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Social psychologist Justin Lehmiller, a faculty affiliate of The Kinsey Institute, has built a career researching casual sex, sexual fantasy, and sexual health all of which he tackles on his blog, Sex and Psychology.
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Hook-up activities may include a wide range of sexual behaviors, such as kissing, oral sex, and penetrative intercourse. However, these encounters often transpire without any promise of, or desire for, a more traditional romantic relationship.
A review of the literature suggests that these encounters are becoming increasingly normative among adolescents and young adults in North America, representing a marked shift in openness and acceptance of uncommitted sex. We reviewed the current literature on sexual hookups and considered the multiple forces influencing hookup culture, using examples from popular culture to place hooking up in context. We argue that contemporary hookup culture is best understood as the convergence of evolutionary and social forces during the developmental period of emerging adulthood.
Popular media representations of sexuality demonstrate the pervasiveness of a sexual hookup culture among emerging adults. The themes of books, plots of movies and television shows, and lyrics of numerous songs all demonstrate a permissive sexuality among consumers.
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As an example, the lyrics above, from the chart-topping pop song Last Friday Night T. Research on media portrayals of sexual behavior has documented this pattern as well. Popular culture is simultaneously representing aspects of actual contemporary sexual behavior and providing sexual scripts for emerging adults. In the current review, we examine and explore these patterns in sexual hookups.
Hooking up— brief uncommitted sexual encounters among individuals who are not romantic partners or dating each other— has taken root within the sociocultural milieu of adolescents, emerging adults, and men and women throughout the Western world. Among heterosexual emerging adults of both sexes, hookups have become culturally normative.
Dating for courting purposes has decreased but certainly not disappeared and sexual behavior outside of traditional committed romantic pair-bonds has become increasingly typical and socially acceptable Bogle, Most notably, individuals of both sexes are willing to openly discuss the topic and advertise their acceptance and experiences of hooking up.
Sexual hookups are most comprehensively understood in an interdisciplinary framework that combines multiple levels of analyses. In this review, we consider how aspects of sexual popular culture reflect both the biological reproductive motive, social—sexual scripts, and how individuals adaptively, facultatively, respond to their environment.
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The evolutionary biological and sociocultural paradigms produce parallel, sometimes interacting, and sometimes contradictory, patterns of explanation. The emergence of sexual hookup culture provides a case of human social behavior through which to explore the relationship and possible interaction between evolved mating psychology and cultural context.
Hookup culture has emerged from more general social shifts taking place during the last century. As early as the s, with the rise of automobile use and novel entertainment venues throughout North America, traditional models of courting under parental supervision began to fade Bailey, ; Stinson, With the invention of visual media, images of erotic sex began finding their way into popular culture Black, ; Doherty, Again in opposition, many health care providers in the s denied oral contraceptives to single, unmarried, women Coontz, Throughout American history, young adults were told, and at least publicly endorsed, that sexual behavior should only occur in the context of a marital union.
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Contemporary popular culture is now ripe with examples that depict and often encourage sexual behavior, including premarital and uncommitted sex. Popular media, including television, has become a source of sex education, filled with inaccurate portrayals of sexuality Kunkel et al.
The film Hooking Upreleased indetails the chaotic romantic and sexual lives of adolescent characters. The film No Strings Attachedreleased in and staring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, features the uncommitted element of uncommitted sex, as two friends attempt to negotiate a sexual, yet nonromantic, component of their relationship. Popular television shows often portray hooking up as acceptable, entertaining, and perfectly sensible.
The hit British series Skinswhich began inand was remade in North America inoften highlights the uncommitted sexual exploits of adolescents. The popular reality show Jersey Shorewhich started its run inglorifies hookups among strangers, acquaintances, friends, and former partners.
Popular pro-hookup same-sex representations have also emerged in television series like Queer as Folk and The L-Word.
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Several popular books on hookups have hit the shelves, with unscientific yet racy claims. Hookups may include any sexual behavior in a seemingly uncommitted context. Other behaviors are less ubiquitous. Research has found minimal gender differences in terms of hookup behaviors. Operational definitions of hookups differ among researchers.
Yet, popular culture representations e. FWB relationships represent a unique variation of hooking up worthy of more research attention, which it is beginning to generate. Of those who had engaged in a FWB experience, Much like in the movie of the same name, a common concern of participants describing their FWB relationships was the potential formation of unanticipated romantic feelings.
At the time of the survey, Because these situations represent a greater entanglement of friendship, trust, and emotional comfort, FWBs are distinct from notions of hooking up in some aspects. Namely, hookup scenarios do not implicitly include a friendship relationship component as a condition.
However, some sexual subcultures with open relationships actually allow extrarelationship casual sex without considering it to be a betrayal. Attention to causal sexual encounters among men who have sex with men also emerged as an area of study during the AIDS epidemic in the s until today. These complementary literatures and approaches should be integrated into the future study of hookup behavior, because the study of human sexuality must consider the vast range of variation and potential in human sexual behaviors.
A case in point, findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior identified a much higher rate of American men and women who had ever engaged in same-sex sexual behavior compared to those who identify with a homosexual orientation see Herbenick et al. This raises an important, but as of yet unanswered, question: If a proportion of heterosexual Americans have at some point engaged in at least one same-sex sexual encounter, is the context of such a scenario a hookup?
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Although speculative, it seems most probable that many such encounters are sexual experiments and uncommitted, but investigations of how this relates to the larger hookup culture are sorely lacking. This is consistent with the view of emerging adulthood typical college age as a period of developmental transition Arnett,exploring and internalizing sexuality and romantic intimacy, now including hookups Stinson, Among college students, hookups have been reported in a variety of college settings.
Such settings may help facilitate a preexisting desire for hookups i. In addition to sharing common social venues with heterosexuals, gay men and other men who have sex with men have an expanded array of venues in which hookups may occur. Although uncommitted sex among gay men occurs in a variety of locations, antigay prejudice and structural heterosexism can limit the availability of supportive and safe options for connecting with other men Harper, Consequently, more anonymous, sometimes public, spaces have been an alternative for some gay men.
In a sample of gay and bisexual men in college all under the age of 30nearly one third admitted to meeting partners in anonymous places i. Public cruising areas, Internet cruising networks, and bathhouses are somewhat popular venues although by no means archetypal for explicitly initiating uncommitted sex among men who have sex with men Binson et al.
These are not findings that seem to be prevalent among lesbians and women who have sex with women or among heterosexual hookups. An interdisciplinary biopsychosocial model can synthesize traditionally disconnected theoretical perspectives and provide a more holistic understanding of hookup culture.
Hatfield et al. Which of these factors prove to be most important depends on culture, personality, gender, and social context.
Using two midlevel theories, Fisher et al. They argued that evolution may be most helpful in exploring the reproductive motive, and sexual scripts may be useful in exploring the cultural discourse agenda. That is, evolutionary biology influences why emerging adults engage in uncommitted sex and the way young men and women react to these encounters ultimate level explanations.
At the same time, social roles and sexual scripts influence how emerging adults navigate their desires in a particular socio-cultural context proximate level explanations. It is important to point out that many sociocultural theorists disagree with the idea that culture offers only a proximate level explanation for human sexual behavior.
However, it is not the goal of this review to resolve this debate. Instead, we attempt to articulate better the multitude of factors that shape the rich variety of human sexuality to enhance understanding of uncommitted sex among emerging adults.
Sexual hookup culture: a review
In the next two sections, we will introduce both evolutionary and social script views of uncommitted sex, to simultaneously consider the influence of each on hookup culture. Human evolutionary behavioral studies attempts to explain sexual behavior by understanding our evolutionary history and how this may influence behavioral patterns in a given environment.
There are several different midlevel evolutionary or biological theories about the nature of human sexual behavior. These theories seek to understand the way evolutionary pressures influence human sexual propensities, variation, and, in some cases, sex differences.
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This logic is based on the premise that, compared to asexual reproduction, sexual reproduction is quite costly. Sexually reproducing organisms pay many costs, including the time, energy, and resources spent in finding and attracting mates—tasks that are unnecessary for asexual reproducers Daly, Offsetting the costs of sexual reproduction in large-bodied organisms is the benefit sexual reproduction provides against easy colonization by parasites and pathogens Van Valen, Sexual reproduction scrambles up genes, creating genotypes that are novel environments and forcing the parasites and pathogens to begin anew in their quest to exploit the host.
Thus, large-bodied organisms with long lifespans generally benefit evolutionarily from sexual reproduction despite its substantial costs. In humans, producing a viable offspring, from gestation through lactation, takes females longer than it takes males.
The sex with the faster potential reproductive rate— generally males— can benefit by attempting to co-opt the reproductive effort of multiple members of the opposite sex.
However, the sex with the slower potential reproductive rate— generally females—will be operationally in short supply relative to the sex with the faster potential reproductive rate, simply because it takes them longer to complete a reproductive venture. Males are predicted to compete for access to the reproductive potential of the slower sex; this generates expectations of psychological and physical adaptations in males that enhance their chances of success, including aggression and an array of physical features e.
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Females are predicted to be choosy concerning their mates because they invest more in each offspring, and they stand to lose more if they make a poor reproductive choice. Relative parental investment costs are thought to be the arbiters of mating behaviors Trivers, Thus in sex role reversed species where males provide a majority of parental support, it is females that are then expected to compete more for mates and be more indiscriminate in their mating Alcock, Because females choose males on the basis of critical features and resources, males are expected to compete with other males to acquire and display these features and resources.
This provides a basic framework with which to begin, and in humans we expect complex cognitive processes to be overlaid on it.