College students aren’t having as much sex as everyone thinks, professor Lisa Wade writes in American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus. Instead, most students are just talking about hooking up—and participating in a set of rituals that goes along with it.
Wade describes the cycle: pregaming in dorm rooms, dirty dancing at parties and then pairing off in bedrooms where actual sex may or may not occur. The next day, the events are discussed obsessively with friends. The pair who hooked up follow rigid rules, avoiding each other to prove the hookup was meaningless. The next weekend, the whole thing starts again.
To compile specifics about sexual behavior, Wade relied on journals prepared by three classes of freshmen. These journals are predictably scintillating. It’s important to remember, though, that they were prepared for a professor and may therefore be regarded with some skepticism. Wade complements the journals with data from national surveys, dissertation studies and journalistic accounts.
As a teacher at a residential college, I was not totally persuaded by Wade’s representation of sex culture on campuses—there are many students who opt into social circles with other kinds of rituals, and there’s more nuance and complexity in campus culture. Still, American Hookup could be a helpful conversation starter—and Wade’s takeaways about how to make the culture of hooking up kinder and more compassionate are well supported and important.