By Tessa Raebeck
Ask a college student when they last went on a real date and most will stare at you dumbfounded.
Like pay phones and typewriters, traditional notions of dating are altogether extinct on college campuses. Instead, America’s young people are fully immersed in what Dr. Donna Freitas calls “the hookup culture,” a sexual mindset that has replaced courtship, dating and intimacy with casual no-strings-attached encounters known as hooking up.
While academics and young adults alike maintain the hookup culture provides for increased freedom and choices, others, Dr. Freitas among them, say its dominance of sexual encounters has left a generation of young adults frustrated, insecure and unfulfilled.
On Monday, Dr. Freitas will give a talk on “the hookup generation” at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton. An author and religious studies professor at Boston University, Dr. Freitas has completed eight years of clinical research and analysis on sexual activity among young adults and has nearly 20 years of personal experience on college campuses.
In her most recent book, “The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy,” Dr. Freitas found college students across genders, religious affiliations and sexual preference were proponents of the hookup culture in public, but expressed a much different attitude in private.
“I have learned from my own students,” Dr. Freitas, said in an interview on Friday, “that talking about sex and relationships and hooking up on campus — they lied about it a lot. So privacy was really a priority.”
Discussions with her own classes, she writes, revealed “an intense longing for meaning — meaningful sex, meaningful relationships and meaningful dates.”
Observing this dissatisfaction with hookup culture led her to explore the topic further. While researching her book, Dr. Freitas analyzed thousands of students at public and private, secular, Evangelical and Catholic campuses. She administered 2,600 surveys, conducted 112 interviews and collected 108 journals.
“I was sort of taken aback by the level of participation,” said Dr. Freitas. “I think the amount of participation I got — and very, very quickly once the study was open — is just finding in itself of how much students were looking for a safe, private space to talk about this stuff where there weren’t any social repercussions.”
She discovered that while most of the young men and women she encountered were “very pro ‘the hookup’ in theory,” they were privately struggling with the lack of personal connection and longing for other options.
“Hookups have existed throughout human history, of course,” writes Dr. Freitas, “but what is now happening on American campuses is something different. College has gone from being a place where hookups happened to a place where hookup culture dominates students’ attitudes about all forms of intimacy.”
Dr. Freitas found no outstanding differences between Catholic and secular universities, although the attitude was completely different on Evangelical campuses, where abstinence prevailed and there was no viable hookup culture.
One of the biggest surprises in the research, she said, was that both male and female respondents shared the same feelings of dissatisfaction.
“I assumed, like most people do,” she said, “that when I sat down with guys, they would tell me how great hookup culture was for them, but what I got was remarkably similar views between men and women.”
The only difference she saw was, while women felt it was acceptable to publicly express criticism of the hookup culture, “men felt like they absolutely could not do that; they had to go along with it or risk their masculinity.”
Some respondents were in fact in long-term relationships, but couples started as a “random hookup” that turned into a “serial hookup” before they eventually made any serious commitment to each other. The majority of college students in relationships were juniors and seniors, when it “seemed more socially acceptable to be in relationships,” said Dr. Freitas.
“Many of them,” Dr. Freitas said, “had a really hard time identifying a hookup experience that was positive for them or wasn’t just kind of ‘blah.’ They were either very ambivalent to the experience or often very sad and regretful.”
“Students want to talk about dating and romance and other options,” she said, “where the hookup is one possibility among many different possibilities.
“The Hookup Generation: A Primer for Parents and Teenagers,” a talk by Dr. Donna Freitas, will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, December 2 at the Rogers Memorial Library, 91 Coopers Farm Road, Southampton. To reserve a seat free of charge, visit myrml.org or call 283-0074, ext. 523.