More college 'hookups,' but more virgins, too
By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY
Updated 03/30/2011 8:15 PM
By Gary Fandel, for USA TODAY
Kirsten Ellermann and Ryan Fitz attend Iowa State university and have been dating for over a year. Ellermann says hooking up is very common among those who are single and not in a relationship.
"You just don't date at colleges," says Adams, 23, now a Fordham graduate student in urban studies.
But there's no shortage of casual sex on campus, she says — in part because Fordham, like many colleges, has significantly more women than men. Adams says that means guys have the upper hand when it comes to intimacy.
"It's kind of like a competition," she says. "The guys have their choice of whoever they want. So they think, 'Why would I date?' "
The relationship game among college-age adults today is a muddle of seemingly contradictory trends. Recent studies indicate that traditional dating on campuses has taken a back seat to no-strings relationships in which bonds between young men and women are increasingly brief and sexual. (A new website to arrange these encounters that began at the University of Chicago last month now is expanding to other campuses.)
But even as casual sex — often called "hookups" or "friends with benefits" — is a dominant part of campus life, a new report by the National Center for Health Statistics indicates the percentages of men and women 18-24 who say they are virgins also are increasing.
It all reflects an emerging paradigm that is altering the nature of sex and relationships among young adults: fewer men than women on campuses; a more openly sexual society that often takes cues from media, and a declining desire to make relationship commitments early in life.
Adams' experience is the reality for many of today's college students, says Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas-Austin.
His research suggests that the higher proportion of women on campuses has contributed to the ascent of the hookup culture. Overall, women made up more than 56% 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," says Regnerus, co-author of Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying, released earlier this year. It is based on an analysis of four national studies representing a total of 25,000 young people ages 18-23 and more than 200 additional interviews.