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Does anyone really want to just hook up?

By Kate Cieplicki '16

November 7, 2013

Even though the phrase is whispered, squealed and bemoaned on every college campus, every academic weekend—“We hooked up”—the verb itself, somehow, still leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Kissing? Sex? Something in between?

According to Donna Freitas, author of Sex for the Soul (2008) and The End of Sex (2013), it’s not the physical bases that establish a hookup. It’s the emotional meaning—or lack thereof. On Monday, Nov. 4, Freitas spoke to over 50 students at Hamilton, defining a hookup according to the following requirements:

“First, the hookup has to be brief. Second, the hookup cannot involve emotional attachment,” she said. The rules of the hookup dictate that it must be meaningless. Due to the lack of emotional intimacy that comes with a hookup culture, students seeking deeper connections with their peers are left feeling “isolated and unfulfilled.”

Freitas’s interest in the hookup culture derives from her time with students at a small Catholic college in Vermont. Though she was a religious studies professor, Freitas’s students were eager to discuss sex, romance and dating in class. Due to this interest, she taught a course exclusively about spirituality and dating. Through conversations with the 21 students in this class, Freitas heard the “hookup culture” mentioned again and again. At first, it seemed like all of her students accepted and enjoyed hookingup. Midway through the course, however, one student brought up that she didn’t, in fact, like the hookup culture all that much. Following her thoughts, the rest of the students’ dissatisfaction with the “hookup culture” began to show.

While the students were “pro-hookup” in theory, they found again and again through personal experience that “the hookup wasn’t the best place for sexual intimacy,” said Freitas. A campus-wide discussion of the hook-up culture demonstrated similar sentiments. With these opinions as a basis, Freitas set out to see if the hookup culture was present at colleges across the country, and, if so, what the participating students’ opinions of it were.

Freitas subsequently conducted one of the largest surveys ever on college-student spirituality and sexuality. Participants were polled with questions, interviewed and asked to share personal journal entries detailing their thoughts on “hooking up.”

Through her extensive research, Freitas found that a majority of opinions paralleled those of her students in the spirituality and dating course. Most of students were interested in dating and romance but were under the impression that everyone was hooking up all the time—and loving it—except for them. They viewed dating as something that “didn’t happen in college, and a desire for romance as weird,” said Freitas of her extensive interviews with students. “The norm,” according to the survey results, was to get over romance and engage in (but not care about) casual sex. Such a stigma around emotional intimacy was leading to sexually and spiritually unfulfilled college students.

The problem wasn’t “the hookup” itself. Freitas discussed how the option to hookup had been available to her when she was in undergraduate school at Georgetown. She described hooking up as a “town”: “everyone knew how to get there and who lived there, but it wasn’t the only option,” she said. Then, hookups were about the fun of pursuing a handsome stranger.

To Freitas, the hookup became problematic when it began the only option for intimacy college students could pursue. Then it became the hookup culture.  Concluding her talk, Freitas addressed the overarching implications of her research on the hook-up culture:

“The issue of consent on college campuses needs to be reestablished to fit in the culture of casual sex,” she said. “Hookups can often be seen as something that happens to you, not something a person actually pursues.”

Such detachment is problematic and results in blurred lines that Freitas believes need to be redrawn.

Freitas encouraged students in the audience to start thinking about “how to have truly awesome sex.” If the hookup isn’t the best way, and if not everyone is as into the hookup culture as they seem, then what is the best way to have meaningful sexual and emotionally intimate relationships?

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