Scientists Study the Ubiquitous 'Booty Call'

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Andrea, a 20-year-old from California Polytechnic State University, casually hooked up with a guy she met at a party, but rather than making the humiliating morning-after call, she waited until 1 a.m. one Saturday night.

Remembering the good time she'd had with the green-eyed young man, Andrea picked up her cell phone and texted, "Let's meet up" -- for sex, that is.

"A lot of girls see the booty call as a no-pressure way to have fun with someone you may be interested in," said Andrea, a future horticulturist at the San Luis Obispo campus. "I guess it was my way of saying I had a good time and I'd like to see him again."

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"The call comes late at night and it's usually on the weekend," she said. "Your booty call is usually someone you know."

Availability of cell phones, texting and instant messaging have all shaped the mating rituals of late teens and 20-somethings, but none more so than the ubiquitous "booty call."

And now, its dynamics are getting a scientific look.

Just this month, South Alabama psychologist Peter K. Jonason published a study in the peer-reviewed Journal of Sex Research: "Positioning the Booty-Call Relationship on the Spectrum of Relationships: Sexual but More Emotional Than One-Night Stands."

The booty call is a "compromise" relationship, according to Jonason. For men, there's a "low-cost sexual component," and for women there's the "possibility of further commitment."

The booty call allows the man ongoing access to sex, although he must invest in some relationship building with the woman, according to the study. Most relationships last about three months.

"Women have needs just as men do," said Andrea, whose booty call was readily accepted. "They do it for different reasons. For some it's about attention and for some it's about satisfying [sexual] needs. It's pretty common."

A notch up from the older notion of "friends with benefits," the booty call involves "an underlying friendship, has some investment and longevity and may be characterized by emotionally intimate acts such as kissing," according to the study.

Jonason used the online tool, "Survey Monkey," to interview a total of 136 college students in two studies -- 60 percent of them women --- who were enrolled in psychology courses at the universities of Texas and New Mexico. The mean age of the participants was 19 1/2.

A 32-year-old social psychologist, Jonason isn't surprised that his study got wide press. "Some topics are, for lack of a better word, just sexy," he said.

What differentiates the booty call from the hook up or one-night stand, is that it is "characterized by equal amounts of sexual and emotional contact, which is unique," he said. "It's a placeholder until something better comes along."

Conventional Dating 'Scares' Young People

In today's culture, many young men and women are intimidated by dating. "The pressure involved scares people," Jonason said.

New technologies like cell phones also make booty calls easy and available at all times.

"Back in the 50s, if you wanted to call on someone you had to go to the house or call them on the phone," he said. "Now you don't have to worry about interacting with the girl's father."

Men seem to be the winners in this "game," according to Jonason, but women are more than willing to engage.

"Women want this -- no one is twisting their arms," he said. "The booty call is much less socially stigmatizing and protects women from the negative side effects of engaging in one-night stands."

The study showed women received more calls than men, which confirmed earlier studies that men pursue sex more often than women. Phone calls were the most common method.

Those who accepted based their decisions primarily on physical attractiveness, but also on good timing. Men said they accepted mostly out of a desire for sex, while women were more likely to accept because of a past friendship or compatibility.

Although men viewed the booty call as mostly sexual, women told researchers they saw them as a potential route to a long-term relationship.

From the male perspective, the booty call is about "no strings attached," according to James, a 22-year-old who works at an Arizona college.

"College students use being a college student as an excuse to be obnoxiously promiscuous," he said. "It's a way to keep your 'number' down and still getting what you want."

"It's basically a more moral alternative to a one night stand," said James. "Unfortunately, when girls sleep around with random people, it's far more frowned upon than when guys do."

Andrea agrees that the booty call is not always something girls are proud of. "In a circle of friends, we laugh it off," she said. "It's normal, but not something I want the whole school knowing about it."

"Girls tend to get attached and want something more, but have made the impression that they are duty-free booty, not girlfriend material," said Andrea. "I think a lot of times booty-calls can result in the girl feeling confused or used after sleeping with someone for an extended period of time, even though the girl made it clear she was okay with being just a hook up."

Tabitha, a 20-year-old junior at the University of Texas in Austin, agrees: "Women tend to be much more emotional," she said. "Even though they may act like they're not emotionally into it, they definitely are."

But some women are comfortable with no emotional involvement and warn that "clingy" girls should stay clear of the booty call.

"I don't like commitment so I'm happy when it goes no further than the booty call itself," said Lee, a 21-year-old from University of Texas. "I think it goes both ways. It just depends on the person if people view booty calls as a liberating thing or a slutty thing. I think booty calls are only meant for people who can handle it. You have to think like a man."

But some men who succumb to the booty call say they, too, have faced embarrassment or disappointment.

William, a 20-year-old Arizona State University student, describes a booty call as just a "temporary girl filler."

"Basically you both mutually want to hook up for the night with no strings attached," he said. "I definitely wouldn't say that it is healthy."

Once, he accepted a girl's booty call, and the roles were reversed.

"A friend of mine called me to hook up for a night and after that, she wouldn't speak to me for months," he said. "Ultimately, it makes you look and feel like a scum bag."

Booty Call: Nothing New, Say Sexologists

The booty call concept is nothing new, according to Judith Steinhart, a clinical sexologist from New York City.

"There have always been friends who have given each other various kinds of sex: comforting sex, sex for release," she said. "Now this might be sex for pleasure, and that is where the reactions of others get titillated."

"Booty call has the connotation of being on call, like ordering a pizza," said Steinhart.

"With modern technology, potential sex partners can call, text, tweet, or IM, so that the fear of rejection can be reduced by using playful flirting or testing the water," she said. "It's not face to face."

While the booty call is popular among singles in their 20s, it becomes "less interesting" as young people age, according to Pepper Schwartz, a University of Washington sociologist and the chief relationship expert at Perfect Match.com.

"A lot of things are thrilling and then they get repetitive," she said. "We don't have any reason to believe that people are so changed that they don't want to commit into a relationship of deeper connection and have a lifetime connection."

As the young wait longer to marry, the booty call "fills the gap until they are in a financial and personal state where they want to make a commitment," according to Schwartz.

Serious research on sexual behaviors like the booty call are important, she said.

"We care about what molds and influences the hearts and minds of our young people," said Schwartz. "We also worry from a public health perspective about the sex habits of all ages. We need knowledge to make the right recommendations."

Meanwhile, Andrea, who returns to Cal Poly as a junior in the fall, seems to be an anomaly -- her booty call is now her boyfriend.

"I accepted his advances because not only was he was attractive, but he made me laugh," she said. "He was aggressive but did not try to pressure me, which made me feel comfortable and wanted -- and the green eyes didn't hurt."

Now that they are committed, Andrea admits, "the intimacy is more fulfilling."

"It is hard to say it's better than before, because it's always been great," said Andrea. "But knowing that I am not competing with any other girls makes me feel more appreciated."

The mistake many girls make is that they pretend not to care about a long-term relationship, according to Andrea.

"I think that our situation worked out the way it did," she said, "because I never made it seem like I was uninterested in moving forward."

ABC News On Campus reporters Tia Castaneda, Chelsea Smith, Miriam Smith and Melanie Torre contributed to this report.

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