Photo by Matthew Romack, Flickr CC

Popular media sometimes makes it seem as though college students are inundated with sex now more than ever. However, in a recent NPR podcast, “Hookup Culture: The Unspoken Rules Of Sex On College Campuses,” sociologist Lisa Wade argues that college students having frequent sex is nothing new. What has changed are the rules that govern these hookups. Wade’s work shows that hookup culture isn’t just about having any kind of sex — it’s about having meaningless sex. While it may sound rather simple, having meaningless sex often takes a great deal of emotional work for students. Wade explains,

“…to show themselves and other people that it was meaningless, they have to find a way … to perform meaningless. It’s not automatic. And they do that by, for example, making sure that they’re drunk. Or they appear to be drunk when they hook up … Sober sex is very serious, but if the students have been drinking then that helps send the message that it’s meaningless.”

Meaningless sex is tied to assumptions about women’s desperation for serious romantic relationships with men. Since serious relationships disrupt the flow of hookups, many women feel as though they need to show that they are not “desperate” and do not care as much about relationships as men think they do. On the other hand, women who do want serious relationships often feel as though they must engage in hooking up so that they can eventually develop a serious relationship. Wade explains further,

“So women’s options are either opt out of hookup culture altogether, or expose herself to this period where she’s treated disrespectfully in the hopes that it translates into something better on the other end.”

Male students, in turn, also keep their distance from the women they hook up with so that they do not appear to be seeking a serious relationship. At the same time, both male and female students alike revealed that they are interested in serious relationships at some point down the road.