Hook Ups Versus Dating

Sexual encounters in early adulthood are still more common in relationships

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The transition into adulthood is a time of social and sexual experimentation. Safe practices lower risk of disease, pregnancy and emotional pain. A recent study surveyed young women about their sex habits every month for their first year of college.

This study’s findings suggested that sexual encounters within relationships were still more common than casual hookups.

The majority of 'hookups' happened at the beginning of the school year and were more common among white, non-Hispanic students, compared to African-American or Asian students.

"Practice safe sex."

Robyn Fielder, MS, research intern at the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital, a Brown University affiliate in Providence, Rhode Island, led the investigation into romantic relationships in college environments.

The term ‘hooking up’ refers to any kind of casual sexual activity outside of a romantic relationship.

Fielder said, “Hooking up is one way that young adults explore intimate relationships, but it’s not the most common way, and it is often exploratory.”

For the study, 483 freshman women were surveyed about their sex lives every month for their entire first year of college.

Surveys included questions about:

  • Sexual encounters within romantic relationships
  • Casual sexual encounters with non-partners
  • Types or extent of sexual encounters
  • Attitudes about: sexual protection, sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy

Survey results revealed the percentages of women who engaged in sexual behavior:

  • Pre-college oral or vaginal sex during a hookup: 34 percent
  • Freshman year oral or vaginal sex during a hookup: 40 percent
  • Pre-college oral or vaginal sex within a romantic relationship: 58 percent
  • Freshman year oral or vaginal sex during a hookup: 56 percent
  • Participated in a hookup each month: 7-18 percent
  • Had sex each month while in a romantic relationship: 25-38 percent

Authors concluded, “Hooking up varies in frequency over the first year in college, but remains less common than sex in the context of relationships.”

Fielder said, “These findings support what we know about the first year of college: That it is a time when we see increases in sexual behavior and substance use, as young people explore who they want to be and how they want to interact with others—especially romantic partners.”

Fielder goes on to suggest further studies into student sexual behavior to better understand risks that could physically harm, mentally or emotionally distress and as a result hurt school performance.

Sexually transmitted disease and unplanned pregnancies are still a problem on college campuses. Further education and intervention programs are necessary to lower unsafe sexual behavior.

This study was published in October in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Funding for this study was provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 16, 2012
Last Updated:
May 2, 2013