Hooking up is a fact of life in universities everywhere. Defined as "sexual encounters between partners who are not in a romantic relationship and do not expect commitment," hook-ups are an accepted part of life in university, even if you don't actively get with a lot of people.
Beyond normalized, hook-ups pervade the young adult and university student mindset. Even before apps like Tinder came about, university students already accepted the practice. And why not, it's not like you actually want to date every person you're physically attracted to.
What's talked about far less are the negative consequences of a hook-up, and hook-up culture as a whole. Linked to depression, substance abuse, and anxiety, there's a dark side to hooking up many people may experience, but never actually share with others.
A wide variety scientific studies have delved into the damaging physical and psychological effects of hooking up, which far outweigh the pleasure of a brief sexual encounter. We're not here to slut-shame or denounce hooking up here, everybody enjoys some casual sex. Rather, we just want to showcase a different perspective on hook-up culture, one that's backed by academic research.
Alcohol, Drug Use, And Addiction
What won't come as any surprise for university students reading is the direct link between alcohol and hooking up. Be honest, you're much more likely to get it on with a rando if you're a little drunk, and be more willing to make a move, too.
To get a handle on just how many hook-ups occur while under the influence, a team of researchers surveyed 1, 341 clubgoers, and found that a full third of men and a quarter of women got drunk to make it more likely to get laid. Drugs were also reported to be taken (cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy) to make such sexual encounters last longer and feel better.
Ending the study on a rather negative note, the researchers did point out that drinking and taking drugs in order to have casual sex created a direct link between substance abuse and sex. If thought of as a reward system, young folks are creating a psychological pattern of "when I drink and do drugs, I'll get sex" thus increasing the likelihood of developing an addiction.
You're More Likely To Have Unprotected Sex
In the same vein, when you're drunk, you tend to make bad, or at least not-as-well-thought-out decisions. When you're looking to get laid, that usually leads to having sex with someone you might not be all that into, or potentially worse, unprotected sex.
The same study referenced above found that "coupling while drunk or high was strongly associated with morning-after reports of unsafe sex or feelings of regret." We've all been there, waking up with someone who seemed far more desirable the night before. It's even worse when you're not exactly sure "what happened" between the sheets, and whether you used protection or not.
Speaking personally, those thoughts have run through my head after a sloppy hook up, which definitely made me feel a fair bit of regret. With that in mind, it isn't hard to see how hook-ups could lead to more acute forms of psychological distress.
How Hook-Ups Lead To Depression & Anxiety
Going directly against the positive conception of hooking up, where douchy bros give each other high fives and ladies celebrate their sexual liberation, is the direct link found between hook-ups and depression in university students.
Using personal information gleaned from 483 university-aged women over 13 months, a team of researchers found a direct correlation between a high rate of hook-ups and feelings of depression and sexual victimization. How hook-ups and depression are linked, however, "remains unclear," as the study's authors admit.
A larger study found similar results. Titled "Risky Business," the study polled over 3, 900 heterosexual college students from around the U.S., asking them questions on their casual sex behaviors and mental state. The study's findings concluded that "among heterosexual college students, casual sex was negatively associated with well-being and positively associated with psychological distress" including depression and social anxiety.
One key difference to consider, however, is how men and women responded to the survey.
Boys Vs Girls
Unfortunately, there's a very real double standard when it comes to sexual behavior between men and women. Whereas guys can get with as many girls as they want and be deemed a Casanova (or "player" to use the vernacular), a girl may be decried as a harlot (read: "slut") for doing the same. Researchers believe this is why more women are found to be negatively affected by hook-ups than men.
However, the above study didn't account for queer respondents, which could alter the differences between the male and female findings. Either way, both men and women might not be brought down psychologically by hook-ups if they're a certain type of person.
How Hooking Up Can Be Great If You're Into It
Knowing that most scientific researchers are more than a little prudish, Zhana Vrangalova took on the topic of university hook-ups from a different angle. Unlike other studies, Vrangalova took participants "sociosexual orientation" into account after documenting how they felt after a hook-up.
Generally, people fall into two categories when it comes to sociosexuality: "sociosexually unrestricted,"people who actively want a hook-up even when not partying or going out, and "sociosexually restricted," those who may not really be into hook-ups but get caught in one anyway.
As you might have guessed, sociosexually unrestricted people were found to experience real psychological benefits after hooking up. The same wasn't found with sociosexually restricted people, giving credence to the idea that if you're genuinely into hook-ups, it could be beneficial to your mental well-being.
But you might not want to actually be an unrestricted-type. Vrangalova found the majority of unrestricted participants were "extroverted," "impulsive," "narcissistic," and "manipulative" men. Basically the portrait of a bro.
What This Means For You
If you're actually into hooking up, the act could be entirely worth your while, as the study referenced above already illustrated. Great, you're good to go. But the link between hook-ups and negative mental states is also pretty illuminating for others not-so-into hooking up, myself included.
Let me get personal again. Back in my university days (like, two years ago, so don't call me old) I didn't hook-up with randos much. Being gay, however, I was somewhat against the norm, at least in my social circles. Friends of mine often talked about their sexcapades with various guys met online or elsewhere, always recounting the experience in a positive light.
When I hooked up with random dudes, I didn't feel quite the same. I often felt some immediate regret, and even a bout of day-long depression. I thought I was weird for that, but as the research already referenced shows, I wasn't quite alone.
So if you're a guy or girl who is immersed in university hook-up culture, but don't really like to partake, don't feel like an outsider. More than a few people feel the exact same way.