Study: Hookup culture not reality

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comAugust 25, 2013 

— The perception that today's generation of college kids are having sex and "hooking up" more often than their predecessors simply isn't true, according to a study.

The study, co-written by University of Portland sociology professor Martin Monto and his student Anna Carey, found that less than a third of college students surveyed between 2002 and 2010 reported having sex with more than one person the preceding year.

That's about the same level reported by students in the 1980s and early '90s, the study found.

Laura Hamilton, assistant professor of sociology at UC Merced, studied the college "hookup culture" during a five-year case study at a "flagship Midwestern public university." Hamilton did not disclose the name of the institution.

Hamilton found that students are not sleeping with more people — however, the relationship status between the sexual partners has changed.

"There's this sort of perception in the media that college kids are having no-holds-barred sex in general and that's not true," Hamilton said. "What has changed is the context in which they're having sexual activity."

Hamilton said students who are hooking up — which is defined as anything from kissing to sexual intercourse — are doing it with friends or acquaintances, but not in a relationship context.

"It's usually a friend or a friend of a friend that can be vouched for," she said.

UC Merced junior Theodore Marquez, 20, is in a committed two-year relationship, but said he's heard about the hookup culture at UC Merced.

"I would say it's not happening as much as the media hypes it up, but it does happen," Marquez said. "In college, you're supposed to find yourself and people are trying to figure out who they are."

"It's mainly people you know and it's not just a random person," Marquez said, agreeing with the study's findings.

Joanna Luo, 21, a senior at UC Merced, said on-campus hookups are happening all the time, but only among a certain group of people.

"You either have friends that are very against it or those that have hooked up with six guys in one week," she said. "It's based on what you view as OK. If you know the right people, a lot of hooking up is going on."

David Tolossa, 22, also a UC Merced senior, sees it differently.

"In my experience, I didn't see anyone hooking up," Tolossa said. "I noticed there's more relationships. A lot of freshmen guys were complaining because all the girls have boyfriends."

Hamilton said part of the reason UC Merced doesn't have as much of the hookup culture as other universities is the lack of on-campus fraternity and sorority houses.

"There's not a huge Greek life on campus and it's not a party school," Hamilton noted. "Most of the partying that goes on with underage kids happens at fraternities."

The socioeconomic factors and student demographics play a part, Hamilton said. Almost 59 percent of UC Merced's student population are first generation college students. "These students are working (to pay for college)," she said.

Younger adults have also been putting off marriage until later in life, Hamilton said, so sleeping with a friend or "hookup buddy" can be a comfortable alternative.

UC Merced graduate student Marcos Mendoza, 23, hasn't been on campus more than a few weeks, but said the hookup culture was rampant at his last school.

"I had three friends that were in fraternities and they were big into the nightclub and bar scenes," Mendoza said of his experience at St. Mary's University in Texas. "For the most part, it was people they knew, but every now and then, they did have that one-night-stand."

The emergence of anonymous "confessions" pages on Facebook have decreased some of the promiscuity, he said.

"It doesn't take more than five minutes to know what someone else did," Mendoza said. "Everyone knew everyone."

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or

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