College Couples Hook Up and Check Out Emotionally, but Virgins on the Rise Too
Sounds contradictory, but recent studies suggest that traditional dating on college campuses has been replaced by no-strings-attached (or "hook-up") relationships where the bonds between young men and women are increasingly brief and sexual, according to USA Today. These "hook-ups" or "friends with benefits" are defined as encounters ranging from kissing to sexual intercourse, the newspaper reports.
At the same time, a rising number of young women and men are considering sex more precious, with percentages of men and women between the ages of 18-24 who are virgins on the rise, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
"You just don't date at colleges," says Kathleen Adams, 23, now a Fordham University graduate student, who tells USA Today she didn't have a boyfriend until the second semester of her senior year.
What's driving these trends, experts agree, is that most colleges have significantly more women than men, according to USA Today.
"It's kind of like a competition," Adams tells USA Today. "The guys have their choice of whoever they want. So they think, 'Why would I date?' "
Adams' experience underscores an emerging reality for today's college students,
Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas-Austin, tells USA Today.
His research reinforces the idea that the higher proportion of women on campuses has contributed to the ascent of the hook-up culture. Overall, women made up more than 56 percent of the college population in 2009, according to the recent Census data on enrollments; more women are found on many campuses that serve both sexes.
"The women wind up competing with each other for access to the men, and often, that means relationships become sexual quicker," Regnerus, co-author of "Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying," tells USA Today. His book is based on four national studies representing 25,000 young people ages 18-23 and more than 200 additional interviews.
"The result of these casual encounters, is that college students no longer know how to get relationships started," says Justin Garcia, a State University of New York doctoral fellow at Binghamton (N.Y.) University who conducts research on hook-ups.
"For the majority of students, they're not going to dinner and a movie unless they've hooked up with someone," Garcia tells USA Today. "Some physical interaction comes before the dating. Often dates happen after a relationship, rather than before."
But even so, "it's not like everyone is having casual sex all the time," says sociologist Paula England of Stanford University. Her ongoing research has surveyed more than 17,000 students from 20 colleges and universities since 2005.
"Some people are hooking up a bunch of times with the same person but are not calling it a relationship," England tells USA Today. "Others are never doing anything you would call a hook-up."
Her latest data finds that by senior year, 72 percent of both sexes reported having at least one hook-up, with the average of 9.7 for men and 7.1 for women. Just under one-quarter (24 percent) of seniors say they are virgins, she says.
The numbers of those who claim virginity appears to be increasing, according to a National Center for Health Statistics study released this month. Among 18- and 19-year-olds, about one-quarter of men and women said they hadn't had sexual contact with another person, up from 17 percent of women and 22 percent of men in 2002. Among those ages 20-24, 12 percent of women and 13 percent of men said they were virgins, up from 8 percent for both sexes in 2002.
"We're seeing that the choice to remain abstinent is increasingly resonant," Valerie Huber, executive director of the non-profit National Abstinence Education Association, tells USA Today.
That organization is launching a campaign next year to "rebrand the cultural message" and tell young people that "sexual activity as a rite of passage" is no longer an expectation for teens and young adults.
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