Adventures in Dating

A savvy guide to courtship and communication.

Understanding Random Sexual Hookups

What’s your name? And, I gotta go…

In my Dating and Communication course my students often talk about how the nature of dating has changed. It seems that, for many young people, dating is more myth than reality. That is, for many individuals a relationship happens like this: you find someone, hookup with him/her, if it’s enjoyable it continues, and after hooking-up for a while, you may start a relationship. This is quite the change from traditional courtship…I don’t say this to be judgmental, and I recognize that this trajectory cannot be applied to everyone—but still, this is a pattern for some people.

Whether or not the above pattern applies to you, unplanned sexual hookups happen with strangers or, in this case, newly found friends. The question then becomes what features surround this hookup? I will review some of the findings from Paul and Hayes, who studied individuals’ hookup experiences (I recommend that you consult the complete study as space constraints do not allow for a full discussion of their work).

To begin with, they defined a hookup as “a sexual encounter (that may or may not involve sexual intercourse) between two people who are brief acquaintances or strangers, usually lasting only one night” (p. 640). In their study of college students, their participants reported they thought that 85% of students had experienced one or more hookups. Their participants, whose average age was about 20 years old, reported they had engaged in about 10 hookups. Key factors preceding a hookup included “flirting/attraction, drinking alcohol, hanging out and talking, attending parties, and a friend’s arrangement.” Over half of the participants described a hookup as involving two partners that were previously strangers.

A variety of physical behaviors occurred during a hookup, ranging from making out to intercourse. To understand how these physical behaviors concluded, participants were asked how a hookup “ended.” They provided the following descriptions: “when one person leaves [most common response], when partners fall asleep or pass out, when the couple is interrupted, when one or both partners reach sexual climax, or when one partner stops when the hookup goes too far.”

Individual feelings before and after a hookup were quite different. Prior to a hookup, most people reported feeling positively, feeling “aroused” and “wanted.” Following a hookup, though, most people felt negatively; “regretful,” “disappointed,” “confused,” and “uncomfortable.” Still, some positive feelings remained after a hookup. Although not the majority, they included “happy,” “satisfied,” and “proud.” The negative feelings described here, though, highlight the emotional risks of a random hookup.

Life is all about choices, and it is a person’s right to choose whom they do, and do not, sleep with. That said, this study helps us become aware of the emotional and physical risks of random hookups. If you choose to engage in a hookup, please take appropriate precautions as this involves sexual activity with a stranger. With that in mind, I leave you with the following: Paul and Hayes found 38% of people reported “sometimes” engaging in STD/pregnancy prevention whereas 15% reported not engaging in any preventive behaviors. Given the rate of sexually transmitted infections, and the lack of knowledge about one’s partner in a hookup, this is alarming. Please make wise choices and protect your health.

[For questions or resources regarding sexual safety, visit: http://www.itsyoursexlife.com/gyt/]

Follow me on Twitter @therealdrsean for relationship commentary/links, complaints about mass transit, and support for WVU Athletics. Continue to follow this blog for future entries about deception, online dating, using affection to lie, workplace romance, and other issues that make obtaining and retaining a mate oh so interesting.   

Paul, E. L., & Hayes, K. E. (2002). The casualties of `casual' sex: A  qualitative exploration of the phenomenology of college students' hookups. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 19, 639-661.

Sean M. Horan, Ph.D. is a faculty member in the College of Communication at DePaul University who researches the communication that occurs in dating relationships.

more...

Subscribe to Adventures in Dating

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.