Think of the last party you went to. Perhaps it was a casual kickback with friends (and friends of friends). Or maybe it was littered with people you had never met. Drake’s “Hotline Bling” or Travis Scott’s “Antidote”, prompting party patrons to smile and “dab” as they continued to dance and drink.
As the night went on, you may have noticed a trend: people pairing off in twos. Engrossed in conversation as the laws of proxemics are forfeited, pairs continue the night, leaving the party behind.
Because while parties may start off fun in large groups, the option of finding a person to hook-up with may seem more tempting than hitting up a taco truck with your crew.
College is prime hook-up time. It offers a community of people in the same age range; so, it’s easy for college students to meet as many new people as they want. And situations can quickly become heated.
So what happens the next day to the couple with natural chemistry that met at the party? Will they see each other again? Where do they stand in terms of their relationship? Sexual partners? Significant others? Bed buddies?
Your guess might be as good as theirs.
SEX (an easy find)
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), recent data has shown that 60 to 80 percent of North American college students have experienced a form of hooking up — many with people they have known for less than 24 hours.
A hook-up is defined by most as a casual sexual relationship. Time Magazine reported the average college student having five to seven hook-ups during his or her time at college.
Those hooking up may be more receptive to the idea of sex positivity. Local sexologist Melissa Jones, owner of The Sexology Institute and Boutique, defines sex positivity as “being inclusive of everyone and being understanding and loving of all people” — an essential theme of hook-up culture.
“Sex positivity is about embracing your own sexuality, being proud of who you are and understanding your own body,” says Jones. “This way, when you are in a relationship with someone, then you can be empowered to tell your partner what you like.”
Hook-up culture approaches sex as a business deal — an effective exchange.
Look to a growing fad in hook-up culture: dating apps. While the apps claim to be a place to find love and form relationships, college students use them to increase hook-up efficiency.
Instead of having to go out, meet people, talk with them before finally confirming if both parties are interested in more, dating apps effectively refine the search. No chatting or small talk needed.
So, what’s the big deal? If two people want to have sex with each other, why shouldn’t they?
While the idea of two consenting parties empowered by their sexuality sounds great, there is — as always — a downside.
Maintaining physical health may seem obvious at first glance: use protection. Easier said than done. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), there are 20 million diagnoses of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) each year, about half of the diagnoses belong to people between the age of 15 and 24.
In 2015, the CDC also reported that Texas ranked 10th in the U.S. for chlamydia infections (498.3 cases per 100,000 persons). Texas also ranked 12th in the U.S. for gonorrhea cases (129.8 per 100,000 persons).
Although the risk of contracting an STD is foreboding enough, mental-health consequences are a feature of hook-up culture as well. Think of the couple from the hypothetical party. These two may hook up and never speak to each other again: their one night is the only experience that connects them. But according to Jones, that connection may mean more than you think.
“You make a connection with that person (a sexual partner) on a chemical level, no matter what,” Jones states.
The chemical level of sex is to some strong stuff: there’s dopamine (pleasure) and serotonin (ecstasy), but the real bomb to be prepared for is oxytocin — or more commonly known as the “love drug” or “cuddle chemical.”
This chemical makes us humans want to bond with another person. And while small things like hugs and handholding can stimulate the chemical, sex is when the chemical has the biggest reaction.
According to the APA, oxytocin increases the chances of feeling guilt, shame and in some cases experiencing depression after a one-night stand. In one study, 72 percent of women and 32 percent of men agreed with this statement: “I feel guilty or would feel guilty about having sexual intercourse with someone I had just met.”
And while both genders have different post-sex reactions, a cycle of shutting on and off the “love drug’s” effects has undeniable negative reactions.
LOVE (a rarity)
Think of the last time you went on a date. Who were you with? How did you feel?
When thinking of the word “date” the mental image in our mind goes to the cinematic shot of a couple sitting at a table in a restaurant playing the classic game of “getting to know each other” before having a goodnight kiss.
Dating commonly assessed as a one-on-one event a couple partakes in to spend quality time together. In reality though, college dating is much different.
“There is no actual dating. There’s no getting to know anybody,” says college student and kinesiology major Emily Harwood. “Before I started college, I thought ‘Oh, it must be easy; everybody’s dating,’ But really, everybody was just hooking up.”
For both Harwood and Jones, dating has turned into less of a “get to know you” event and more of a “let’s have sex and see where it goes” event. Additionally, Jones explains how dating as a two person event has increasingly been replaced for group setting like parties and bars.
While some relationships may develop from a hook-up, forming and seeking romantic relationships through hooking up is problematic.
“If you keep seeing them — even if they might not be the right person for you as far as your goals and values — and then bond to them on a sexual level, that may be all that is keeping you two together months or years down the road,” Jones says. “You won’t have any of the other value systems holding you together and then your relationship falls apart.”
Jones explains how each relationship needs an intellectual connection, while sex acts as the glue to maintaining a healthy relationship.
An intellectual connection shouldn’t be hard to find when in college — the center of knowledge — right?
Hook-up culture has dominated the dating field and become such a prevalent factor in most college students’ lives that the International Women’s Forum (IWF) found that one-third of college seniors have been on fewer than two dates.
“This is the ‘Netflix and chill era,’ but it’s just sad because there’s so much potential for really incredible sex in a fantastic relationship,” Harwood says. “Our generation is so afraid of having a real connection that we just stay with ‘Netflix & chill’ because something better scares everybody.”
College students are often at a crossroads between holding out for a relationship with opportunities for meaningful intimacy or finding a convenient sexual partner to spend the night with.
According to Harwood’s findings, most people opt for convenient sex. “It feels like if I’m not dirty texting by the first date or sending nudes they (guys) will be like ‘Okay, bye. You’re a waste of my time,’” she says. “Or they don’t invest enough time after one or two texts or phone calls — not even phone calls — just texts.”
And if two parties want to have a hook up, it’s fine, but neither should expect anything more. “I mean I guess if you’re looking at it (sex) purely as an outlet — recreation — than you’re getting your aerobic exercise,” Jones says. “But I don’t think it would work long-term. There are a lot of studies that show that isn’t healthy for you.”
Dating apps are easy — there is a minimal time and energy investment. Who has any spare time in college? There are only 168 hours within one week.
According to the National Survey of Student Engagement 2015 results, the average college student will spend about 15-16 hours each week preparing for classes. That number would be bumped up during midterms, finals and major project or paper deadlines.
On top of classes, most college students have part-time jobs and hectic schedules. Add time taken for social life, student organization involvement and students are busier than they thought was possible.
So where does that leave dating?
Co-founders of the popular dating app Tinder, Sean Rad and Justin Mateen told Time Magazine the app was created with relationships in mind, but Rad explained that the app isn’t meant to be taken too seriously.
“Nobody joins Tinder because they’re looking for something,” Rad said. “They join because they want to have fun. It doesn’t even matter if you match because swiping is so fun.”
“Convenient,” “easy,” “short-term,” “no strings attached” and “fun”: all terms used to describe college dating. Nevertheless, as “fun” as it is, college students are in a long-term relationship with short-term hook-ups.
HIP-HOP (the common denominator)
As people start to pair off during this hypothetical party, the hook-up culture anthem plays in the background: hip-hop.
It’s no secret that most chart-topping hip-hop songs deal exclusively and explicitly with sex. And while hip-hop is certainly not the first to claim this theme — classic Marvin Gaye — modern hip-hop has become increasingly more upfront about the topic.
“Last thing I remember is our beautiful bodies grinding up in the club / Drunk in love.” – Beyoncé, “Drunk in Love”
“Let me ride you through the night / I’m a sexaholic and I’m cool with it.” – Genuine, “Sex”
“We could get it poppin’ on the living room floor / ‘Til I hear you holla baby gimme more.” Jerimih, “Birthday Sex”
While these lyrics don’t seem to mean much when they are being casually hummed in the car with a bumpin’ beat, taking the time to read them can make some people feel almost provocative.
Something as small as song lyrics carry a bigger message when the song is a chart-topper.
DJ, rapper and resident UTSA assistant professor of bicultural-bilingual studies Marco Cervantes explains how lyrics have a bigger meaning to us than we initially think.
“Is it (hip-hop) reflective of relationships of hook up culture? Does it maybe also impact it? I think so,” Cervantes says. “I think it could be dangerous, as well, if some of these lyrics and content are considered the norm — especially in relation to women.”
A 2008 Public Health Report studied 279 of Billboard’s top songs finding that about 40 percent of the songs contained sexual references. Of those songs, 64 percent included lyrics about degrading sex (in which one person objectifies another) in rap music and about 28 percent from hip-hop music. Of these songs, most of the degrading sexual references objectified women.
What impacts does it have on people who repeatedly listen to these songs? When you’re at a party and a group of people are singing along to subject matter of “f-cked three h-es I met this week” (Travis Scott) and “I got what you need, come f-ck with me” (Nelly), perhaps those lyrics start to subconsciously be considered as permissible sexual behaviors.
College students begin to internalize a hip-hop artist’s mentality: do what they want, when they want it.
Ever seen a group of drunk college students belt out Drake’s “All Me” — an anthem of Drake’s self-achievements — flawlessly adopting his persona? For that moment they truly believe that they “…Got b-tches in my condo / Just bought a shirt that cost a Mercedes-Benz car note.”
It’s not a pretty sight.
Hip-hop, which has been around since the 1970s, has become the front runner of pop culture within the past few years. It’s the main staple at a quintessential college party, the songs played at all clubs (even Cowboys Dancehall) and overall a hot topic of conversation in media and workplace chit chat (Meek Mill/Drake feud).
In other words, if you want to be cool, you know hip-hop.
“I’m seeing it grow in popularity,” Cervantes says. “It’s one of those genres that of music that you can put out material very quickly and make it very accessible and I think that’s appealing for a lot of young people especially.”
Though hip-hop’s subject matter is questionable at times for many people, there has been an increased interest in what other hip-hop artists have to say.
“So I see it as, they (sex-centered lyrics) could have an impact and it could be potentially dangerous and misread as reality — depending on the song, though,” Cervantes says. “I’m thinking about some artists that talk about relationships in more complex ways.” He mentions J. Cole as one of his main points of focus.
With lyrics like “I care about you, so I’ll wait / you don’t need to say anything / you just need to know that,” J. Cole raps about the complexity of relationships — an approach that is still considered fairly new for hip-hop.
“I think artists are taking more of a stand now,” Cervantes says. “Mainstream artists are starting to complicate notions of relationships — I’m thinking about J. Cole — that touches on aspects of vulnerability as well, which is something I don’t remember growing up with artists like Ice Cube or Notorious B.I.G, where you’re not necessarily being ‘cool’ if you were talking about relationships.”
This theme of sensitivity has started to spread to other mainstream hip-hop artists like Nicki Minaj, who defended her relationship with fiancé Meek Mill. A podcast poked fun about Mill becoming “too sappy” since making music with Minaj.
In reply, Minaj tweeted “Why would you be bothered by another man showing love to his girl?” and “Let’s celebrate black love. All the best w/ur podcast. All jokes aside.”
It seems there’s a slow but steady shift happening throughout hip-hop. Cervantes notes the change specifically with influential rapper Kendrick Lamar, whose album To Pimp a Butterfly, made waves for issues of racial injustice. “I’m definitely seeing a change,” Cervantes says. “Not only in romantic relationships but racial differences.
As hip-hop begins to change, maybe college students’ sex-centric lives will shift to deeper meanings and issues as well.
Time will tell. Ironically, Cervantes never thought hip-hop would become so influential. “When I was younger, a lot of people claimed hip-hop was going to die.”
So what’s the deal?
Dating is hard. It’s extremely hard. Sifting through people to connect with is not an easy task at any age.
Yet, despite knowing how hard it is, people are strangely optimistic.
“I think there has always been a level of complication,” Jones says. “But now, we as a society talk about it more — which I think is good. College students have been having sex for years but haven’t been talking about it. Maybe not to the level they are now, but it’s always been happening.”
And Harwood is the most optimistic.
“I want to believe that it will change. I so badly want to do something, somehow to reach out to everybody and say, ‘Do you see what’s going on? How can we better ourselves?’”
As a college student, Harwood refuses to play by hook-up culture’s rules or lose hope of finding a deeper connection. “I feel what we are doing right now is not great. Not that it (hook-up culture) is degrading, but it’s not helping either.”
There is no one aspect of college culture or society to blame for college students’ blasé approach to dating and relationships. The only way to find the connection is to get out and try — preferably with Drake’s “Right Hand” as an anthem.