Double Standard

Dating in past generations was viewed as a means for teens to get to know one another, find suitable partners, and to eventually (God willing) marry. In the 1950's suitable dates entailed a couple sharing a straw at the local soda shop. According to Dr. Helen Sheumaker, professor at Miami University of Ohio, the roles played by men and women in relationships paralleled their economic roles; men were the providers, fronting the bills because they earned a steady income and women were the consumers, consuming beauty enhancing products and men's chivalrous attempts to win over their hearts.

Dating continued to evolve. In the 1970's dating became a formal practice. College men phoned their sweethearts early in the week, asking permission to take them out on the weekend. Dates consisted of dinner followed by a movie or ice cream. Many colleges enforced strict policies governing dormitory visitations including no co-ed visitations past 5:00 pm, all dormitory doors were to be propped open with a shoe, and three of the couple's legs had to be on the ground at all times (I'm not even joking!).

Contrary to the function of dating in previous generations, today's adolescents typically view dating as a means to enhance their socialization and entertainment. A new phenomenon is emerging in high schools and colleges as teens are drifting away from the formal dating rituals from decades since past and are ‘hooking-up'. According to researchers Robyn Fielder and Michael Carey (2010), "a hook-up is a catch-all term used by adolescents and young adults to describe a sexual interaction between two partners who expect no romantic commitment."

Researchers Leanna Fortunato, Amy Young, Carol Boyd, and Courtney Fons (2010) likened hooking-up to casual sex in that both acts consist of partners who are acquaintances or strangers with no initial intention of considering the future. While casual sex implies sexual intercourse, hooking-up does not necessarily imply sexual intercourse, but rather sexual behaviors. According to the researchers, "because a hook-up can refer to kissing and petting as well as sexual intercourse, adolescent girls can disclose during post-encounter commentary with peers without having to worry about being considered a "prude" or a "slut"". The term's vagueness can, however, lead to differing expectations among participants and emotionally painful consequences.

How did dating evolve from chivalrous knights in shining armor, dreaming up ways to win over their fair maidens, to this current culture of hooking-up where there is no regard for each partner's emotional reaction to the loveless encounter?

Perhaps the immediate social context of the college or high school environment, coupled with the media's distal influence, perpetuates the hook-up environment. For example, teens often think that virginal status is rare, yet according to Kathleen Bogle, professor at La Salle University, over 25% of college freshmen are virgins, suggesting that societal standards regarding sexuality conflict with reality. In fact, Bogle states that only 28% of college students reported hooking up with more than 10 people by the end of their senior year. Teens believe that extreme behavior is typical, which influences their choices and behavior, and ultimately their peers' behavior. The media glamorizes images of extreme behavior such as late night partying at fraternities, multiple hook-ups, and excessive drinking which perpetuates teens' hook-up mentality.

Fielder and Carey's research suggests that the two most salient predictors of sexual hook-ups consist of the number of past hook-up partners and the individual's intoxication level. Alcohol may play a key role in creating a culture of hook-ups as it lowers individuals' inhibitions and gives them the ‘liquid courage' to approach an-out-of-my-league crush. Fielder and Carey's research also highlights consequences of hooking-up, suggesting that females tend to feel worse about themselves after the hook-up while men experience increases in self-esteem.

Can we make sense of this culture?! Perhaps evolutionary theories can explain this phenomenon speculating that hooking-up is advantageous to men because it facilitates rapidly changing partners, due to the absence of an emotional bond, and multiple partners increase the likelihood that men will pass along their genes to the next generation. From an evolutionary perspective, hooking-up can be detrimental to women due to the uncertainty of maintaining the relationship after the encounter. Women should instead look for a partner who is committed to the relationship.

The tenets of evolutionary theory, influence of alcohol, perceptions of teens, and images portrayed in the media suggest that men are encouraged to hook-up and those that do are elevated to a god-like status after each conquest. A woman who hooks-up often feels empty and used after the encounter and as a result, she may be defined in accordance to how others perceive her sexuality....just another double standard to consider.

Eliminating the Double Standard:

1. Early Talks about Relationships: Begin early talks with teens about the emotional consequences of hooking-up. Teens should pursue relationships that increase their sense of self-worth and reinforce their morals and values. If at any time a teen feels pressured by a partner, he or she should refrain from the relationship.
2. Gender Education: It is important that teens receive specific gender education in terms of understanding relationships. Males and females have distinct needs in regards to relationships and it is important to discuss these needs and feelings along gender lines.
3. Connection between Alcohol and Hooking-Up: It is important for teens to understand the relationship between drinking and hooking up, but more specifically, it is important for teens to understand the very real negative physical and emotional consequences that come from drinking before and during a sexual encounter.

Works Cited:
Fielder, R., & Carey, M. (2010). Predictors and consequences of sexual "hookups" among college students: A short-term prospective study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(5), 1105-1119.

Fortunato, L., Young, A. M., Boyd, C. J., & Fons, C. E. (2010). Hook-Up Sexual Experiences and Problem Behaviors Among Adolescents. Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse, 19(1), 261-278.

Hagedorn, E. (2009). Dating Through the Decades. Miami Quarterly Online. Retrieved December 2, 2010, from:

Shaia, F. (2009). Prof says alcohol, dating culture leads to college hook-ups. The Collegian. Retrieved December 2, 2010, from:

Photo Credit:

About the Author

Ann Naragon, Ph.D.

Ann Naragon, Ph.D., received her degree in educational psychology and specializes in adolescent development, relational aggression, and achievement motivation.

You are reading

Making the Grade

Double Standards in Dating Practices

Why men are gods and women are sluts

I Love Boobies!

How activists, trend setters, and conformists started a revolution.

Is It Just Puppy Love?

Specific parenting practices may delay teens’ sexual activity