College Hookups Haven't Replaced Relationships

College students moving into the dorms.
College students move into the dorms. (Image credit: mangostock, Shutterstock)

Hooking up is often perceived as rampant on American college campuses, but a new study suggests these no-strings-attached dalliances haven't ousted romantic relationships yet as students' top outlet for sex — at least for female freshmen.

In the study, researchers surveyed 483 first-year female college students about their sexual behavior and relationship history, finding that sex with a relationship partner was twice as common as hookup sex among this group.

"Hooking up is one way that young adults explore intimate relationships, but it's not the most common way, and it is often exploratory," said Robyn L. Fielder, a research intern at the Miriam Hospital, affiliated with Brown University. "So while hooking up gets more attention in the media, college students continue to develop romantic relationships, which are actually the most common context for sexual behavior."

A third of the women reported at least one hookup before college, while nearly 60 percent said they had sex at least once in the context of a relationship before arriving on campus.

Forty percent reported at least one hookup during the first year of college, though less than 20 percent reported having these casual encounters at a rate of once a month. Meanwhile, 56 percent reported oral and/or vaginal sex with a relationship partner during that first year.

"These findings support what we know about the first year of college: That it is a time when we see increases in sexual behavior and substance use, as young people explore who they want to be and how they want to interact with others — especially romantic partners," Fielder explained in a statement. "It's important that we gain a better understanding of students' sexual behavior, since it can potentially affect both their physical and mental health as well as their academic success."

The research was published online Oct. 29 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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