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Netflix and What?!

Describing the Hookup Culture

Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock
Source: Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

It took me longer than I care to admit to realize that “Netflix and Chill” meant a sexual encounter with a partner, and not simply hanging out and watching a movie. Come to think of it, I must have confused many a friend when inviting them over to watch TV, as a result of misusing the term. At least they realized what I was actually asking of them, avoiding a potentially awkward situation.

The Changing Landscape of Relationships

So, when did “Netflix and Chill” become a way to describe relationships? Is it a result of the evolution of courtship? Dating, as we traditionally know it, is largely absent from today's college landscape. Students rarely go on traditional dates, and instead “hook up.”

According to Glenn and Marquardt (2001), hooking up involves a physical encounter without any expectation of commitment—and they found that this is currently the main male-female interaction on college campuses. Bradshaw, Kahn, and Saville (2010) also describe gender differences with regard to dating and hooking up, in that women prefer the former, while men prefer the latter.

Seeking to track the shift from dating to hooking up, Bogel (2007) notes that it is difficult to pinpoint, although evidence leads to the emergence of hooking up in the 1960s and 1970s, as a byproduct of the sexual revolution. The term surfaces in studies of college culture as early as the 1990s. The exact emergence is difficult determine, because in many early studies of college relationships, the term dating was used incorrectly. So the shift from dating to hooking up may have occurred prior to the practice being labeled as such.

What is “Hooking Up”?

It is also important to note that dating didn’t turn into hooking up. Rather, the practice of dating began to decline as hooking up was on the rise. They are independent in nature. Hooking up often involves no commitment or obligation between partners. It is much less formal than dating, and typically occurs after a night of hanging out at a party or in a larger group. Alcohol is often involved, resulting in lowered inhibitions (Bogel, 2007). Whereas men typically initiate dates, either males or females can initiate a hookup.

Decoding the hookup script is complex. As the term is intentionally vague, it can describe an array of behaviors which may or may not involve sexual intercourse. The ambiguity of the term is likely intentional: People can label a situation without revealing a great deal of personal information in conversation with others.

Limitations in Generalizability

Generalizing beyond college students, especially those who dorm, when it comes to romantic behavior is problematic. The college environment is unique in that members are able to monitor each other’s sexual behaviors. College students, compared to non-college-attending peers, are also more likely to delay marriage, leaving them with a greater amount of time to spend in less serious relationships (Bogel, 2007). Therefore, the hookup culture that we see in college is not necessarily indicative of the culture as a whole.

Dating did not evolve into hooking up; a new social script surfaced which met college students’ need to communicate their desire to others, while maintaining a bit of privacy. The rise of the term "Netflix and chill" further illustrates this need. A Netflix and chill invitation enables people to alert others of their interest, without having to be formal or explicit. However, it’s important that both people are aware that often more than movie watching might be expected.


Bogel, K. A. (2007). The shift from dating to hooking up in college: What scholars have missed. Sociology Compass, 1/2, 775-788.

Bradshaw, C., Kahn, A. S., & Saville, B. K. (2010). To hook up or date: Which gender benefits? Sex Roles, 62(9-10), 661-669. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9765-7

Glenn, N., & Marquardt, E. (2001). Hooking up, hanging out, and hoping for Mr. Right. New York: Institute for American Values.

Mongeau, P. A., Knight, K., Williams, J., Eden, J., & Shaw, C. (2013). Identifying and explicating variation among friends with benefits relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 50(1), 37-47.