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Studies Show, "Hook-Ups" Not That New or That Common


A lot of people just seem to take it as a given that young people are living in the midst of a wild hook-up culture.   

Whether it is the authors of books who’s very titles reference this idea (see: Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus, Unhooked, and  Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children – to name but a few), or Hanna Rosin arguing that hook-up culture actually benefits a certain type of women, the assumption on various sides of the aisle seems to be that hooking up, or sex without commitment, is increasingly common. 

But is hooking-up really all that endemic, let alone all that modern? Maybe not. The  Monitoring the Future study,  which is the only long-term survey that asks anything related to hooking-up, shows that there is absolutely no evidence that things have changed all that much over the past forty years. Rather it found that attitudes about hooking-up have remained fairly constant.

For example, when it asked high school seniors in 1975 if just one intimate partner is too restrictive for most people, 27% agreed. When that question was asked in 2008, that number was exactly the same. Similarly, the same survey asked first year college students if they thought it was okay to have sex with a partner they had just met. In 1975, 44% said yes. In 2008, at 45%, that number was only one percent higher.

The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, doesn’t go back as far, but its findings are telling nonetheless. When it asked high school students in 1991 if they had had sex with more that four people in their lifetimes, almost 19% said, yes. When the same question was asked in 2011 that number had dropped to 15%.

And now a study out of the Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine suggests college students are not actually hooking up as much as one might think.   The study  (just published online by the  Journal of Adolescent Health), found that among the students surveyed, sex with a romantic partner was twice as common as was casual sex. 

So whatever your take on hook-ups (for mine you can see Guess What? Casual Sex Won't Make You Go Insane), it might be helpful to realize that this isn't some brand new phenomenon that has edged out sex with more commitment. 

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