Search results for hook up


New Contributor:

First and foremost, Sociological Images is pleased to welcome Marty Hart-Landsberg to our team of Contributors!  Marty is a professor of Economics at Lewis and Clark College. He’s been blogging, excellently, at Reports from the Economic Front, and he brings much needed expertise and insight into economic issues. We’re so pleased that he’s joined us!

New Publications and Appearances:

Catch contributor Caroline Heldman talking about the debt ceiling debate on Fox Business Channel’s Follow the Money tonight at 10 p.m. EST.  Heldman appeared on The Factor, Neil Cavuto’s Show, The Hannity Show, Freedomwatch, Bulls & Bears, and Follow the Money 14 times last month.

I’m very excited to have a new publication out in the journal Ethnography. My first using ethnographic methods, the paper is an analysis of lindy hop (a social dance from the 1930s and ’40s) with which I argue that the habitus has liberating as well as conservative potential: The Emancipatory Promise of the Habitus: Lindy Hop, the Body, and Social Change. And there’re pictures!

I also wrote about 500 words on hook up culture on college campuses for the Canadian website, The Mark.  I argue that hook up culture isn’t bad, it’s just-as-bad and no worse than the rest of society.

Gwen and I will both be guest blogging at Scientopia for the next two weeks.  You can catch all the same material here, but check out Scientopia if you’re interested in

Finally, SocImages showed up on TIME and BoingBoing this week. Always a good time…

New Pages:

We’ve added an “Editors’ Pick” tab to our menu. Gwen and I will be slowly culling our favorite posts from the last four years and adding them.  We’re excited to be able to highlight our best and most well-received stuff.

We’ve also added a “For Instructors” tab.  We’ve got some stuff for you there already, but are also asking for volunteers to help make the site more useful to instructors. We’re especially excited about the possibility of putting together Course Guides that collect the best posts for common sociology courses. Check it out!

Party in Las Vegas:

The American Sociological Association is having its annual conference in Las Vegas this year.  We invite all of you to the Blogger Party at 4:30pm on Sunday, August 21st at the Seahorse Lounge at Caesar’s Palace. Come by and say “hello”!

Social Media ‘n’ Stuff:

This is your monthly reminder that SocImages is on Twitter and Facebook.  Learn more about your editors at my website and Gwen’s.  And a bunch of us are on twitter @lisadwade@gwensharpnv@familyunequal@carolineheldman, and @jaylivingston.


If you’ve been paying close attention, you’ll have noticed three new members of the Sociological Images team.  We’re so pleased to announce that Philip N. Cohen, Caroline Heldman, and Jay Livingston have joined on as regular Contributors.  Each has a bustling public intellectual presence of their own and we’re thrilled that they’re blogging for SocImages!

Philip N. Cohen, PhD is a Sociology professor at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  He writes about family, work, and inequality professionally, and at his fabulous blog, Family Inequality.

Jay Livingston, PhD is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University.  His expertise is in social psychology, culture, and crime.  He blogs at the equally fabulous Montclair SocioBlog, where he also does great work teaching science literacy with his posts about statistics.

Caroline Heldman, PhD teaches Politics at Occidental College.  She is an expert on the presidency and gender in politics, featured in the new documentary Miss Representation.  She’s also an intrepid investigative journalist and represents the liberal point of view on Fox programs weekly.

Please welcome them with your always incisive commentary!


After Gwen posted my talk on hook up culture here at SocImages, it was picked up by BoingBoing (to my excitement!).  After seeing the talk, Ben Privot at The Consensual Project asked me to do a quick interview on deconstructing cultural narratives about sexuality.

Caroline, our new Contributor, published two essays exposing the culturally and politically corrupt response to a rape in Silsbee Texas.  You can read abridged versions at the Ms. blog (here and here) or her unedited version at her blog.

Gwen was all over the internet this month: on About for a story about Arnold Schwartzenegger’s Love Child Scandal, on the Huffington Post about a racially-charged Dove Ad, and on a local Las Vegas NPR station offering some perspective on home buying and the recession.

Finally, I was also tickled to see my post about the “obscene” Dossier cover featuring a feminine male model used in a Newsy video report about the controversy.


This is your monthly reminder that SocImages is on Twitter and Facebook.  You can learn more about your editors at my website and Gwen’s.

Oh and, um, I totally joined twitter this week!  And you can follow Philip Cohen and Caroline Heldman too.  :)


This month Gwen and I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who have submitted ideas for posts.  Our inbox is alive with ideas and it makes our job exceedingly fun!  We absolutely could not do it without all of your eyes.  So thank you for your submissions!  Also, if you’ve submitted an idea and it was never posted, please don’t be discouraged.  We get far more ideas than we could possibly use.  And, even if yours was a submission that we decided against using, be assured that we read it, thought about it, and sometimes talked about it together before setting it aside.  We appreciate all of your help, even if it doesn’t make the front page.

In other news, we’ve entered a new partial syndication agreement with BlogHer and we’re super excited to add that partnership to our one with Jezebel.  Our first syndicated post was our recent discussion of the Vaseline skin-lightening Facebook application.

Finally, please do remember that you can follow us on Twitter or friend us on Facebook.  Soon we’ll be launching a MySpace page as well.


(If you don’t have the subscriptions required to access either paper, we’re happy to send you a copy,  Just send us a note at

Gwen and my most recent essay in the print-magazine Contexts, Flesh-Toned, is now online.  It draws on the long conversation we’ve been having here about the way that the use of the terms “flesh,” “nude,” and “skin” to refer to light beige colors makes darker-skinned people invisible.

Also, a paper I wrote with Caroline Heldman is now available at Sexuality Research and Social Policy.  How and why hook-up culture came to characterize U.S. colleges remains a mystery.  In our paper, Hook-Up Culture: Setting a New Research Agenda, we argue that the emergence of hook-up culture on college campuses is an excellent opportunity to learn more about how sexual cultures change.  We review the literature, offer some hypotheses to explore, and discuss methodological requirements.

NEWLY ENRICHED POSTS (Look for what’s NEW! July ’10):

This month we added new material to some older gender- and race-related posts.  Thanks almost exclusively to Gwen for doing the hard work of updating!  And thanks to those of who sent the images along!


When a racially diverse group of people is included in ads or other materials, darker-skinned people are typically behind or below the lighter-skinned.  We updated our post on how people of color are subordinated in advertising with a new example of a church welcome banner.

Another ’70s book on useful Spanish phrases for talking to your maid.

Givenchy has some rather light “nude”-colored dresses, but Esquire responded to complaints about ignoring Black men by following up a story with a segment that acknowledged that African Americans might require or prefer different hair maintenance techniques and styles than other groups.

Black dolls sell for less than White dolls at Target.

A second example of vintage soap advertising suggesting that African Americans are dirty.


Haven’t found quite the right string bikini for your infant girl? We added another example to our post about bikinis for babies to help you out.

Two more examples in which men are people and women are women.

Another example of large clothes on small models.

More parking spaces just for women.

Using the PETA demonstration model in Jordan.

More gendering of language.

Rosie the Riveter was “maid to clean.”

More gendering of boys’ and girls’ (coloring) books.

eBay continues to gender gift suggestions…while simultaneously degendering them.

Only dudes use technology. Didn’t you know?

Don’t smoke. It makes you ugly.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Center for Love and Sex.

The Director of Center for Love and Sex, Sari Cooper, had the wonderful idea of doing a Q&A exchange. I recently wrote a book about sex in college, American Hookup, and she works as a therapist with young people in their post-graduation romantic and sexual relationships. I was curious to hear about the issues that millennials are grappling with once they get out into the working world and begin to date, and she wanted to hear more about my research regarding the state of hookups on campus.  So, we swapped questions and agreed to cross-post our answers.

Sari Cooper interviews Lisa Wade 

Given that hookups have been criticized in the larger American culture and media for some time now, I thought I would begin our conversation on a constructive thread.  What have you found are positive emotional. psychological and physical outcomes/by products reported by young adults engaging in hookups during their college years? 

Most students arrive on campus eager to experiment with casual sexual contact, even if just a little. They see sexual activity as a natural part of being human, are increasingly tolerant of a wide range of sexual orientations, and largely reject the idea that it’s okay to judge sexually active women more harshly than men. Thanks to the women’s movement, the sexual revolution, and gay liberation, the stigma of sexual activity has largely lifted.

In that environment, many young people enjoy “first times” — first kisses, first blow jobs, first one night stands — and honing new sexual skills. Many find it exciting to be participating in a part of life that is new to them (puberty was just a few years ago and 50% are virgins when they arrive on campus). It’s pleasurable to indulge one’s desires, to do new things, and to improve, no less with sex than with anything else in life.

Hookups offer these things to young people and, for a nontrivial minority of students, hookups are everything they want. For up to a quarter of students, hookups are incredibly gratifying. Research shows that students who claim to thrive in hookup culture really do: the more they hookup, the higher their self-esteem and sense of well-being.

What intersectionalities did you find in your research regarding status in terms of desirability with racial, gender and LGBTQ culture?  When research is done is it mostly skewed towards white, cisgender heterosexual sexual behaviors?

Students of color, women, and non-heterosexual students report more dissatisfaction with hookup culture and hooking up less than their counterparts, as do students who grew up poor or working-class. Non-heterosexual students often find that hookup culture is indifferent or hostile to their sexualities, so some avoid the hyper-heterosexualized spaces of hookup culture. LGBTQ students, especially if they are men, are much more likely to seek hookups off-campus.

Students of color simultaneously face a white supremacist standard of attractiveness and the possibility of being eroticized as “exotic.” This tends to play out differently for different kinds of students. Black men and Asian women are often fetishized, while black women and Asian men are often actively avoided. On average, then, white students hookup more than nonwhite students.

The other thing that I have found interesting in my work with clients is the vague aspect of the term hookup.  How did your research subjects define hookups?  And what behaviors were more frequently engaged in during hookups on campus?

Students generally agree that any sexually charged activity can count as a hookup, so long as there is no expectation of future sexual or romantic interaction. In practice, 40% of hookups include intercourse, 12% include only what we might call foreplay (nudity and some touching of genitals), 13% proceed to oral sex but don’t include intercourse, and 35% don’t go any farther than kissing and groping.

What were the most common emotions young people stated they experienced during and after a hookup?

Two psychologists -– Elizabeth Paul and Kristen Hayes -– asked students what emotions they thought their peers felt when they were in the midst of a typical hookup. Their respondents listed emotions as wide-ranging as excitement, embarrassment, regret, fear, anxiety, confusion, and pride, but the most common answer—mentioned by two-thirds of their sample—was lust. The next most common answer, though, wasn’t any of the other emotions listed, it was “nothing,” the absence of emotion. So, students tend to believe that their peers are feeling turned on, but not much else.

Of course, in practice students are experiencing all kinds of emotions — positive and negative, strong and weak, wanted and unwanted — but when they do they often feel bad about it. Believing that their peers are much better at having “emotionless sex,” they feel like they are failing at hookup culture.

What percentage of your study opted out of hookups entirely?  Did you have numbers on whether these young people remained celibate, and/or chose to be in longer-term relationships that involved emotions?

A third of students opt out, reporting zero hookups at graduation, but many of these students don’t end up in relationships instead. On college campuses today, most relationships form out of a series of hookups. Students hook up together once, then twice and then three times, and eventually they start breaking the rules of hookup culture (they begin to like each other and say so). At that point, students will often go on dates and consider beginning an emotionally committed relationship. For students who aren’t willing to hook up, this can’t happen, so relationships can be elusive.

Lastly, what percentage of those that participated in hook-ups reported being in the following states:

  • had had some alcohol,
  • felt drunk
  • had had no/minimal alcohol
  • completely sober

Most students are at least a little bit drunk when they hook up because inebriation is a primary way that they signal to one another that what they are doing is meaningless. Being drunk is a sign that they are being careless, both about what they’re doing and who they’re doing it with. Sober sex, in contrast, is heavily weighted with meaning. As one of my students explained: “[If you are sober] it means you both are particularly attracted to each other and it’s not really a one-time thing. When drunk, you can kind of just do it because it’s fun and then be able to laugh about it and have it not be awkward or not mean anything. Many of my sexually active students, then, had actually never had sex sober.

Lisa Wade interviews Sari Cooper 

Many parents are worried that their children no longer value emotional closeness, committed relationships, or building a family life. Should they be worried that they’ll children will choose never to marry or have children?

This is a many-layered question. I actually think once young adults are out in the working world for a few years, some of these millennials are yearning for a close intimate relationship because they see how much they need the comfort and consistency of an ongoing partner. In my practice Center for Love and Sex, we see people in their mid to late twenties and early thirties who are either seeking a meaningful, emotionally close relationship or those that are already in a committed relationship but need help. But the meaning of commitment to this age group may look similar or different to their parents. In other words, some couples are committed to one another as primary bond partners but choose to have a non-monogamous agreement, or decide not to marry or decide to marry but live in different cities while building their careers.

I think parents need to ask themselves what value they place on their children having children, is it a desire to be a grandparent and have that experience, or is it that they think it’s the religiously, or traditionally correct thing to do? I have found couples who have discussed their desire to have children before getting married while also working with couples who are figuring out what neighborhood to live in together without discussing

a) what moving in together means in terms of their commitment to the relationship, or one another or

b) seriously whether each person is aligned with the other around having children in their future.

Lastly, I think many of the college-educated millennials I see in my practice are so focused on their careers that having children may be put on the back burner. These are the couples I see later on in their life when they have trouble with fertility and going through infertility treatments, or have children one right after the other and are struck by the huge toll raising small children while keeping up with both of their demanding jobs has on their romantic and sexual connection.

 What kind of sexual culture are young people out of college encountering? Is the hookup script still powerful? Is the dating script? Is monogamy still the assumed frame for emotional commitment? Or have polyamory and open relationships gone mainstream?

 For those millennials who have gone to college, the first few years on their own may still include hook-ups or casual dating as they are spending more time on establishing themselves professionally and/or living on a modest salary with their parents or roommates. However, the dating is pretty commitment-free and at times frustrating for those looking for a relationship since much of the app-driven “dating” is texting with someone for weeks on end before actually meeting. Some reasons might be that the texting over weeks provides a person with the banter or insight as to whether they actually want to devote time to an actual date (the equivalent of talking to someone at a bar or party for a while before asking or getting asked for a phone number). However, either while this chat-texting is going on the person may “ghost” you, that is, they may just stop texting back. While this no-show experience would happen in the pre-cell phone days, the “ghosting” may also occur after people have dated a few times, perhaps hooked up or even had intercourse together. The person being ghosted becomes more and more skeptical of what real attachment can really be gained from their next “match”.

I find that people don’t begin dating seriously till their later twenties. Monogamy is still the assumed frame of emotional commitment once the couple has had “the exclusion talk”. However the millennial cohort seems more open to talk about having alternative arrangements monogamy-wise. Navigating this agreement is a presenting issue with which couples come in to CLS to get help negotiating since they recognize it can bring up jealousy and are not sure how to establish boundaries that will work for both partners. While I don’t think it has gone mainstream, I do think that traditional agreements are being questioned.

Students say that the skills and strategies for negotiating hookup culture are essentially the opposite of the skills and strategies they need for negotiating committed relationships. After graduation, when students seek out more meaningful relationships, do you find that they struggle with emotional openness, closeness, and risk-taking?

I find the skills needed to develop relationships in the early stages are a bit different than the ones later on so I’ll answer these questions separately. I think because so much time in college is spent either opting out of the hook-up culture or participating in it usually under the influence of alcohol, emotional vulnerability with someone to whom you are also erotically attracted hardly ever occurs. However college students usually develop close platonic friendships.

 Some of these friendships can even develop into love relationships later on. However, they may never have been erotically attached to these partners. So some of these young adults may know how to be good partners, considerate roommates, and love one another but there is very little sexual fizz in that occurs. These couples come in as they’re about to become engaged, get married or decide to have a baby. They are what I call companionate couples and they are open about most everything except their sexual desires and so they are not having much if any sexual contact at all.

Since they haven’t had a lot of practice negotiating compromise over long periods of time, if someone does meet someone with whom they have sexual chemistry, they don’t know how to manage day-to-day conflicts like:

Can you shower before you come on to me?

Do you expect me to walk the dog every day you’re off on this bachelorette trip?

Why are you not saving more money?

If they haven’t developed constructive communication skills, these conflicts can head south quickly and then they may look at their partner and wonder where did my erotic attraction for them go? They may get scared and end the relationship before understanding that to get back into their erotic groove requires patience, openness to listen and practice empathy to come to a connection again. Hookups don’t help in the sustaining enough patience to feel like you’re going to come through it to the other side and find your partner attractive again.

 If they do, is this something to be overly concerned about? Do they learn these skills effectively despite their experience (or lack of experience) in hookup culture? Or are they inhibited from doing so in a way that they wouldn’t have been had they not adapted to this new college context?

 I would say that they’re just starting later and need more practice at the integration of emotional intimacy and sexual connection since they have begun later. For a portion of these millennials, their life online has become more primary to their face-to-face relationships or dates. Whether it’s swiping right or left as a self-esteem sport to see how many matches one gets, or masturbating to porn which doesn’t require expertise, courage to make mistakes or consideration of a partner’s needs/feelings, some young adults prefer to remain on their own as a protective expression against vulnerability, performance anxiety or rejection.

Do students in committed relationships struggle specifically with sexual intimacy? Some of my students worried that the imperative to make sex “meaningless” would later interfere with their ability to experience it as “meaningful.” Acts of tenderness — like cuddling, prolonged eye contact, and gentle kisses — are off script in hookup culture; many of my students had never experienced those things, despite being sexually active. Is it challenging for them to learn how to incorporate tenderness into their sexualities?

This is a good question. I should preface the answer that sexual intimacy is like beauty, it’s in the eye and body of each individual. I think that acts of tenderness can be challenging for some, especially if you’ve spent years compartmentalizing your emotions from your sexual practices. After the novelty of a relationship dies down, a couple really does need to dig deeper to find out what kinds of sexual activity they like and how they become able to enter the erotic zone. One can’t rely only on intrinsic horniness because for many reasons (stress at work, lack of sleep, hormone changes) this may not be as regularly available. So learning to practice intimacy (which is unique to each person) and relaxation as an entryway into erotic connection are skills that people can learn. It may feel awkward and uncomfortable at first (remember the first time you French-kissed?), but with practice incorporating emotional intimacy (which may or may not include some of the acts you described) into sexual connection can gradually feel more syntonic.

What is some of the most important advice that young people need to hear? If you could get a message to each and every young person transitioning out of college, what would it be?

I would say to the millennials to educate yourself about your erotic triggers to increase your Sex Esteem®. This education can be gleaned from this blog and the following sites: my webshow Sex Esteem® with Sari Cooper, Columbia University’s site Go Ask Alice, and the vast list of sites on Dartmouth University’s site, Gay Men’s Good Sex Guide, and the following books: Guide to Getting it On, Sex For One, She Comes First, The New Male Sexuality, Come as You Are, and SexSmart.

Sari Cooper, LCSW is a licensed individual, couples and AASECT-Certified Sex Therapist. She specializes in working on issues such as sexual disorders, sexual avoidance, couples communication, affairs, separation, depression, anxiety, and alternative sexual interests. She is the Founder and Director of Center for Love and Sex

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Originally posted at Everyday Sociology.

When new students move into their residence halls to start their first year of college, they become a part of an institution. In many ways, it is a “total institution” in the tradition of the sociologist Erving Goffman: an organization that collects large numbers of like individuals, cuts them off from the wider society, and provides for all their needs. Prisons, mental hospitals, army barracks, and nursing homes are total institutions. So are cruise ships, cults, convents, and summer camps. Behemoths of order, they swallow up their constituents and structure their lives.

Many colleges are total institutions, too. Being a part of the institution means that students’ educational options are dictated, of course, but colleges also have a substantial amount of control over when students eat, where they sleep, how they exercise, with whom they socialize and, pertinent to our topic today, whether and under what conditions they have sex.

Thumbnail_Press - American Hookup_with frame_978-0-393-28509-3In my newly released book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, I show that hookup culture is now at the center of the institution of higher education. It’s thick, palpable, the air students breathe; and we find it on almost every residential campus in America: large and small, private and public, elite and middling, secular and religious, Greek- and sports-heavy and otherwise.My own research involves 101 students at two institutions who wrote weekly journals, tracing their trials and tribulations through a semester of their first year, but quantitative and comparative research alike supports hookup culture’s ubiquity. Anecdotally, too, students insist that it is so. “[Hookups are] part of our collegiate culture,” writes a student at the University of Florida. Up north at Connecticut College, a female student describes it as the “be-all and end-all” of social life. Oh, sure,” says a guy 2,500 miles away at Arizona State, “you go to parties on the prowl.” Further up north, at Whitman in Walla Walla, Washington, a female student calls hookup culture “an established norm.”

These comments reveal hookup culture’s pervasiveness, but these students are almost certainly overestimating the frequency of hookups on their campuses. According to the Online College Social Life Survey, a study of over 24,000 students at over 20 institutions, the average graduating senior has hooked up just eight times in four years; a third won’t hook up at all. In fact, today’s students boast no more sexual partners than their parents did at their age. But students can be forgiven for their misimpressions. Hookup culture is a powerful force, leading them to overestimate their peers’ sexual behavior by orders of magnitude.

The topic of my book, then, isn’t just hooking up; it’s hookup culture. Like other cultures, hooking up is a social reality that operates on several levels: it’s a set of widely-endorsed ideas, reflected in rules for interaction and the organization of the institution. Accordingly, hookup culture is the idea that casual sexual encounters are the best or only way to engage sexually in college, a set of practices that facilitate casual sexual encounters, and an organizational structure that supports them.

Students can and do opt out of hooking up, but few can escape hookup culture. Many of the students in American Hookup said so often and explicitly: Partying and hooking up, insisted one, “is the only way to make friends.” “Hookup culture = social life,” another concluded, simply making an equation. “If you do not have sex,” a third wrote forcefully, “you are not in the community.”

Being a part of the community means playing by the rules of hookup culture. It means bringing a certain kind of energy (up, drunken, and sexually available) to certain kinds of parties (dark, loud, and sexually charged). It means being willing to be careless about sexual contact and trying to care less about the person you hook up with than they care about you. It means following a hookup script that privileges male orgasm and a stereotypically male approach to sexuality. It means engaging in competitive sexual exploits: women against women, men against men, and men against women. And it means being stripped of the right to insist upon interpersonal accountability, enabling everything from discourtesy to sexual misconduct.

Some students thrive. About a quarter of the students in my sample truly enjoy hookup culture. Most do not. A third of my students opted out of sex altogether, deciding that they’d rather have none of it than follow hookup culture’s rules. Close to half participate ambivalently, dabbling with mixed results. More students decreased their participation over the course of the semester than increased it.

Almost to the last one, though, students were earnest, thoughtful, and good-humored. Few escaped hookup culture’s grasp, but they never failed to impress me with their insight and resilience. Hearing them tell their stories, it was hard not to feel optimistic, even when the stories did not lend themselves to optimism. I finished the book feeling hopeful. Today’s young people are open, permissive, genuine, and welcoming of diversity. They’re well-positioned to usher in a new new sexual culture.

But students need their institutions to change, too. Institutions of higher education need to put substantial resources and time into shifting cultural norms: they need to establish an ethic of care for casual sexual encounters and they need to diversify the kind of sexual encounters that are seen as possible and good. They also need to change the institutional structures that entrench the worst features of hookup culture, including those that give disproportionate power to the students on campus who most support, participate in, and benefit from it: white, class-privileged, masculine-identified, heterosexual men.

The neat thing about cultures, though, it that they exist only with our consent. We can change them simply by changing our minds. And because residential colleges are total institutions, ones that are bounded and insular, they are particularly responsive to reformation. The new sexual culture on America’s campuses can be improved—made safer, healthier, kinder, more authentic, more pleasurable, and more truly conducive to self-exploration—and faster than we might suspect. I hope that the voices in American Hookup help empower both students and administrators to do just that.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Screenshot_22Congratulations to everyone starting college this semester! College can be a bewildering new challenge, but a bit of advice can go a long way. Below are some of the secrets of college success from us: two sociologists — one from an open-access four-year school and one at a private liberal arts school — with over 15 years of college teaching combined.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to get straight As from the get-go.

College is a unique institution with its own rules and skills. You will not simply get an A because you are “smart.” Getting an A is a combination of effort, prior knowledge, and experience, so being smart at college means learning a specific skill set. If you are in your first year, you may find that you must work harder to get the same grade as a senior who has much more experience at excelling in college classrooms and, thus, knows better how to do it. Be patient with yourself. Acknowledge that there will be a learning curve and give yourself some time to climb it. In the meantime, look forward to when you will be the one who knows exactly what to do.

Sometimes studying hurts and that’s a good thing.

The mind is like a muscle: if you use it, it becomes stronger. You can improve your emotional intelligence, your reasoning skills, your mathematical ability, how quickly and effectively you absorb new information, and more. But it isn’t necessarily fun. Like working out your body, working out your mind can be uncomfortable, even painful. You’re not really challenging and improving your mind unless it hurts a little. So you may find that learning can sometimes feel kind of like suffering. This is normal. It doesn’t mean that you’re not smart, it means that you’re getting even smarter.

Memorize the phrase “pluralistic ignorance.”

Research shows that most college students misperceive their peers’ behaviors and attitudes. They think drug and alcohol use is higher than it is and that their peers are less concerned about it than they are. They also tend to think that everyone else might be having more fun and more sex. We suspect this is even worse now that everyone stalks each other on social networks. Keep in mind the possibility that studying a lot, having other responsibilities, and not partying all the time is normal. Because it is.

Collect as many mentors as you can.

Often new students will be assigned an advisor when they arrive on campus. That’s great. Definitely go talk to them. But don’t think that you only get to have one. Collect lots. Turn to older students, professors you like, counselors and coaches, and members of the staff or administration. Build a range of relationships with people who understand this college thing pretty well and lean on them all. You will be glad to have their advice and, later, they’ll all be lining up to write you letters of recommendation for jobs and graduate programs.

On tests, change your answers if you second-guess yourself.

Somewhere along the line, you’ve probably heard the standard advice for taking multiple-choice or true/false tests: stick with your first answer. Instructors often reinforce this adage before each exam, and students encounter it everywhere from SAT prep books to the study skills lecture in their Intro to College course. Just one problem: decades of research show it isn’t true. There’s overwhelming evidence that when students change their answers, they do better on the test. In one study of 1,561 students, 51% of the changes were from wrong answers to right ones; only 25% were from right to wrong ones (the others were from one wrong answer to another wrong one).

So why are we still so convinced we should stick with our first answer? Because we feel more regret when a bad outcome is due to an action we took than when it’s due to our inaction, and that regret makes us more likely to remember it. You shouldn’t change answers just for the sake of it, of course, but if you’re taking an exam and begin to doubt an answer, don’t be afraid to change it. You’ll be wrong sometimes, but mounds of data strongly suggest you’ll be right quite a bit more often—even though it might not feel that way.

Think hard about whether online classes are the best choice for you.

Online classes — and even entirely online degrees — are increasingly common at most campuses. They offer flexibility that can help you fit classes in around work, family life, or conflicting class schedules. But before you sign up, think honestly about your strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself:

  • Can you keep yourself on schedule without in-person classes where instructors or other students might remind you of upcoming due dates?
  • Do you learn well independently?
  • Do you have reliable access to a decent computer and fast internet connection?
  • Do you struggle with the topic, making it likely that you might need at least some one-on-one help?

It’s not that face-to-face classes are always or inherently better than online courses. But the flexibility that online courses offer may make them particularly tempting, even when they’re unlikely to be your best choice for success. Online classes aren’t always the smartest way to go, even if they’re convenient.

When picking a major, get the facts.

Research shows that many students choose a major somewhat randomly.  In the process of fulfilling their required range of classes, they encounter a particularly inspiring or effective instructor in an intro-level course and the rest is history.

Inspiration can help narrow down your choices, but most students have to be at least a little bit practical, too. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Does the major have a rigid set of pre-reqs you have to take in order, and if so, when do you need to start taking them?  Are you “on track?”  If not, can you afford to stay in school longer to pursue a major you’re really passionate about?
  • Are lengthy unpaid internships usually required after graduation? If they are, can you or your parents afford to support you while you work for free to build up a resume?
  • Will you need to go to grad school to have many job options in the field and, if you will, are there good graduate programs in your area or will you need to move? Can you do so if needed?
  • What’s your starting salary likely to be, and if you’re taking out student loans, how much of your likely income would go to paying them each month?

Don’t get us wrong — being passionate about a topic or discovering you have a particular knack for a field should be important factors as you pick a major! But it’s a good idea to turn to older students, professors, and advisers with these questions so that you know what you’re getting into. Whatever you decide, you’ll likely be more satisfied long-term if you go into it with a clear understanding of the implications of your decision.

Finally, take the time to make true friends.

Not Facebook friends, but real, solid, good, we-can-count-on-each-other besties. We know, we know.  College is supposedly about freedom and parties and drinking and hooking up! There’s plenty of time for that. Also make friends a big priority. There’s a very strong correlation between happiness and being surrounded by friends you can really talk to. In fact, both psychological and physical well-being are more strongly related to friendship than they are to romance. So, hook up and form relationships if you want, but don’t prioritize sex and romance over friendship. The latter is equally important to a happy, fulfilling life.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.  Gwen Sharp is the Associate Dean of LAS at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter.

SocImages News:

We celebrated our 6th birthday this month.  As a present, we were gifted a launch page!

We’re super grateful to Jon Smadja for building it and enabling us to highlight all of the cool things going on at SocImages: not just new posts every day, but an active Twitter feed, a far-reaching Facebook page, and an interesting, funny, and sometimes disturbing Pinterest presence (yes, we’ve been flagged for inappropriateness).  Meanwhile, the slideshow helps us keep  some of our favorite older posts at the forefront of the site.  We love it!

For those of you who want to read the site the old way: just click on “blog” on the upper left under our logo.

Big Posts this Month:

We are eager to try and make public discourse more sociological, so we were really pleased when three of our posts this month made a significant impact:

Cross-post highlights…

Upcoming Visits:


I just booked a four month sublet just outside the French Quarter (February through May).  So, all you New Orleanians out there, get ready to be my friend!  (Meanwhile, if anyone wants to sublet a place in Los Angeles…).  I’ll hopefully be travelling quite a lot this academic year for public speaking.  I’ll be at Westminster College in Salt Lake City and Macalester College in the Twin Cities. I would love to come to your school too!

Social Media ‘n’ Stuff:

Finally, this is your monthly reminder that we’re on the social medias!  I’m on Facebook and most of the team is on Twitter: @lisawade@gwensharpnv@familyunequal@carolineheldman, and @jaylivingston.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

SocImages News:

I didn’t catch the moment, but suffice to say we reached 25,000 Facebook friends and counting.  Hello to all our friends out there and thanks so much!


New Logo!

Congratulations to Avery Wagner, Grace Wong, James Dunphy, Letta Page, and Laura Bertocci!  These were the five finalists in our logo contest!  Keep your eyes open for a new logo, currently being polished by Letta and Laura.

Elsewhere on the Net:

Gwen Sharp’s post featuring photographs of Victorian women stoicly breastfeeding their babies struck a nerve! It received over 6,500 likes here, was featured at Jezebel and the Daily Mail, and was cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

I did an unprecedented number of TV/webcast programs this month, appearing on National Geographic’s Taboo, in a Huffington Post Live debate about food stamps, and in a Bloomberg News short on sexual assault on college campuses.

Cross-post highlights!

Nathan Vanderford kindly featured me in his project tracing the career trajectories of people with PhDs. A neat idea offering great perspective!

Finally, I had the pleasure of contributing to stories at CNN, the LA Weekly, The Raw Story, and Opposing Views.  Some of this was ongoing interest in our advice that college students shouldn’t try to follow their dreams.

Upcoming Lectures and Appearances:

I am on sabbatical writing in earnest, but I’d love to use my flexible schedule to do lots of public speaking as well.  Visit my website if you’d be interested in having me.  I’ve already scheduled my first talks for next year: Westminster College in Utah and Macalester College in Minnesota.  Looking forward to it already!

Social Media ‘n’ Stuff:

Finally, this is your monthly reminder that SocImages is on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and Pinterest.  Lisa is on Facebook and most of the team is on Twitter: @lisawade@gwensharpnv@familyunequal@carolineheldman, and @jaylivingston.

In Other News…

Here’s a picture I took of lava entering the ocean on the big island of Hawaii. I am lucky to have family there and the opportunity to hike out to the flow. It was extraordinary and felt as dangerous as it looks!


Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.