : alk. paper) ISBN-10: 0-8147-9968-X (cloth : alk. paper) ISBN-13: 978-0-8147-9969-7 (pbk. : alk. paper) ISBN-10: 0-8147-9969-8 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. College students—Sexual behavior—United States. 2. Dating (Social customs)—

United States. 3. Universities and colleges—Social aspects—United States. I. Title.

HQ35.2.B65 2007



New York University Press books are printed on acid-free paper, and their binding materials are chosen for strength and durability.

Manufactured in the United States of America c 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

p 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1








From Dating to Hooking Up



The Hookup



The Hookup Scene



The Campus as a Sexual Arena



Men, Women, and the Sexual Double Standard 96


Life after College: A Return to Dating



Hooking Up and Dating: A Comparison


Methodological Appendix








About the Author




There are many people who helped make
Hooking Up
possible. I am so grateful to all of them because I know this book would never have happened without them.

I want to begin by thanking my mentor and friend, Joel Best, for believing in me and this project and for his invaluable feedback during every phase. The best thing that ever happened to me career-wise was being assigned as Joel’s teaching assistant during my second year of graduate school at University of Delaware. It was Joel who encouraged me to do this study on hooking up. Before I interviewed a single person or wrote a single page, Joel told me to “picture the book on the shelf.” Here it is and it would not have happened without him.

I was fortunate to have many other influential teachers during graduate school whom I would like to thank, especially Ronet Bach-man, Anne Bowler, Cynthia Robbins, and Gerry Turkel. Thanks also to Kathleen Tierney for teaching me how to conduct qualitative research.

I also want to acknowledge Margaret Andersen, Susan Miller, and Rob Palkovitz, whose insights and comments helped to shape this study.

I would never have started on the path of becoming a sociologist if it wasn’t for the mentors I had as an undergraduate at Saint Joseph’s University. I especially want to thank Raquel Kennedy-Bergen for in-spiring me to choose this profession and helping me during so many stages along the way. I am also thankful to Dan Curran and Claire Ren-zetti, who were instrumental in getting me started in graduate school. I was fortunate to return to my alma mater and teach there on a visiting basis for a few years while I expanded my original study and trans-formed it into a book. During that time, I was lucky enough to work with George Dowdall, the best colleague anyone could ever have. I am grateful to George for his advice and guidance on this project and beyond.

I am very thankful to NYU Press for believing in this book. I particularly want to thank Ilene Kalish for making this opportunity possible vii


AC K N OW ll E D G M E N T S

and Salwa Jabado for helping to see it through to the end. This book benefited immensely from the comments of all the reviewers for NYU.

A special thanks to Laura Carpenter for her thoughtful feedback during the revision process.

Thanks to all my friends for seeing me through the long journey of writing this book, especially Kerri Barthel, Cecilia Burke, Kim Delaney, Jacki Hallinan, Katie Jones, Bob Mascioli, and Victor Perez. I am particularly thankful to Kara Power, who was very helpful during the final stages of writing and revising. I am also grateful for the encouragement of my friends and colleagues Kenny Herbst, Eli Finkel, Piotr Habdas, and Andrew McElrone.

I am appreciative of the many students, friends, and strangers who have spoken to me over the years about their experiences with dating and hooking up; their words helped inform my work. I owe a special debt to the people who agreed to be interviewed for this project; they generously contributed their time and shared the personal stories that made
Hooking Up

Finally, this book would never have happened without the support of my family. Thanks to Aunt Ru for all the prayers and well-wishes.

Thanks to my parents for cheering me on all these years. Thanks to my brother-in-law, Bill Benedict, for all the dinners and for putting up with all the clutter. Thanks to my niece, Gracie, for being the bright spot of every day. And finally, I would like to thank my sister, Jeannie, who knows the material in this book as well as I do. She has read through chapters, helped me figure out how to organize things, and in general helped me make this book much better. If this book is successful, it is because of her.



The journalist Tom Wolfe, a keen observer of American culture, offered this musing on junior high, high school, and college students: Only yesterday boys and girls spoke of embracing and kissing (necking) as getting to first base. Second base was deep kissing, plus groping and fondling this and that. Third base was oral sex. Home plate was going all the way. That was yesterday. Here in the year 2000 we can forget about necking. Today’s boys and girls have never heard of anything that dainty. Today’s first base is deep kissing, now known as tonsil hockey, plus groping and fondling this and that. Second base is oral sex. Third base is going all the way. Home plate is learning each other’s names.1

Clearly, times have changed. Most images that we see today of college students are in a sex-charged atmosphere like MTV’s
Spring Break,
where bikini contests, bump and grind dance contests, and “beach sports” with barely clothed contestants are common scenes. Comparing today’s “co-eds gone wild” with our idea of college students of yester-year, it is perhaps easy to jump to the conclusion that our young people are in moral decline. But it is too simplistic to characterize the change in moral terms. Wolfe’s “bases” point to something much more than an increase in sexual activity among today’s youth. I would argue that today there is something fundamentally different about
young men and women become sexually intimate and form relationships with one another. For American youth, particularly college students, “dating” and mating has become a whole new ball game.

Dating, which permeated college campuses from the 1920s through the mid-1960s, is no longer the means to
an intimate relationship.2 College students rarely date in the traditional sense of the term.

Do they have sexual encounters? Yes. Are they interested in finding 1



boyfriends and girlfriends? Many are, yes. But unlike previous generations, college students today are not forming relationships via dating.

I want to suggest that two factors have been especially important in the demise of traditional dating on college campuses.3 First, young people are postponing marriage. Age at first marriage is at an all-time high; the typical groom is 27; the typical bride is 25.4 Although today’s men and women may be delaying marriage, they are often sexually active from adolescence; the average age of first intercourse is 17.5 Second, a growing proportion of young people nationwide are spending the early years of their adult life on college campuses. From 1970 to 2000, enrollment in undergraduate institutions rose by 78 percent.6 Thus, college has become an increasingly important setting for early sexual experiences. So, if college students are not dating, just what are they doing?

In 2001, a national study on college women’s sexual attitudes and behaviors revealed that instead of dating, many students were “hooking up.”7 The study defined a hookup as “when a girl and a guy get together for a physical encounter and don’t necessarily expect anything further.”8 The results of this study sparked a media firestorm over the idea that hooking up had replaced dating on college campuses.9

Media reports often portray an extreme version of hooking up. It is not so much that the reports are false as much as they don’t represent the whole truth. A typical story line comes from Karen Heller of the
Philadelphia Inquirer,
who reported that “the latest lie teenagers tell themselves is about having ‘friends with benefits,’ the ability to have sex, to ‘hook up,’ without the attendant drudgery of relationships. This means that kids expose private parts, exchange bodily fluids, risk preg-nancy and STDs, but don’t have to plan Saturday dates.” This piece leaves readers with the impression that anyone who has hooked up has engaged in sexual intercourse or some other form of “risky” sex. However, hooking up covers a wide range of activities and many college students use the term to refer to “just kissing.” In other cases, media references go beyond portraying the extreme to actually giving a misleading definition of hooking up. It’s been defined as “oral sex,” “a one-night stand,” or “engaging in a lot of promiscuous sex.” These definitions are narrow at best, and often fuel public concern that today’s youth are engaging in behavior that is a danger to their physical and emotional well-being. Even given that the ambiguous nature of the term “hooking up” makes it difficult to figure out I N T RO D U C T I O N


what is really going on, it is still irresponsible, though not surprising, for journalists to add to the confusion by presenting only the most risqué stories in order to sell papers.

Further, hooking up has been connected to an array of social problems, such as binge drinking, drug abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, feminist scholars have been concerned about the link between hooking up and sexual assault, while conservatives have linked hooking up to being raised by divorced parents.10 Some of the concern over the link between hooking up and other problems is legit-imate, but these potential connections do not justify denouncing the hookup system on those grounds alone.

Much of what has been said about hooking up falls on one end of the spectrum or the other. The mass media takes on a moralistic tone, suggesting that young people are engaging in immoral behavior that will ultimately lead to their doom, whereas recently released books like
The Happy Hook-Up: A Single Girl’s Guide to Casual Sex
authored by women of the hooking-up generation make light of the hookup scene.11

Neither of these opposing perspectives provides the most useful way to analyze the current culture, nor do they add clarity to the discussion.


My introduction to hooking up came firsthand. During my own college career in the early 1990s, hooking up seemed to be at the center of the social scene. I recall spending a lot of time talking to friends, who were attending colleges up and down the East Coast, about whom they hooked up with, whom they wanted to hook up with, or who they

“heard” had hooked up with whom. Although many of these conversations were just for fun, there was also a more serious side to these discussions. Students I knew often struggled with various aspects of hooking up; for example, “how far” a hookup should go, how to act with your hookup partner the next day, and how to turn a hookup into a relationship. Although most of my close friends were female, I saw male friends struggle with hooking up as well. From my standpoint, it appeared that hooking up, for better or worse, was an entrenched part of the college experience.

Fast-forward to 2000. As a graduate student in sociology, specializ-ing in gender, I was having a conversation with one of the members of 4


the sociology department whose two sons were about to embark on college life. I found myself trying to explain the phenomenon of hooking up to someone who came of age during the dating era. When I was finished going on and on about how different relationships are in college nowadays, he replied to all my ramblings by saying: “Why don’t you do a study of that?” From that conversation, this book began.

I started by looking at the phenomenon of hooking up through a sociological lens. I wondered when hooking up started; after all, it didn’t used to be that way, right? I wondered if my observations of how hooking up worked held true for others. I wondered why the “rules” (or lack thereof) that governed the hookup system on campus seemed no longer to apply once I graduated. In other words, I wanted to take my personal observations of the college hookup scene and place them in a larger context.12 As a first step, I reviewed the existing scholarship and was stunned to find no studies on hooking up prior to 2000.13 Virtually all of the past research on college students and relationships referred only to dating.14 Much of the research during this period focuses on heterosexual dating couples once they are already in a relationship. Relatively few studies examine how college students establish themselves as a couple in the first place. Those that do assume that students are dating in the traditional sense and then proceed to ask questions based on that assumption.

BOOK: Hooking Up : Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus
4.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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