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A STUDY PRESENTED at the American Psychological Association Symposium in 2000 stated that 87 per cent of college students report having “hooked up.” The vague term describes the type of encounters that have been replacing traditional dating on university campuses over the recent decades. The Fulcrum sat down with experts and students to learn why dating is out and hooking up is in.

Differing definitions

What constitutes hooking up? Kathleen Bogle, sociology professor at Lasalle University in Philadelphia and author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus, explained the term isn’t well defined, even by those who use it in their everyday vocabulary.

“There’s actually a lot of confusion over what hooking up means,” she explained. “Some students use it to mean sex, some students use it to mean make out, some say it’s more than making out but less than sex.”

Students’ answers varied depending on what the word meant in their high school and what it means among their current social group.

“‘Hook up’ means making out to me,” said Kimberly Orchard, a third-year psychology major at the University of Ottawa.

“Hooking up essentially means you get lucky that night,” said Zsolt Kocsis, a third-year immunology and physiology major at the University of Toronto. “This is variable between the sexes with guys favouring getting laid while women see hooking up as anything past eye-goggling.”

“To me, the term ‘hooking up’ means having sex,” said Freya Crawley, a third-year health sciences student. “At my [high] school, hooking up meant sex, but I know at some of my friends’ schools even as little as making out meant hooking up to them. It all depends.”

Bogle explained most can agree the term is defined in opposition to the idea of traditional courtship.

“When you put everyone’s answers together it can mean anything from kissing to sex,” she said. “The centrepiece of [hooking up] is that it’s not going on a date. It’s something physical happening that may lead to dating later but that doesn’t start out as a formal date.”

Why the change?

Bogle explained there are a number of converging reasons why students change their dating style when they arrive on university campus in first year.
“It’s not one thing,” she said. “There [are] so many different trends that came together to produce hooking up. Some of them are the sexual revolution, the pill, the feminist movement that kind of changed gender norms.

“You also have … at least this is true in the U.S. … a lot of people [who] live on the college campus that they go to, so it makes it logistically easy to hook-up,” she said.

Bogle noted students’ concept of what constitutes “being safe” often changes when they begin university.

“You’re taught your whole life you don’t get in a car with a stranger, you don’t leave a public place with a stranger,” she said. “But if young people live on a college campus and everyone’s a friend of a friend and everything’s walking distance, people don’t feel like they’re getting in the car with a stranger. [They feel like] they’re just walking to a dorm or walking to an apartment with someone they know.”

Although Crawley is now in a committed relationship, she enjoyed hooking up in her first year at the U of O.

“I like the thrill of hooking up with a person, and hopefully having to never see them again,” she said. “I loved the brief sexual encounters.”

Another explanation for the rising number of hook-ups is that men and women are delaying marriage. In 2003, a report released by Statistics Canada found in the late 1970s men were marrying at 25 and women at 23, but by 2003 the average age for first marriage was 30 for men and 28 for women.

“It’s also true that in the U.S. people are marrying significantly later than they used to,” said Bogle. “It used to be common to use your college years to figure out who you were going to marry, and now people say,   ‘I’m definitely going to get married, but not until my late twenties’ or ‘not until my early thirties.’

Bogle noted students see their university years as a chance to sow any wild oats.

“Because they’re delaying that age of marriage they say, ‘Well, I’ve got all the time in the world to figure out who I’m going to marry, now’s the time to have fun,’” she said.

What next?

According to Bogle, hook-up culture is most prevalent during freshman year, but eventually most people begin to want something more.

“Freshmen year, both men and women are like, ‘I want to see what college life is about. I want to do the whole college thing,’” she stated. “Then women tire of the hook-up culture quicker than men. Women say, ‘I’m not really getting what I want from this—this isn’t that great.’ They are disappointed by a lot of things that they hoped would evolve into some version of a relationship.”

She noted while many men feel this way eventually,  women usually do earlier and in higher numbers.

Kocsis said he will often consider whether there could be a future between him and his one-night stand.

“I’d like to go for the sex and hope she’s cool enough to date, but I have no backbone so I must toil with the whole getting-to-know-her process,” he said. “When looking back, I prefer [getting to know her], but at the time I see it as a complete waste of time.”

In her research, Bogle found eventually both sexes tend to turn toward traditional dating, but not until they leave campus.

“I explained that in the book as when their environment changes, the behaviour changes,” she said. “There [is] still hooking up going on, but post-college life was less conducive to hooking up. Even logistically, they aren’t in dorms and apartments. They’re not necessarily willing to go home with some stranger they don’t know—they’re more likely to start texting, maybe hang out, and maybe go on a date.

“They might say they would’ve done a random hook-up in college, but now they go out on formal dates,” said Bogle. “And [alumni I interviewed say] you can’t … kiss on the first date—they really change all of their behaviours when they go on these official, traditional dates.”

—Ali Schwabe