Sex Marks the Spot: hookups


Q: How can I stay safe in college hookup culture?

A: According to sociologist Lisa Wade, “In colleges, ‘hookup culture’ refers to the idea that casual sexual encounters are the best or only way to engage sexually; and the concept also refers to rules of social interaction that facilitate casual sexual encounters and organizational arrangements that support these encounters.”

According to Wade’s research, about a quarter of students thrive in this culture, at least at first, about a third of students opt out altogether and the remaining students are ambivalent, dabbling in hookups with mixed results. The average graduating senior reports hooking up just eight times in four years, and a third do not have one hookup. You can read Gabriel Levine’s perspective in his Trinitonian article from the Feb. 9 issue.

Wade’s research also proposes that “hookup culture is a problem not because it promotes casual sex, but because it makes a destructive form of casual sexual engagement feel compulsory.” Meaning students who don’t hook up feel isolated, whereas students who do hook up are forced to operate by a dysfunctional set of rules — perhaps allowing carelessness, cruelty, sexual competitiveness, etc. — which create red flags for potential perpetrators or victims of sexual assault.

Now, if you fall in the category of the occasional hookup, there are some things to consider to stay healthy and safe: 

  • Set your boundaries before you’re in that situation. What are or aren’t you comfortable with?
  • Know what the hookup will mean for both you and your partner. If you both have different ideas about the significance of the hookup, it may be time to talk.
  • Make sure it’s consensual, meaning that both partners are willing. More information at
  • Give a friend or roommate a heads up on where you will be and who you are with — you don’t need to share super specific details.
  • Have a way home. Plan a ride with a friend or grab a rideshare — make sure have a mobile phone charger with you.
  • Be considerate of your partner. Should you be telling your friends? Be sure to talk about this.
  • Get educated, visit, There is a Health Services program coming soon.
  • Listen to your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. You can stop things at any time. Remember, things can get complicated if alcohol is involved.

To modify hookup culture, cultural norms need to shift and change. Wade feels that “promoting casual sexual encounters that involve an ethic of care, as well as diversifying the kind of sexual encounters that are seen as possible and good.”

She also agrees that “colleges need to change the institutional arrangements that give too much power to subsets of students who are most enthusiastic about hookup culture and who benefit from it at the expense of their peers.”


If you want to continue this conversation, consider attending Coalition for Respect meetings — the group discusses consent, campus climate, Title IX and more. Contact them at @coalitionforrespecttu & [email protected]. You can also check out Lisa Wade’s Hookup Culture NPR podcast from Feb. 14.