Is There Anything Wrong With Hooking Up?

Have Hookups Replaced Dating?

Hanna Rosin is the author of the new book, “The End of Men” which discusses the changing gender roles in 21st century America. She’s also a noted feminist blogger who created XX for Slate magazine and published an interesting new article in this month’s Atlantic Magazine about the hook-up culture.

Now first off, let me say that the hook-up culture is nothing new. We may have more girls texting naked pictures than they did in 1991, when I was in college, but I don’t think that binge drinking and the walk of shame started with the Millenials. If anything, we’re just now seeing the effects of women who were brought up believing in full equality, which includes hooking up with men for pleasure, instead of using college to go on a husband hunt.

We can debate whether something dreamy and idealistic is lost in all of this inebriated collegiate bed-hopping.

Says Rosin, “What emerged from four years of research was the sense that hooking up was part of a larger romantic strategy…For an upwardly mobile, ambitious young woman, hookups were a way to dip into relationships without disrupting her self-development or schoolwork. Hookups functioned as a “delay tactic…because the immediate priority, for the privileged women at least, was setting themselves up for a career. “If I want to maintain the lifestyle that I’ve grown up with,” one woman said, “I have to work. I just don’t see myself being someone who marries young and lives off of some boy’s money.”

We can debate whether something dreamy and idealistic is lost in all of this inebriated collegiate bed-hopping. I’d probably say it is. But there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle. Women and men are equal and they’re absolutely dating that way – hoping to find love eventually, but content with some fun sexual experience for now.

“About 66 percent of women say they wanted their most recent hookup to turn into something more, but 58 percent of men say the same – not a vast difference, considering the cultural panic about the demise of chivalry and its consequences for women. And in fact, the broad inference that young people are having more sex–and not just coarser sex–is just wrong; teenagers today, for instance, are far less likely than their parents were to have sex or get pregnant. Between 1988 and 2010, the percentage of teenage girls having sex dropped from 37 to 27, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By many measures, the behavior of young people can even look like a return to a more innocent age.”

I’m decidedly nonjudgmental about people’s sex lives. Do what you want, try not to hurt anyone else and be conscious of what you can handle emotionally. If you can’t handle hooking up, opt out of it, like 25% of students do. Personally, I think the college years are the perfect time to experiment and feel out your limits for alcohol, drugs, and sex, not to mention making sound financial decisions, studying without being coerced, and taking responsibility for the results in your life. Since I didn’t lose my virginity until sophomore year, I had a lot of catching up to do, and far be it from me to condemn a young woman who is having the same experience. I remember it as one of the best times of my life.

What do you think? Is hooking up wrong? How has it worked for you?

Join our conversation (82 Comments).
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  1. 41

    Why the association of hooking up with inebriation?   You can “hook up” without being drunk.   In fact, you should be sober if you’re gonna hook up (or at least not falling-down stinking drunk)… otherwise the situation approaches rape.

    “Hooking up” outside of a loving relationship is not for me, at this time, but it was part of my past.   I think it was a necessary step from being an innocent and terrified virgin to being an experienced adult with more of a sense of what relationships are and should be, including the sexual component.

    It served a purpose in my life, but it’s a phase I’ve outgrown.   But yes, it was fun… in its way.

    As long as everybody involved is being respectful, honest, and careful, then do what you want and have fun.

  2. 42

    Congratulations on the birth of your child Evan. Re hooking up, I think most women my age know it is going nowhere afterwards (having learned the hard way). Unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of younger women do just know that men who hook up never want more until they learn the hard way.

  3. 43

    The occasional one night stand always worked for me – because those were so obviously hookups and I didn’t have to see them again. But sex with any guy whose not your boyfriend, who you have been and/or will see regularly is not something I and most women can handle . It’s not worth the emotional anxiety that follows.

  4. 44

    Sew the wind, reap the whirlwind.

  5. 45

    A track record of promiscuous sex does not improve marriage potential.   (Age gap Peter).

  6. 46

    Hooking up doesn’t work for me now into my thirties, two beautiful children, and a year out of my divorce. But once I started dating I can tell you it surprised me how frequent this it done. It was like lets do this and see if it works out. Emotionally I can’t hook up with someone I am dating and see where it goes. But this seems to be the lay-of-the land. Generally sex comes up 6-8 date, and there is a very large percentage of men that once you tell them you need to feel safe and in a relationship, they automatically run. Ugh. Dating. Gotta think good thoughts.  

  7. 47
    David T

    Ah, Liz, there are men out there who are like minded. they are just rare. Your attitude means your potential partner pool is smaller, but I would encourage anyone I know to not compromise on whatever principles keep you safe and emotionally whole. Just have fun on dates 1-6 (or 1-8 or whatever) and enjoy them for what they are. While you are at it, keep kissin’ those frogs and someday. . . .

  8. 48

    What I have noticed is that there are a lot of women in their thirties hooking up and hoping that it will turn into something else. I have friends who still hope that these situations are going to turn into something more when they already know that it won’t. The question is why they are doing this when they want a relationship and they know that hook ups don’t lead to more. The answer is not that they are promiscuous women that like hook ups as Peter seems to think but rather than they can’t find a relationship with someone who is compatible and age appropriate and after a while they start getting lonely and they settle for hooks ups. Bottom line: on the singles scene there just don’t seem to be enough very successful or moderately successful single men in their thirties for all the very successful single women. As a result, there is now a lot of competition among very successful women for moderately successful men and a lot of those men now seem to be hooking up a lot because they can (which they may not have been able to do in the past when they were competing with more successful men). Unless she is very lucky that sadly seems to leave the successful thirty something single female with the option of an relationship with a man at the very bottom of the chain, a man in another generation, or the odd hook up. In those circumstances, a lot of them are hooking up to relieve loneliness – a recipe for disaster of course – but that is why.

  9. 49

    I’m amazed that anyone over age 20-25 doesn’t understand that hooking up doesn’t lead to more. No one should be in their 30s still struggling with such issues unless perhaps they never had much experience when younger. The other thing I didn’t understand til now is that it doesn’t matter if you wait 6, 8, or 10 dates to have sex, if you don’t first clarify exclusivity and intentions.   

  10. 50

    It makes me quite sad to hear  women who say they go on several dates with a guy, only to find out later that he’s not interested in having a relationship (I was thinking of you, Mia).

    For me the clues are there quite early on, and well before you sleep together. These things stick out for me I must say, and are dead-giveaways. Things like:
    *  He’s reluctant to refer to it as a date  – he calls it “hanging out” or it has a casual feel to it emotionally.
    * He doesn’t seem keyed in to your response or concerned with impressing you
    * He makes references on the date  to being “independent” or needing a lot of space or time to do his own thing
    * He makes comments like  wants to make friends and see how things go
    * He doesn’t ask you a lot of  getting-to-know you questions  
    * For me a very definite giveaway (and I know there  will be those who will disagree with me here) is not offering to pick you up and/or pay
    * He freely references ex-girlfriends and close female friends  early on
    * Contact after the date is sporadic and low intensity
    *  There are quite long  time lapses  between dates, and he is often busy on “prime” nights (Friday and Saturday)  
    * Someone who is after a relationship with you  will  to a certain extent wait till the moment is right to have sex with you. Someone not interested in a relationship  may very likely try to force it when it doesn’t feel completely natural.

    Not an exhaustive list – maybe I’ll add more as I think of  them! 😉  

    For me, the biggest giveaway is the lack of emotional engagement/intensity. A man is never so emotionally open-seeming as when he is trying to court a girl he wishes to become his girlfriend. Men know that women want this to enter a relationship, and that goo-goo feeling they have for someone they’re really into helps them achieve it. Men who are just interested in you as a buddy treat you like one.      

  11. 51

    Generally from my  experience. When I say experience is from all my male friends. The kind of women they would hook up with is the kind of women they wouldn’t ever take seriously. It is not because they are hooking up with them. They are way less desirable. Women who are way less desirable to men will often do things in order to lure him into spending them with her. “hooking up” is something all men will lower there standards  tremendously  in order to get a quick fix. This quick fix often times will give a man the confidence to go after a girl they desire.

    Women are genetically picky the women who are single after a certain age are unable to compromise. They say they would/can but there actions are very different. Generally the older she becomes the pickier she becomes. Often times the only kind of  attention  these men will give these girl is easy sex.   

    Sex =  Marketability    

  12. 52
    Karmic Equation


    First, congratulations on the birth of your son. He will have big shoes to fill to follow in his daddy’s footsteps. You are an awesome dating coach and I agree with you 100% on your advice and perspective. I actually did buy your book a while ago. Loved it and particularly enjoyed your wife’s advice on “mulligans” and your advice on “do nothing.”

    I agree with you a 100% that no one has any obligation to state any intentions during a hookup. My point was really two-fold. Fold 1 (haha) – Stating intentions before sex is just plain awkward. When or how is it a good time to say talk about? At first base? Third base? When? There really isn’t a good time to have this talk “peri-sex”. Fold 2 – Assuming that this talk *is* someone’s obligation (I don’t believe it is) — then why is it the MAN’s obligation to state his intentions, but not the woman’s? I don’t get this at all.

    To me, CEDING THE POWER TO MEN to dictate the nature of the relationship contributes to women’s feelings of being powerless or victims to men’s whims. I don’t believe in this. Women should have sex when they want to have sex period…And if women only want to have sex to push a relationship agenda, then DON’T HAVE SEX, until you ARE in a relationship or get rid of the agenda.


    I’m curious as to what you define as successful/moderately successful? Same level of income or education as you?

    I’m only asking this because, for some odd reason, “successful” has never been on my criteria for men. I guess feeling good around them, having fun, feeling cared for, is all that I look for…and there are PLENTY of guys out there that offer that. Of course, I do want him to be gainfully employed, but I don’t care if he’s working an hourly job while I’m in an exempt job. I don’t consider dating someone of a lower educational background or income level “settling”. My live-in LTR never knew what I made, even though he did know I made more money than him, but he never knew by how much. My current man doesn’t have a clue. We treat each other pretty evenly when we go out. But he’s cooked dinner for me a few times, whereas I have yet to cook for him, but have taken him out to nicer restaurants than he takes me. A bit of a reversal of roles. But it works for us. I appreciate his efforts to cook for me even though a few times its been too spicy or under/overcooked for me. I always told him it was delicious! And he continues to offer to cook for me, which is his way of showing he cares. And I love that!

    Hooking up to relieve loneliness is really a bad idea, as you know. Your friends need to figure out other ways to NOT be lonely, like get a hobby that takes them out of the house and doing something social, where there are *available men.* This is key. Doing PTA or taking kids to their sporting events is not going to get them in contact with available men. They should try something they can become more skilled at the more they do it (like dancing or martial arts or sports). I highly recommend martial arts (“sausage fests” as one of my guy friends who is an instructor calls them…lol). Men should be the icing on the cake that is their life, not the “the cake.” They should be fulfilled and happy without a man. That is when they are the most attractive to men. Men, more than women, like to be challenged. Getting a woman who is happy without a man to love him is a challenge a lot of guys can’t resist. And if you are truly happy, your filter (good-guy-dar) works much better than when you’re feeling lonely so you’re more likely to find a good guy when you’re happy and a bad guy when you’re not.


    I had the opposite reaction of you to Mia’s dating travails. I think she may have inadvertently given off off-putting vibes…So the men COULD HAVE been on their way to a relationship, but something scared them off or turned them off. Sure, they gave her some nice sounding excuses, I’m not looking for a relationship, I’m not into Jewish women, blah blah. I remember when I was dating in college, I told a guy I couldn’t date him anymore because I couldn’t overcome my prejudice that he was black. I told him I really tried, but just couldn’t get over it. My real reason for not wanting to date him was that he was really really boring. And I didn’t have the heart to tell him that. Easier to let him think the problem was me than to hurt him with the truth.

  13. 53

    @Liz #49: “once you tell them you need to feel safe and in a relationship, they automatically run”.
    When they run, that’s good! The worst ones stick around and fake interest or commitment in the hope of keeping their options open, an ego stroke, or easy sex. They are still plenty of men interested in stability, but they are lost in a large pool full of those who are not. It’s frustrating to realize how few men are actually interested in a stable relationship, but by screening them for their interest in commitment, they/we can opt out early before having used much of our time, emotions, and energy. We need to be conservative with our dating energy as we might have to screen through many men given how few are long-term-minded. Better opting out after 3-5 dates than after 13-15!
    Therefore, I’d suggest to ask early (but not too early) what their goals are and pursue/opt out accordingly. As David T#50 says, “keep kissin’ those frogs and someday…”. Oh you do not even have to “kiss” ’em. While doing the proverbial “making feel good” by being his best date ever, ask good questions in the proper tone and with the proper attitude. Move on until you meet someone deserving of your energy. A man interested in building something serious will show the right signs as Clare #53 says, and if he has just A clue about women, will not be offended or emasculated by your questions. They understand the difference between a non-specific/non-attached “Are you looking for a long-term partner?” kind of question and a desperate “Are you going to marry me?”. The ones who do not get it can opt out!
    The point is not – as Evan says – to wish for men to change, but it is to screen them efficiently until you find someone who qualifies. You need to keep your energy high and avoid unnecessary burn-out/heartache. If having the desire to form a stable and happy relationship is your bottom line, make this common interest your #1 value in the screening process. But because it does restrict the dating pool severely, it pays to not restrict it any further with silly requirements such as height, income, hair, etc. The most successful man to the marriage-minded woman must be someone who wants (and is able to) form a solid, healthy, and happy long-term relationship. This is true SUCCESS. Income and height do NOT matter.
    @Mia #52: “No one should be in their 30s still struggling with such issue”
    Well we all struggle with different issues, depending on our specific experiences. Age has nothing to do with it. If you believe that at 30 you will magically stop struggling, I’d say good luck with that! Dating is hard, and managing adequately a good relationship often harder. Being happy single, having a good character, and being wise and self-controlled help a lot though.
    Indeed, it does not matter on what date you have sex. If you care about reserving sex for special men who want to commit and who are actually promising for the long-term, then before spreading your legs you simply need to know:
    1. whether they want a long-term partner
    2. whether they like you enough to investigate a relationship with you
    3. whether you like them enough as well
    4. whether you both have enough values in common and solid relationship skills to make a relationship at all possible between the two of you.
    Since it’s unlikely (and undesirable) that you will gather all of this information on three dates, it’s unlikely that sex will happen that early. But it is possible to get there in 10-15 dates (6-8 weeks). Been there, done that. What matters is not the passing of time, but what you DO with your time. I would actually claim that if it takes too much time it’s sign that interest or comfort with one another is not quite there. If you both are genuinely interested and gather promising information over the few first dates, you’ll want to meet more often and find out more. Not by rushing or becoming clingy, but simply by upgrading relatively soon from one short date/week to 2 longer dates/week.
    @Clare #53: “For me the clues are there quite early on, and well before you sleep together.”
    Totally agree with you! And to put it positively, here are some encouraging signs: he makes plans to see you again soon, he organizes dates that demonstrate some more extensive thinking and planning (not necessarily money!), he shows genuine interest in you: he asks questions and tries to find out the reasons behind your opinions, he remembers key facts and use them to surpise you at later dates, he does that over and over, etc etc. And you do the same in return! And for people doing the non-exclusive dating thing, well, he requests/agrees for commitment within 6-8 weeks and before sex. If it takes forever, it means he is not really interested beside keeping you as an secondary option, an activity partner or a possible booty call.
    In a nutshell: FOCUS, EFFORT, CONSISTENCY. Before sex.
    (sorry for the long comment)

  14. 54

    @Clare #53

    Good list!

    Your last line, “Men who are just interested in you as a buddy treat you like one.”   Is worthy of printing out and reviewing as necessary. 🙂

  15. 55

    Clare – there is not necessarily a way to prevent this. I go with the flow for six weeks (not having sex) and see what happens. The only thing I could identify off your list was sporadic follow up ON OCCASION, not even all or half the time. It simply doesn’t feel good to me to ask/clarify someone’s intentions on the 3rd/4th date. How can you even know about readiness for commitment, red flags, and compatibility until at least 10 dates (going out a few times a week)? Why should every few dates you Go on always   lead to a relationship? Also, if you don’t meet all your guys through online, not necessarily everyone you meet is on a focused mission for coupledom.  

  16. 56

    Mia, these women do understand but they end up hooking up because their relationship options are so poor and years of being single do get to them sometimes. Then they always have a glimmer of hope that it will work out. Most of these women are also still very attractive so men do chase them.

    Karmic, I am not personally interested in anyone who hasn’t at least been to university and achieved something when they were there. Why? I am academic and have come out in the top 5% of the population in everything I ever did, I have travelled the world, and I speak foreign languages. For me being able to connect on an intellectual level is absolutely essential. I know a lot of other women feel the same way so all these men on hourly jobs with no education and I really have nothing to talk about. I don’t feel good around them, just bored. I have alpha traits but I don’t want to be the alpha in a relationship. Deep down I think most women are like that. I know where that will most likely leave me – alone – but it is what it is. Not much I can do if the men at my level of education are taken.

  17. 57

    Evan offers great advice, so I’m not so sure why every one argues with him when all he is trying to do is give us the truth about men so that we can make the best decisions for us?!

  18. 58

    I have to put my hands up and say that I just fell into the hook up trap with a friend that I have known for a while that I liked but I knew wasn’t ready for a relationship. I knew this upfront and thought I could handle it and it did feel good at the time. After the event however, I feel pretty awful because somehow it seems to have taken the lid off a well of feeling that I have been keeping trapped inside the pot that has now been released and has nowhere to go. I know I got what I deserved. After all, I knew what I was getting myself into. I am not feeling too good about myself after this and have just taken down my profile from match and decided to shut up shop until I feel better. Rationally, I would like to be able to handle hooking up better as it would make my life a lot easier to just hook up from time to time rather than keep up this seemingly never ending quest for a partner but there is still a small part of me that really wants to believe there is someone out there that is perfect for me. Rationally, I just don’t believe that person exists.

  19. 59
    Karmic Equation

    I’m really sorry you’re feeling bad about hooking up. Hooking up only makes you feel bad if you had expectations that don’t come to pass. If you had no expectations, other than to enjoy the moment, you wouldn’t feel bad.
    Having sex sans relationship doesn’t make you a bad person or loose or morally corrupt. So please fight the feeling if those are your feelings.
    If you’re feeling rejected because he wanted nothing but the hookup…then that’s a harder one to fight, but fight you must. Don’t feel rejected. Men aren’t rejecting you for not wanting more than a hookup with you. There is nothing wrong with YOU, just your expectations, unfortunately. Look at the positive instead. You were hot and sexy and he wanted you then. Remember that. Let go the expectations you had and remember that for that moment in time you were wanted as a beautiful woman. Period. Celebrate that.
    If you’re suffering from oxytocin withdrawal, know that it’s just a chemically-induced high and in a few days, you’ll get over that. You state that you are an intellectual and, I presume, intelligent. Apply that intelligence to control your emotions.
    I was Harvard-educated, so I’m no slouch in either intellect or intelligence. I’m just more in control of my emotions than most women because I *expect* that I can control my emotions and not let them control me.
    Good luck. Really and truly, celebrate the beauty of the passion, and don’t focus on the aftermath. Don’t punish yourself for enjoying your sexuality.

    1. 59.1

      Oxytocin is “just” something that produces a chemically-induced high that will pass in a few days? Are you kidding me? Is that what you tell yourself?

      Oxytocin is a seriously powerful bonding hormone – and a lot more goes on from an neurochemical standpoint than a little release of oxytocin during sex. I find it condescending that you dismiss her heartbreak as her punishing herself for enjoying her sexuality or being unable to intellectually manage her emotions. Humans are hypersocial. Our individual survival (as well as a species) for tens of thousands of years, arguably hundreds of thousands, has depended on these exact types of oxytocin-induced bonds; when they are formed and broken, it hurts – a lot. As it should. If anything, denying that pain seems emotionally immature.

      The only thing wrong with her expectations was that she didn’t tell him what they were and talk about it beforehand! If expecting to have a relationship with someone you care about (a friend), are attracted to, and share intimacy with is unreasonable, I… I… What???   Even in the study above (no reference to original peer-reviewed article) says that almost 2/3rds of people “hooking up” want something to come of it.

      It wasn’t her expectations. It was her communication. There is nothing wrong with straight up telling a guy what you want and what you don’t or what you can handle and what you can’t. Seems to me, the ones I am straight up with appreciate it genuinely. But it works best if you do it early and often.

      When you FIRST start talking about getting together or dating or even exes, or feel that you are getting vibes and are in some sort of gray area, you can say:

      “You know, I have really learned a lot about myself from past relationships. I know that I am not the type of person who can have sex casually. If I have sex with someone, I will most likely start to think that he is my boyfriend, and that we are in an exclusive, committed relationship.”

      If he has any human decency (most do), he will back off if he is not sure. And stick to it. Suss him out. Ask around about him. He should be doing everything stinking thing EMK says he has to do to be your boyfriend before you have sex with him. If that is what you want.

      If you have managed a workaround for the secondary biological responses to sex that happen in your brain, and don’t mind the possibility of dealing with a pregnancy (or just the resulting uncertain wait until you get your period), or potentially having their stem cells and gametes in your body cavities – by having just ONS, numbing yourself with alcohol, or otherwise “intellectualizing” it, well good for you.

      But don’t, just don’t, make someone feel bad or unintelligent for having expectations of the people with whom one is the most intimate. Not cluing them in on the expectations is the problem, and it is a common one that is easily avoidable in the future.



  20. 60

    Ugh Fiona…here with you. Just ended two months of dating someone in tears. He was still litigating his divorce (2 years in the mess). I should have known that given that emotional and financial draw he wasn’t 100 available. Oh, and on our first date he did say he “needed to learn to be on his own and enjoy the last 2 years his kids were at home.” But, a las he was very well suited for me… so I took a chance. I have this hope, zest and dreamy side that I can’t kick. 🙂 We dated blissfuly until Saturday, wherein after a wonderfully romantic and expensive dinner, followed by wine and chocolate, he uttered, you known how you told me you needed to feel safe to be intimate, I can’t do that right now, because I am so messed up from the divorce and loosing a partner of 25 years. Tears, ego shot to the heart, followed by him pleading to still be friends, and me having to tell him how much I liked him, but that for my hearts sake I could only see him when he was emotionally available to be my lover and best friend.  

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