NYE & Hookup Culture: Tips for Staying Safe
By Leslie Massicotte, Teens Climb High Coordinator
Happy New Year everyone! We at Teens Climb High hope that everyone is safe, healthy, and excited about 2021 hopefully being better than 2020!
I know that with covid, our NYE festivities were probably a bit different this year. However, I wanted to use this opportunity to chat about hookup culture, because New Year’s Eve festivities are so often associated with partying, alcohol, drugs, and hooking up. (Although, if you’re like me, this is definitely not the only year that my NYE has been spent in my PJs with my cats…. No shame.)
Hookup culture is all about casual sex. It’s basically the idea that it’s ok to have sex with someone you’re not emotionally or romantically attached to.
Hookup culture can include “one night stands” or having casual sex with someone and then not being involved with them after hooking up once. But hooking up doesn’t always mean sexual intercourse.
The term “hooking up” itself can mean having vaginal, oral, or anal sex or it could mean getting sexy with somebody in other ways (like heavy making out, fingering or blow jobs, etc.). Hooking up means different things to different people so be sure if you’re interested in hooking up with someone, you explore what that means to both of you.
Hooking up is glorified in our media. Teens have told me numerous times that the media they consume tells them to have lots of sex, that sex is fun, that there are no consequences, and that everyone is doing it. Seeing TV stars and celebrities hooking up with no consequences makes us long for those Hollywood hookups but we lack the facts about how it really works and what risks are involved.
One risk of hooking up is the lack of protection against sexually transmitted infections (or STIs).
One study found that about 50% of college students in their sample weren’t worried about getting an STI from hooking up, regardless of whether they’d had intercourse or oral sex (1). Another study showed that only 46.6% of college students in the study sample used condoms during their most recent hookup (2).
However, we know that you can get an STI from oral, anal, or vaginal sex, as well as skin-to-skin genital contact, so using an internal or external condom or dental dam during sex is super important for preventing STIs--ESPECIALLY during hook-ups.
Another risk factor with hooking up is the tendency for hookups to happen under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Both alcohol and drugs lower your inhibitions, causing you to do things you wouldn’t normally do, including perhaps making moves on that person who caught your eye or being more sexually risky with the person you’re with.
Several studies have found that approximately 60% of undergraduate college students used alcohol during their most recent hookup (2, 3). Another study found that about a third of undergraduates who had hooked up felt that their motivation to do so was “unintentional,” or happened because they’d been under the influence of alcohol or drugs (4).
Being drunk or high, while offering fun times in the moment, can often lead to unwanted sexual encounters, regretful decisions, and going farther sexually than you wanted. And the studies back this up.
For a lot of college students, most unwanted sex occurred during hookups (5, 6). Rape and sexual assault also have a higher chance of happening when alcohol or drugs are involved. Lots of research has linked sexual assault to alcohol and drugs, suggesting that you’re more at risk to assault or be assaulted when you’re drunk or high (7).
Statistics aside, we know that for sex to feel safe, it’s got to include the following:
Consent: have we agreed to do all of the things we’re about to do? Do we feel informed? Are we enthusiastic about it? Are we ready?
Communication: have we talked about what we’re wanting and needing? Have we talked about the risks? Have we considered both people's point of view?
Protection: have we discussed how we’re going to stay safe from unintended pregnancy and STIs? Do we feel safe?
Mutual pleasure: are we both having fun and feeling pleasure? Are we both satisfied?
Can you have all of these things in a hookup context? Absolutely. Is it a lot harder when alcohol and drugs are involved? You bet.
Even casual sex requires communication, consent, protection, and mutual pleasure.
And these things require a pre-hookup conversation. At Teens Climb High, we want to normalize having that conversation before sex happens, whether you’re hooking up or in a committed relationship.
Hooking up can definitely be a fun way to explore your sexuality and desires with another person. It also comes with some pretty serious risks, so it’s important to know the facts, stay safe, and communicate!
Downing-Matibag, T. M., & Geisinger, B. (2009). Hooking up and sexual risk taking among college students: a health belief model perspective. Qualitative Health Research, 19(9), p. 1196-1209.
Lewis , M. A. , Granato , H. , Blayney , J. A. , Lostutter , T. W. , & Kilmer , J. R. ( 2011 ). Predictors of hooking up sexual behaviors and emotional reactions among U.S. college students. Archives of Sexual Behavior. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10508-011-9817-2
Fielder, R. L., & Carey, M. P. (2010). Prevalence and characteristics of sexual hookups among first-semester female college students. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy , 36(4), p. 346-359.
Garcia, J. R., & Reiber, C. (2008). Hook-up behavior: A biopsychosocial perspective. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 2(4), p. 192-208.
Flack, B., Daubman, K., Caron, M. L., Asadorian, J. A., D'Aureli, N. R., Gigliotti, S. N., Hall, A. T., Kiser, S., & Stine, E. R. (2007). Risk factors and consequences of unwanted sex among university students: Hooking up, alcohol, and stress response. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22(2) p. 139-157.
Hill, M., Garcia, J. R., & Geher, G. (2012). Women having sex when they don’t want to: Exploring the occurrence of unwanted sex in the context of hook-ups. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Office of Women’s Health. (2019, April 26). Date Rape Drugs. Office of Women’s Health. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/date-rape-drugs#11