The Trend of the Hookup
From Tinder to frat parties, hookup culture plays a key role in Gen Z’s sexuality. Although hookup culture is not new, it has become increasingly common in the past few decades. While many factors may play into this, such as pop culture, birth control accessibility, and even secularization, hookup culture has made its markーbut not without a price to pay. The American Psychological Association (APA) has released numerous studies regarding the mental health implications of hooking up, and the results aren’t pretty. So what are the consequences of hookups and why do we keep going back for more?
Post-Hookup Mental Health Implications
According to the APA, hookups can increase depression, loneliness, and anxiety. In a college hookup study, those who were not already depressed experienced increased symptoms of depression following a hookup. Additionally, in a study of 394 college students, students who reported lower regular feelings of loneliness had increased feelings of loneliness post-hookup. These students also reported lower self-esteem than students who had not engaged in hookups, although it is unclear if this is due to correlation or causation.
Hookup Pressure and Regret
While these mental health implications are prevalent, they only increase with post-hookup regret. In a study of 291 sexually experienced individuals, those who experienced regret after uncommitted sex reported more depressive symptoms than their non-regretful peers. One key factor that may contribute to post-hookup regret is lack of comfortability. In a 2010 hookup study, a whopping 78% of participants were found to overestimate their partner’s comfort in sexual behaviors. Therefore, not only can hookups result in negative feelings, but these feelings can be caused by a lack of understanding that can also infringe on the consent involved in the hookup.
The lack of proper consent involved in hookup culture is only heightened by heavy alcohol use. In a study among 118 first-semester female college students, 64% of reported uncommitted sexual encounters followed alcohol use. In another study, students reported that about 61% of hookups occurred after alcohol usage. In both studies, the average amount of alcoholic drinks consumed was about 3, enough to legally impair an average weighing woman. To communicate true sexual consent, both parties must be sober, and therefore, many hookups occur without consent. Not only does lack of consent come with its own mental health implications, but it largely contributes to the post-hookup regret that leads to depression.
In addition to lack of comfort and consent contributing to post-hookup regret, is the anxiety surrounding hookups. Many experience anxiety before a hookup, caused by the social pressure to hook up and performance anxiety. With various media, public figures, and the idea of the “college experience” endorsing sex and hookups, many individuals feel pushed to have sex by extrinsic factors. In a study discussing sexual motives, eight percent of participants contributed their reason for having sex to other individuals. It seems then, that some individuals hook up due to external reasoning, rather than their personal longings. To increase these feelings of pressure surrounding hookups comes performance anxiety. Not only has the porn industry set unrealistic standards for what a hookup should look like, but many other factors can contribute to performance anxiety. Erectile dysfunction, body dysmorphia, an inability to pleasure one’s partner, and more can induce anxiety before, during, and after a hooking up. Clearly, a variety of factors can contribute to hookup regret and anxiety.
Why Do We Hook Up?
With all of the negative feelings, pressure, and other implications surrounding hook-ups, how do they exist so prevalently? Qualitative research supports five main categories of casual sex motivators: personal intra-individual motivations, social-environmental motivations, physical-environmental motivations, interpersonal motivations, and other motivations. Various studies have named more specific reasonings, such as relationship desire, lack of dating scene, sexual gratification, wanting to fit in, fun/excitement, and not enough time to pursue a relationship.
Surprisingly, it seems some of the factors contributing to hooking up are relationship based; however, it is also clear classical dating can not always cover all of these motivational bases. Fun, excitement, and lack of time commitment, can be retracted for some in relationships. Many individuals lose interest after the honeymoon phase or have difficulty making sacrifices for their partners. As hookups can offer the excitement of a new relationshipー without the effort required to maintain oneーit makes sense why people engage in such affairs.
In addition, hookups can offer instant gratification that typical dating can’t. Without the added time, pressure, and effort, involved in exploring a partner romantically, hookup culture provides a quicker path to pleasure. This is especially alluring to some, as the human brain is designed to prioritize instant gratification over long-term goals. Therefore, while some may desire long-term relationships, for many, hookups are an all-too-tempting option that the brain uses to momentarily override this emotional longing.
Regardless of the emotional and physical implications of hooking up, hookup culture has made its mark. While many prefer classical dating, others find hookups to provide similar pleasure with less work. It makes sense then, why hookup culture has become so popular. Yet this begs the question… if hookup culture is a product of succumbing to short-term desires, rather than grand scheme goals, should we continue feeding into it?
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