The popularity of sex without commitment slowed down as AIDS awareness rose in the 1980s — but casual sex came back during the 1990s sex-positivity movement, which told women it’s OK to like sex, she said.
Lisa Wade, a sociology professor at Occidental College, said that during the sexual revolution, women wanted two things: for femininity to be valued and masculine traits to be acceptable for everyone. They only got the latter.
“College women get to campus and they apply that logic to sexuality,” Wade said. “What we have is a whole campus of people who are trying to enact stereotypical masculinity.”
Social pressure or sexual freedom?
“I think there’s this pressure, ‘Why am I not hooking up more?’” Kuperberg said.
About 15 percent of college students prefer hookups to relationships. Most of the people in this category are heterosexual, white and wealthy males, according to Wade’s research.
Kuperberg said there is societal pressure to hook up in college.
“So the rule used to be that you had to say no; now the rule is that you have to say yes,” she said.
And some UNC students feel that pressure.
“I feel like when I don’t want to hook up, it’s frowned upon,” junior Lauren Ogg said.
Sophomore Colleen Royal said she thinks hookup culture can be bad for women.
“Society tells them it’s empowering, but I think it pressures (women) to the point of making them not make the best decisions,” she said.
Kuperberg said students aren’t having more sex than their parents did in college, but some of the social norms are different.
“(The interesting thing) about hookup culture is that its freedom is premised on a lot of repression — repression on a lot of anxiety of sex, repression on your worry that it’s more dangerous, repression that you might have more feelings for somebody,” she said.
Others say hookup culture is an opportunity for sexual freedom and exploration.
“When I was in sixth grade and they took us to the sex course, they put the tampon in the male mannequin,” sophomore Chichi Osunkwo said. “We were not taught very well about how to handle our own bodies.”
She said she thinks hooking up is a way for people to figure out what they like.
“I think that if you go and figure it out for yourself in a safe way, that’s better than any textbook or 30-minute lecture could teach you,” she said.
Kuperberg said hookup culture is not as horrible or extreme as the media portrays it. Her research shows that people are just as likely to go on dates as they are to hook up.
“The vast majority of people do not regret their hook ups,” she said.
About one-third of students won’t hook up in college.
“I think that (hookup culture) is probably prevalent among a smaller percentage of the student body than the amount of attention it receives,” graduate Connor Haines said.
Osunkwo said she thought she would have to catch up sexually in college, but was surprised by the amount of people who aren’t interested in hooking up or are abstaining from sex until marriage.
“I think that (hooking up) is definitely part of the American college experience, and nobody should be ashamed of whether they do it or not,” she said.
The Orgasm Gap
Women are paid 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, but female students are already used to performing better than their male counterparts and getting worse results in the bedroom.
Coming doesn’t always come with hookups for college women. For each orgasm a college woman gets from a hook up, a college man gets three orgasms, Wade said.
But the problem might be more complicated than gender inequity.
“I don’t know that (the orgasm gap) is anyone’s fault. It’s kind of a biological thing that people can’t help,” Kristin Isbell, a sophomore biology major, said. “I mean, guys should know about it and be educated about it, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that guys are evil because it’s harder.”
Kuperberg said the gap can be explained by gender norms and expectations for sex.
“When men are done, women are done too,” she said.
Wade said that the casual sex college students are participating is not just carefree. It’s careless.
College students associate “caring” with monogamous relationships and the opposite with non-monogamous relationships, she said.
Because of the stigma of caring, there is no communication in a hookup — making it hard for women to orgasm.
Wade said because not communicating boundaries is the norm with hookups, the lines of consent are blurred. She said it is hard to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable when boundaries haven’t been discussed.
However, while communication may not be the norm, there are exceptions.
“There are times where I’m like, ‘You got yours, it’s time for me to get mine,’” Osunkwo said.
And some men screw the patriarchy between the sheets.
“I think (the orgasm gap) exists, but in my instance, I try to get my partner to orgasm before I do to make sure she gets her needs,” graduate Oliver Hodge said. “My female friends who do participate in hookup culture don’t always get that and they do get pissed off, but that doesn’t stop them from going out and trying to find hook ups.”
Despite hookup culture, 73 percent of college men want a relationship, Wade said.
Kuperberg said college men are not able to find relationships because college women are looking for men who are older and financially stable. This leads to more hookups for men in college.
Luckily for these men, hookups can lead to long-lasting relationships, she said.
When the next generation of children ask their parents how they met, some college sweethearts might have to turn their R-rated love story into something a little more PG.