As college students at Vanderbilt, I am sure we are all familiar with the overwhelming influence of the hookup culture. Even if you don’t engage in hooking up yourself, it is hard to avoid noticing the random make-outs at fraternity parties or the loud sex noises from the room next door. This overwhelming increase in sexual interactions since high school should logically come as no surprise. College students are given the freedom and often times the encouragement to engage in intimate interactions without repercussions from parents or detention warnings from teachers. But why is hooking up so popular now and what characteristics of hooking up affect the social and emotional lives of college students? In Chapter 3: The Hookup of “Hooking Up”, Kathleen A. Bogle analyses this trend and personally interviews college students to get an authentic account of what hookup culture is all about.
What exactly is hooking up? Is it a term used to describe kissing, sex, or as my dad thinks of it, meeting an acquaintance for lunch? Bogle addresses the ambiguity of this term and how college students often use this ambiguity for their own advantage. Guys may leave out the details of their sexual encounters and claim that they simply hooked up with a girl to imply that they did more than they actually did. Girl may use the term to imply to their friends that they did less sexually. Despite the ambiguity of the term, most people can agree that hooking is a form of “intimate interaction.” Most also agree that nothing comes out of a hookup after it is over; it is simply meant for immediate sexual gratification and pride. So how does it happen? The students that Bogle interviewed suggest that alcohol plays a major role in the hook up culture. The alcohol affects the sheer randomness and simplicity of the hookup and often makes 20 minutes of flirtatious banter and eye contact enough to get in bed with another student. The close proximity of the dorms and more importantly, a bed, also contribute to the simplicity of hooking up.
Bogle also addresses the irony of these sexual encounters. Students, particularly women, are not as sexual with people who they like because they feel it might ruin the potential for a future relationship. Perhaps women are often more inclined to relive the dating culture from high school in a college society dominated by hookup. Bogle’s analysis of the ins and outs of college hookup is benefited by personal accounts and opinions of a diverse group of actual college students. She also does not criticize or condone hooking up, which strengthens the analysis. A weakness is that she does not interview minorities or international students, but perhaps this suggests that hooking up is mostly a White, middle to upper class phenomenon.
There is a connection between Bogle’s analysis of college hookup and the documentary, Let’s Talk About Sex. In the documentary, mentalities on sex in the United States are compared to how sex is handled in Europe. Unlike the States, European society does not label sex as taboo, and parents and teachers openly talk about the benefits and potential consequences of sex with their children and students. It is clear that American society often stigmatizes and labels sex as immoral, with the exception of college. The American college interpretation of sex is very similar to how European society handles sex. Not only do students participate in sex, but they talk about it more openly with others, perhaps due to a lack of parental authority. Condoms and informational STD brochures are available in public bathrooms, and organizations and clubs like Project Safe do not label sex as taboo, but rather, encourage safe and consensual sex. Classes such as this Sex and Society course are offered to educate students on the realities and potential consequences of sexual encounters; not to criticize them. As Bogle puts it, “Hooking up is an outgrowth of how college students socialize today” (Bogle 29). Sex is how we socialize and interact, and this makes it very difficult to label it as taboo in college. A disconnect between the documentary and Bogle’s analysis is that casual sexual leniency is a part of European society’s mentality, but only a temporary phenomenon during college here in the States.
Personally, I have witnessed every aspect of hookup culture that Bogle addressed here at Vanderbilt, and I am sure many of you have as well. From witnessing random make outs at fraternity parties to hearing about sexual encounters from people I am not even that close with, the influence of hookup culture on social life at Vanderbilt is apparent. The song “Sleeping With a Friend” by Neon Trees sums up the mentality that many students have in regards to hooking up. Here are some of the lyrics:
And why mess up a good thing, baby?
It’s a risk to even fall in love
So, when you give that look to me
I better look back carefully
‘Cause this is trouble, yeah this is trouble
I said ooh, ooh
You got me in the mood, mood
But if my heart’s gonna break
Before the night will end
I said, ooh, ooh we’re in danger
Sleeping with a friend, sleeping with a friend
Basically the song is referring to how many people want to avoid the emotional side of intimacy and just hook up. This suggests a major reason why hookup is such a huge influence in college; many students want to avoid any emotional strain. How do you define hooking up? Have you experienced the influence of hookup culture here at Vanderbilt? What is your opinion of it? Do you think that the acceptance of sex in college culture is beneficial or harmful?