Study provides new insights on why college students engage in hookups

New research published in the Journal of American College Health has investigated the sexual motivations underlying college hookups.

The study found that motives related to pleasure and excitement, along with frequent alcohol consumption, predicted more frequent oral and vaginal sex when hooking up.

“There has been a major shift in how young adults date,” said study author Jessica Blayney, a psychology resident on clinical rotation at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“Instead of dinner and a movie, dating has become a sexual hookup. In our earlier work, we found that hooking up means different things to different people. For some young adults, hooking up means kissing, and for others it means sex.”

“Generally, researchers agree that hooking up is a casual sexual encounter (anything from kissing to sex) with someone who you are not in a relationship with and don’t expect to be in the future. Many young adults have hooked up and so my interest in this topic was to learn more about this shift in dating.”

The researchers surveyed 396 college students who had hooked up at least once in their lifetime regarding their sexual motivations, alcohol use, and sexual behaviors.

In the study, hooking up was defined as “an event where you were physically intimate (any of the following: kissing, sexual touching, oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex) with someone whom you were not dating or in a romantic relationship with at the time and in which you understood there was no mutual expectation of a romantic commitment.”

Blayney and her colleagues found that students who were more motivated to have sex “for the thrill of it” were more likely to engage in sexual hookups.

“There are different reasons why college students have sex during a hook up – the most common is that it’s exciting. Alcohol also plays a role – college students who drink regularly are more likely to have sex when hooking up,” she told PsyPost.

The researchers also found that male students who had sex to deal with negative emotions were more likely to have hookups.

“We found one difference between men and women. Having sex to cope — whether that’s with stress or a bad mood — means having sex during a hook up more often. This was true for college men, but not college women,” Blayney explained.

The study — like all research — includes some limitations. The sample consisted of heterosexual students who were heavy drinkers. Future research could include a more diverse range of participants.

“This study helped us understand some of the reasons why college students have sex during a hookup, but there is still a lot we don’t know. People can experience good and bad outcomes from a hookup,” Blayney said.

“The reasons for having sex when hooking up might help us understand other things that happen in the moment – like whether a dental dam or condom is used or not. By looking at motivation and behavior, we can then figure out ways that young adults can increase the good things about hooking up (i.e., sexual agency, sexual experience) and decrease the bad (i.e., regret, sexually transmitted infections, unwanted sexual experiences).”

The study, “Examining the influence of gender and sexual motivation in college hookups“, was authored by Jessica A. Blayney, Melissa A. Lewis, Debra Kaysen, and Jennifer P. Read.