Do hookups trump romance in college?

By Kyle Rich

Sexual activity can be considered a favorite pastime of some college students, but while many think one-night stands run rampant on and off campus, new research indicates romantic relationships predominate.

In a new study published in the September issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers at Brown and Syracuse universities challenged the notion that hookup culture is replacing romantic relationships among the college crowd.

“I think there is more attention in popular literature about the hookup culture, so the attention to that has drowned out the attention to more traditional romantic relationships,” said Kate Carey, a public health and behavioral social sciences professor at Brown who helped conduct the study.

The study examined 483 first year female college students and assessed how often they had sex in one year, as well as the type of sex they had in the context of both romantic relationships and hookups. The study defined hookups as “sexual interactions between partners who are not dating or in a romantic

relationship that doesn’t involve commitment.”

The findings showed that during one academic year, 37 percent of women had participated in oral sex during hookups, compared to 53 percent in relationships. Of those who participated in hookups, 32 percent had vaginal intercourse, compared to 51 percent in relationships. The study also showed that 56 percent of women in relationships had both vaginal and oral sex, compared to 40 percent who were hooking up. Two to 4 percent of participants reported having sexual encounters with both romantic and hookup partners in the same month.

Greg Narayan, graduate of Cornell University and founder of the college-life blog,, said he was not surprised by the results of the study because of the nature of romantic relationships versus hookups. However, he said the results did not seem to line up with his knowledge of

his university.

“I’m not surprised with the results [of the study] at all because relationships thrive on sex,” Naryan said. “[But] I found that hookups were more prevalent [on Cornell’s campus] because students are more selfish with their emotions.”

Narayan, who graduated from Cornell University in 2010, said he sees benefits of being in a relationship that goes beyond consistent sex. He said being in a relationship makes sex more personal.

Shelby Rothman, a senior humanities, history & social sciences major, said Columbia’s urban environment may distinguish it from traditional college campuses in terms of its sexual culture. She said the lack of a common campus space discourages Columbia students from socializing with each other, giving them the opportunity to fraternize with non-students.

“I think there’s more opportunity to date people not in school [at Columbia] or older,” Rothman said.”

Matthew Thomas, a junior music major who lives off campus, said his living arrangement is a disadvantage when looking to hook up.

“It actually gives you more of a chance, living on campus, to meet people,” thomas said. “You have more of a chance [to hook up], especially if your dorm is right around the corner.”

Carey said the culture of hooking up in college has changed since she earned her undergraduate degree at St. Lawrence University in 1980. She said that although the study indicates that women in relationships have more sex, she believes sexual activity increased overall.

“There certainly are more indicators of a more sexualized culture,” Carey said. “There’s reason to believe that [there’s] more expression of sexuality in this day and age than the past.”