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Ponnada: The myth of the hook-up culture

BY SRI PONNADA | JULY 10, 2013 5:00 AM

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Before I got to college, I had a bunch of wild ideas about what life in this foreign environment would entail. I had heard various descriptions about the “fabulous” college life from older friends who had graduated from high school and gone off to explore the world. I had also seen Legally Blonde, along with tons of other movies and TV shows that overall depicted college as a sexual utopia in which young people prance around naked and drink from fountains of beer.

Once I actually got here, I came to find the many tales that I was told weren’t entirely true. Well, I guess the fountains of beer do exist in the form of kegs. And people do occasionally run around campus half-naked during the summer. But the whole notion of college being never-ending buffet of sexual delights, however, is definitely just a myth.

That’s right, parents, you can take a breath and relax because casual “hookups” — which may include any type of sexual intimacy ranging from kissing to sexual intercourse, between partners who are not dating or in a romantic relationship and do not expect commitment — are not as popular as people may think.

According to a study published online last year by the Journal of Adolescent Health, romantic relationships are still the most common context for sexual behavior, at least for women in their first year of college.

Researchers at the Miriam Hospital’s Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine reported romantic sex with a boyfriend or relationship partner was found to be twice as common as hookup sex in the group of students they interviewed.

So, dads, you don’t have to worry about your daughters being with strange men. You just have to worry about her boyfriend.

Another study, titled “Risky Business,” released in June in the Journal of Sex Research, exposes just how uncommon casual sexual encounters are among college students. The study, led by Assistant Professor Melina Bersamin of California State University-Sacramento, surveyed almost 4,000 heterosexual college students between the ages of 18 and 25 from 30 different colleges. Researchers found that only 11 percent of students reported having any casual sex — defined in the study as intercourse with someone the student had known for less than week — in the month prior to the survey. When one-night stands did occur, the events had a high correlation to psychological distress.

In fact, college students (surprisingly?) seem to be on the more conservative side when it comes to sexual behavior. Almost half of college students judge both men and women equally harshly for being promiscuous and hooking up too much.

And those of you women looking for some gal pals that’ll stick by your side forever — don’t expect to find your Carrie, Charlotte, or Miranda if you’re anything like Samantha from “Sex and the City.” Researchers at Cornell University found that women judge their “promiscuous” peers so harshly that they don’t want to be friends with them.

Good luck finding even another Samantha like yourself. The study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, proved that birds of a feather sometimes hate each other. Even promiscuous women are very unaccepting of other promiscuous women when it comes to friendship.

It seems there isn’t much incentive for a college student to behave in a way that may cause other (rather Victorian) students to deem her or him a sexual deviant.

Other than the risk of becoming a social pariah, there are also the potential consequences of getting an STD or pregnant. Between the two, casual sex just doesn’t seem worth the trouble. And I guess that’s why 89 percent of college students reported not having engaged in casual sex.

Or maybe everyone is paired up, and so the rumored incessant sexual encounters are as a result of their romantic relationships.

Either way, the good news is that college students seem to have proven their worth in the realm of sexual morality.


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