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How Many College Hook-Ups Are There, Really?

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Suzanna Smith, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

If you’re a parent of a teen or young adult, you’ve probably familiar with the concept of “hook-ups”–unplanned sexual encounters that happen outside of a relationship, often after drinking. You might also wonder whether your child is involved in such behavior, which carries an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and sexual coercion.

A 2011 study in the journal Health Communication surveyed more than 200 college students to learn more about “hooking up” in today’s undergraduate culture. Students were asked how often they’d hooked up and how frequently they thought other students were hooking up. Students also described how often they and their friends talked about hook-ups, and how they thought their peers felt about the behavior.

While most students said they’d personally been involved in less than two hookups over the past year, a startling 90% believed the “typical” student hooked up 3 or more times a year. In other words, students definitely were overestimating how common these encounters really were. Peer influence played an important role, though, too; students whose peers talked frequently and approvingly about hook-ups reported hooking up more often.

Are you worried about your teen or college student getting involved in “hook-up” culture? Although it may seem difficult to fight the influence of peers, past research shows that young adults who communicate openly with their parents about sex are less likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. Staying in touch with young adults about love, sex and relationships is always valuable–in the teen years, and after they leave home.

(Photo credit: ASU Undies Run by Charles Siritho. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Cropped.)


Guzman, B., Schlehofer-Sutton, M., Villanueva, C., Dello Stritto, M., Casad, B. and Feria, A. (2003). Let’s talk about sex: how comfortable discussions about sex impact teen sexual behavior. Journal of Health Communication, 8(6), 583–598. doi: 10.1080/716100416

Holman, A., & Sillars, A. (2011). Talk about “hooking up”: The influence of college student social networks on nonrelationship sex. Health Communication. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/10410236.2011.575540

(Originally published in a slightly different form as: Church, C. (2011). Hookups and college culture. [Radio broadcast episode]. Family Album Radio. Gainesville, FL:  University of Florida.)