Inside Higher Ed interviews Sociologist Kathleen A. Bogle about her new book, Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus.
Q: Some recent studies have suggested that hookup culture more negatively impacts females than males. Did you find any evidence for differing effects on the genders?
A: The hookup culture definitely affects the genders differently in at least two important ways. First, women are far more likely than men to get a bad reputation for how they conduct themselves in the hookup culture. Women can get a bad reputation for many different things, including how often they hook up, who they hook up with, how far they go sexually during a hookup, and how they dress when they go out on a night where hooking up may happen. Men who are very active in the hookup culture may be called a “player”; women, on the other hand, get labeled a “slut.”
Second, women are not getting what they want from the hookup system. Women often want relationships and most are dissatisfied with how often hooking up leads to “nothing,” i.e., no ongoing, stable relationship. There are certainly many cases where a woman does not want a hookup to evolve into a relationship, but on average women are far more interested in a hookup turning into “something more” than men are. This puts women in a difficult situation. If they do not hook up at all, they are left out of the dominant culture on campus and will likely have difficulty finding opportunities to form sexual and romantic relationships with the opposite sex. However, if they do hook up, they have to walk a fine line to make sure they do so in a way that makes them a part of the mainstream on campus without crossing the line and getting negatively labeled.
Q: You devote a section to how the hookup culture morphs after college. Does hooking up in college handicap students for post-graduation life?
A: It is really difficult to measure how hooking up affects people psychologically as they age and move into post-college relationships and eventually marriage; however, I do know what happens behaviorally. When students leave college, there is a discernable shift to more formal dating. It was amazing to interview young alumni who were very much a part of the hookup culture in college who now say that they almost exclusively go on dates (except when they are “down the shore,” i.e., at beach resorts during the summer in a very college-like atmosphere). But the transition to the post-college dating scene was not necessarily an easy one. Many of the 20-something-year-old men and women I spoke with were confused over how to act in certain scenarios after college, not knowing if they were on a date or just “hanging out and hooking up.” Some of the people I interviewed had never been on a formal date until after college, so figuring out the rules for the “new” system was a big adjustment for them.
Q: Can traditional dating survive alongside “hooking up”? Should the two paradigms coexist, or are they merging into a single overall “script” that students follow?
A: I think traditional dating is surviving alongside of hooking up in the larger culture, but on campus hooking up has replaced dating as the primary means for students to meet and form sexual and romantic relationships. This does not mean that students never go out for dinner and a movie. The “date” still exists among college students, but it is couples who are already in an exclusive relationship who do it. In other words, the pathway to a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship where a couple might go on a date begins with hooking up. In the dating era, students would go on a date, which might lead to something sexual happening; in the hookup era, students hook up, which might lead to dating. This is a reversal of the traditional order of things. The problem is that many college men are pleased with the status quo; they can hook up and if they want to pursue an ongoing relationship they can, but they are under no obligation to do so. Women, on the other hand, get increasingly frustrated after freshman year with how often it seems that hooking up leads to “nothing.”
Q: Was anyone willing to talk openly about the “walk of shame”?
A: Several of the students I interviewed mentioned the “walk of shame,” which refers to a college student, usually female, walking home the next morning after a hookup encounter in the same outfit he/she was wearing the evening prior. Given that students dress differently for “going out” at night than during the daytime, it is obvious to onlookers when a student is doing the walk of shame. One of many interesting things about this phrase is that students use the word “shame” at all. If students accept hooking up and believe that “everybody’s doing it,” then why do they use the term shame when referencing a hookup encounter? I think that phrase actually underscores an important issue: Many students are struggling with the hookup system. For those students who are having trouble making sense of it all, I hope my book will help shed some light on both what is happening and why it is happening.