Want to Have a Hookup? What Does It Mean?

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Yet even though they were supplied with a definition, about nine percent of the students said hookups do not involve sex, just, in the researchers' words, "fooling around and kissing."

None of this is likely to come as a shock to college students these days, although some parents will probably find it disturbing. Holman noted that there is serious concern over the connection between hookups and the spread of venereal disease, as well as "non-consensual sex." Make that date rape, just to clear up any possible ambiguity.

Other researchers have voiced concerns over where the trend toward hookups is leading -- that as opposed to dating and developing a relationship with one individual. A recent study from the University of Iowa concluded that the United States "has seen a major shift toward nonromantic sexual partnerships, people becoming sexually involved when they are just casually dating or not dating at all."

Some would argue that what these people need is a good lecture on the dangers of risky behavior, but Holman said talking is not likely to make hookups go away. It's quite the opposite.

Her research, which was part of her master's thesis, revealed that the more people talked about it, the more acceptable the behavior became. Students who discussed it with their friends, especially close friends, were much more likely to engage in the same behavior.

"There's this perception that because they are talking about it, everyone's doing it," she said. But nearly half the participants in her study had not had a single hookup for the entire year, so not everyone is doing it.

But like making whoopee, or hanky-panky -- ambiguous terms from past generations -- hooking up is not likely to go away. It's a very different world than it was back when those terms meant whatever people wanted them to mean.

The activity hasn't changed much. But what has changed is the lack of a personal commitment, in so many cases, as a part of sex. Holman said she fears that will lead to more risky behavior, but her own research shows it's widespread, at least on college campuses, and the eventual result remains ambiguous.

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