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Lisa Wade explores hookup culture on college campuses

Lisa Wade will soon publish her book “American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex On Campus." Photo is courtesy of Lisa Wade’s Facebook Page.

When college students are asked how many times they “hooked up” in college, the average answer is eight, according to Lisa Wade, associate professor of sociology at Occidental College. That amounts to one hookup a semester.

Wade made an attempt to understand this burgeoning hookup culture. She collected data from 101 students and asked them to record their thoughts and feelings in weekly journal entries.

She will deliver her talk “What Students Really Think About Hooking Up” at Boise State Monday, March 14.

“The talk is based on the students and their experience in their first year of college,” she said. “It’s also based on the research that’s been done.”

Virginia Husting, associate sociology professor, said Wade will be exploring a number of topics in her talk, such as the definition of hookup culture, how it shapes students’ experiences and how it creates misunderstandings across generations.

“Lisa Wade has asked and answered just such questions,” Husting said. “She’s an engaging, highly educated, thoughtful and popular public speaker and sociologist. She’s fun to listen to and learn from.”

The Research

According to Wade, research shows there’s not as much sexual activity happening on college campuses as anybody thinks. Even students far overestimate the amount.

“Students are unhappy with sex on campus,” she said. “(The problem) can’t be the casual sex because there’s not that much casual sex going on. The problem on campus isn’t the hookups—it’s the hookup culture. It’s the way in which students are expected to be sexual together.”

Wade has found students are open to positive hookup experiences, but often don’t get what they’re looking for.

She said students are looking for one or more things from their hookups: meaningful connection, empowerment or pleasure.


Wade asserts that students have a hard time connecting with one another because hookup culture minimizes connection.

“The whole idea of a hookup in hookup culture is to have an emotionless, meaningless, easy, simple, clean encounter,” she said. “And when you make feelings off-limits entirely, you can’t have any good feelings. You can’t even like a person.”

She went on to say that under the umbrella of hookup culture, emotional intimacy isn’t really allowed. To perform this purely physical encounter, students end up having to wrestle with their emotions.

“It’s hard to suppress your emotions,” Wade said. “Some students would love to have that sense of connection and meaning in their sexual activity. (That could be) falling in love or feeling like they had a moment.”


In hookup culture, men and women seek empowerment in different ways.

“Students would love to feel empowered, to express their sexuality and explore themselves in a way that felt safe and productive,” Wade said.

She said upon entering college, many men think they’ll finally have the opportunity to have a lot of sex with women. But because there’s not that much sex going on, men don’t feel empowered.

“On top of that, men are sort of jostling for the position of (top dog),” Wade said. “It’s stressful because your friends are teasing you about how many women you have or haven’t slept with.”

She said that for many men, the idea of hooking up doesn’t feel empowering at all. Instead, it feels intimidating, as though there’s a high chance of failure.

Women often don’t feel empowered because men don’t always treat them well.

According to Wade, women are excited at the prospect of expressing their sexuality. However, that excitement quickly fades if women feel like they aren’t being treated as equals.


According to Wade, students would like to get pleasure, simple chemical pleasure, out of their hookups.

Data shows men are getting two-thirds of total orgasms, leaving women high and dry. However, data also shows this is not the case when women are hooking up with other women.

“Men think their orgasms are pretty cool,” Wade said. “But sometimes they complain that it doesn’t necessarily feel good to have orgasms in the absence of other positive connections.”

Pluralistic Ignorance

Pluralistic ignorance describes a situation in which a wide proportion of a population misunderstands its own reality.

College students tend to overestimate their vices and underestimate their virtues, according to Wade.
For example, students think their peers are drinking, partying and having sex more than they actually are, while underestimating how much time everyone spends in their rooms alone.

“Students deserve to know what’s happening on college campuses,” Wade said. “The truth about hookup culture is that college is actually filled with students who are all different. The story we get about sex on campus is that everybody is doing the same thing. It totally erases the diversity on campus and that makes students who aren’t in that center category feel like they’re uniquely out of it, and they’re not.”

About August McKernan (55 Articles)
August McKernan is the Managing Editor at the Arbiter. She is currently pursuing an English degree with an emphasis in Rhetorical Composition. Please comment on her articles, as she values intelligent discussion and feedback greatly.

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