For men, sex is portrayed as central to male identity, men prefer nonrelational sex, and men are active sexual agents. Women are portrayed as sexual objects, sexually passive compared to men, and women act as sexual gatekeepers. Sexual script theory is generally vague when it comes to origins, focusing more on descriptions of scripts. Wiederman , Phillips , and Jhally have argued that scripts are not only sexualized but also gendered, with underlying sexual messages being noticeably different for men and women.
Many researchers Jhally, ; Kim et al. But this does little to explain why the media industry produces these scripts in the first place. It is not by accident that consumer behavior can be well-explained by those products most salient to human survival and reproduction, and why messages of love and sex are among the most producible Saad, But, on their own, both the evolutionary perspective and the social scripts perspective have thus far been inadequate in fully unpacking the origin of sexual messages, their propagation, and their social retention.
Without identifying a primary, hierarchal, origin, it is likely that media is reflecting actual behavioral change in a circular way—media is a reflection of our evolutionary penchants, further exaggerated and supported by the presumption that it is popular.
Images of a polymorphous sexuality that decenters the reproductive motive and focuses instead on sexual pleasure are consistently appearing in popular media. It seems plausible that sexual scripts in popular entertainment media are exaggerated examples of behaviors that are taken to an extreme for the purposes of media sensationalism and activation of core guttural interests.
Conflicting gendered scripts may contribute to mixed perceptions and expectations of hookups. The first sexual experiences described by the 30 participants were almost all quite negative and, in some cases, horrific. Many women find the discrepant messages difficult to navigate: Messages often portray the sexually assertive woman as a woman who has extreme difficulty in being genuine and having a meaningful romantic relationship.
Psychoanalytic analysis views this conflict as the Madonna—whore dichotomy, where women face challenges in being viewed as both a sexually expressive being and a maternal committed being, and at the same time their romantic or sexual partners face challenges with categorizing women as one or the other Welldon, Presumably, these same conflicting discourse messages can make it difficult for individuals to psychologically navigate hookups, including sexual decision-making.
There seems to be inconsistency in the scripts pertaining to the casualness and emotional investment in causal sexual encounters. An example of this disconnect is presented by Backstrom, Armstrong, and Puentes , whose study examined the responses of 43 college women who described their difficulties in their negotiations of cunnilingus, such as desiring it in a hookup or not desiring it in a relationship.
Yet, in interviews, participants also expressed distinct discomfort with these extrarelational scripts. Men voiced alternative definitions that highlighted emotional connection and the potential for committed romantic relationships. While contrary to no-strings attached hookup discourse, these alternative romance and commitment-oriented scripts are not surprising. Similar discourse messages are present in other aspects of popular media. It is curious that, although purporting to regale the audience with nonrelational sex, the previously mentioned films Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached also highlight this; in the end, couples in both movies actually end up in seemingly monogamous romantic relationships.
Although the evolutionary reproductive motives produce contradictory motivations, for both short-term sex and long-term commitment, some media scripts apparently do the same. Despite the high prevalence of uncommitted sexual behavior, emerging adults often have competing nonsexual interests.
Although there is a proportional sex difference, note that a substantial majority of both sexes would prefer a romantic relationship, despite their particular developmental stage of emerging adulthood. The gender differences observed are modest, and point to the convergence of gender roles in hookup culture; even though there are some gender differences, it should not be ignored that the curves overlap significantly. Just as the discourse of hooking up is often in conflict with itself, individuals often self-identify a variety of motivations for hooking up.
That a substantial portion of individuals reported emotional and romantic motivations appears to be in apparent conflict with the sexual strategies framework discussed earlier, which predicts significant sex differences. Indeed, some hookups turn into romantic relationships. Paik a found that individuals in relationships that start as hookups or FWBs report lower average relationship satisfaction. However, this varied as a function of whether the participants initially wanted a relationship.
If individuals were open to a serious committed relationship initially, relationship satisfaction was just as high as those who did not engage in initially uncommitted sexual activity prior to starting a relationship Paik, a. The entanglement of more intimate and emotional aspects with sex is something the romantic comedy movies mentioned earlier highlight. Again in seeming contrast to the sex-specific mating strategies, contemporary hookup behavior involves a high degree of female sexual assertiveness for sexual desire and pleasure.
Contrary to some media messages, individuals do not appear to be engaging in truly no-strings attached sex. Competing interests at multiple levels result in young adults having to negotiate multiple desires, and multiple social pressures.
Again, the most fruitful explanation is that both men and women have competing sexual and romantic interests, with tremendous individual differences in such desires.
As such, the simultaneous motivations for sex and romance may appear different. The origins of these pro-sex scripts have been theorized to be due to a subculture focused on male sexuality Mealey, Because same-sex relationships are naturally removed from the reproductive motive, it may be possible that part of the larger hookup culture is borrowed from sexual subcultures involving greater emphasis on the positive erotic. Most students reported not considering or realizing their own health risks during hookups, particularly those that occurred within their own community such as with someone else on their own college campus.
Compounding disease risks, individuals involved in hookups are more likely to have concurrent sexual partners Paik, b. In a sample of 1, college students, among the students who had engaged in oral sex, anal sex, or vaginal intercourse in their most recent hookup, only Although, in Paul et al.
Health-based hookup research like this may lead to programs for correcting misperceptions of sexual risk and sexual norms to ultimately restore individual locus of control over sexual behavior, reproductive rights, and healthy personal decision-making. In addition to sexual risk-taking, in terms of low condom use, another issue of concern involving hookups is the high comorbidity with substance use.
Alcohol use has also been associated with type of hookup: In one study of men and women who had engaged in an uncommitted sexual encounter that included vaginal, anal, or oral sex, participants reported their intoxication levels: Alcohol may also serve as an excuse, purposely consumed as a strategy to protect the self from having to justify hookup behavior later Paul, This paints a picture very different from popular representations of alcohol and substance use in hookups, which are often handled with a detached air of humor.
A Journal Chronicle Books, is playfully described by the publisher: Although alcohol and drugs are likely a strong factor, it is still largely unclear what role individual differences play in shaping decisions to engage in hookups. Other factors may include media consumption, personality, and biological predispositions. Garcia, MacKillop, et al. This suggests that biological factors that contribute to motivating the different contexts of sexual behavior for both men and women may be fairly sexually monomorphic Garcia, Reiber, et al.
This may, in some cases, point to fairly stable individual differences. The discrepancy between behaviors and desires, particularly with respect to social—sexual relationships, has dramatic implications for physical and mental health. Despite widespread allure, uncommitted sexual behavior has been shown to elicit a pluralistic ignorance response promoting individuals to engage in behaviors regardless of privately feeling uncomfortable with doing so Lambert et al.
Misperception of sexual norms is one potential driver for people to behave in ways they do not personally endorse. In a replication and extension of Lambert et al. Hookup scenarios may include feelings of pressure and performance anxiety. In Paul et al. Note that this study asked participants about typical hookups, and although this was informative for general patterns, it does not capture specific factors influencing specific individual scenarios.
However, this same study found that feelings differed during compared to after hookups: An individual history of hookup behavior has been associated with a variety of mental health factors. In a recent study of young adults followed across a university semester, those participants with more depressive symptoms and greater feelings of loneliness who engaged in penetrative sex hookups subsequently reported a reduction in both depressive symptoms and feelings of loneliness Owen et al.
At the same time, those participants who reported less depressive symptoms and fewer feelings of loneliness who engaged in penetrative sex hookups subsequently reported an increase in both depressive symptoms and feelings of loneliness Owen et al. In another study, among sexually experienced individuals, those who had the most regret after uncommitted sex also had more symptoms of depression than those who had no regret Welsh et al.
In the first study to investigate the issue of self-esteem and hookups, both men and women who had ever engaged in an uncommitted sexual encounter had lower overall self-esteem scores compared to those without uncommitted sexual experiences Paul et al. The potential causal direction of the relationship between self-esteem and uncommitted sex is yet unclear Paul et al.
Hookups can result in guilt and negative feelings. The percentage of women expressing guilt was more than twice that of men. This is consistent with a classic study by Clark and Hatfield , which demonstrated that men are much more likely than women to accept casual sex offers from attractive confederates. Conley replicated and extended this finding, demonstrating that, under certain conditions of perceived comfort, the gender differences in acceptance of casual sex is diminished.
Possibly contributing to findings on gender differences in thoughts of worry, in a sample of undergraduate students, more women than men leaned toward a relationship outcome following a hookup. It is possible that regret and negative consequences result from individuals attempting to negotiate multiple desires.
It is likely that a substantial portion of emerging adults today are compelled to publicly engage in hookups while desiring both immediate sexual gratification and more stable romantic attachments.
Not all hookup encounters are necessarily wanted or consensual. In a sample of college students, participants noted that a majority of their unwanted sex occurred in the context of hookups: Even more worrisome, a proportion of hookups also involve nonconsensual sex. In a study by Lewis et al. Unwanted and nonconsensual sexual encounters are more likely occurring alongside alcohol and substance use. A number of studies have included measures of regret with respect to hookups, and these studies have documented the negative feelings men and women may feel after hookups.
In a large web-based study of 1, undergraduate students, participants reported a variety of consequences: A vast majority of both sexes indicated having ever experienced regret. There were few sex differences in reasons for regret, and better quality sex reduced the degree of regret reported Fisher et al. It appears the method of asking participants whether and when they had experienced regret i.
On average, both men and women appear to have higher positive affect than negative affect following a hookup. Those with positive attitudes toward hookups and approval of sexual activity show the greatest positive affect Lewis et al. However, there are also negative consequences experienced by both sexes.
Two types of sexual encounters were particularly predictive of sexual regret: Among a sample of 1, individuals who had experienced a previous one-night stand, Campbell showed that most men and women have combinations of both positive and negative affective reactions following this event. There are substantial individual differences in reactions to hookups not accounted for by gender alone.
The gap between men and women is notable, and demonstrates an average sex difference in affective reactions. Yet, this finding also conflicts with a strict sexual strategies model because more than half of women were glad they engaged in a hookup and they were not in the context of commandeering extrapartner genes for offspring.
With respect to scripts, although presumably being sexually agentic e. Although the direction of the sex differences is in agreement with the evolutionary model, that nearly a quarter of women report primarily positive reactions is inconsistent with a truly sex-specific short-term mating psychology and with discourse messages of uncommitted sex being simply pleasurable.
Also inconsistent with both of these theoretical models is that a quarter of men experience negative reactions. Taken alone, neither a biological nor social model is sufficient to explain these individual differences. Some research has considered the interactions of sex and individual differences in predicting hookup behavior.
In this regard, there are sex differences in cognitive processes, but one cannot necessarily presume that the sexes vary fundamentally in their behavioral potentials; rather, they vary in their decision-making, consistent with other evolutionary models. It is still unclear the degree to which hookups may result in positive reactions, and whether young men and young women are sexually satisfied in these encounters.
Fine has argued that sex negativity is even more pronounced for women and the possibility of desire seems to be missing from the sexual education of young women. Armstrong, England, and Fogarty addressed sexual satisfaction in a large study of online survey responses from 12, undergraduates from 17 different colleges. In this study, men reported receiving oral sex both in hookups and in relationships much more than women. In both contexts, men also reached orgasm more often than women.
A challenge to the contemporary sexual double standard would mean defending the position that young women and men are equally entitled to sexual activity, sexual pleasure, and sexual respect in hookups as well as relationships. To achieve this, the attitudes and practices of both men and women need to be confronted.
Men should be challenged to treat even first hookup partners as generously as the women they hook up with treat them. Taken together, this points to a need for further and more diverse attention to the impact of hookups on the physical and mental health of individuals, as recommended by Heldman and Wade Further, more attention is needed on potential positive aspects of hooking up, such as promoting sexual satisfaction and mutual comfort and enjoyment see Armstrong et al.
Hookups are part of a popular cultural shift that has infiltrated the lives of emerging adults throughout the Westernized world. The past decade has witnessed an explosion in interest in the topic of hookups, both scientifically and in the popular media.
Research on hookups is not seated within a singular disciplinary sphere; it sits at the crossroads of theoretical and empirical ideas drawn from a diverse range of fields, including psychology, anthropology, sociology, biology, medicine, and public health.
The growth of our understanding of the hookup phenomenon is likely predicated on our ability to integrate these theoretical and empirical ideas into a unified whole that is capable of explaining the tremendous variety in human sexual expression. Both evolutionary and social forces are likely facilitating hookup behavior, and together may help explain the rates of hookups, motivations for hooking up, perceptions of hookup culture, and the conflicting presence and lack of sex differences observed in various studies.
Several scholars have suggested that shifting life-history patterns may be influential in shaping hookup patterns. Together, the research reviewed here can help us better understand the nature of uncommitted sex today. It is worth noting, however, that several shortcomings in our knowledge continue to impede the understanding of hookup behavior.
Much of the research asking participants about previous hookup relationships may therefore be biased due to recall. The literature reviewed here primarily focuses on heterosexual hookups among emerging adults, with some researchers not controlling for sexual orientation some purposefully and others restricting to exclusively heterosexual samples. Future hookup research should venture into the MSM literature to explore patterns of casual sex among these populations to understand other sexual subcultures where uncommitted sexual behavior is prevalent.
Moreover, there exists little published literature on the hookup patterns among lesbians and women who have sex with women. Understanding hookups during the critical stage of late adolescent development and young adulthood is paramount for protecting and promoting healthy sexuality and healthy decision-making among emerging adults. Of the varied experiences and health risks young men and young women will experience, perhaps none are as pervasive and widely experienced as engagement in and desire for romantic attachments and experiences with sexual activity.
This review suggests that uncommitted sex, now being explored from a variety of disciplinary and theoretical perspectives, is best understood from a biopsychosocial perspective that incorporates recent research trends in human biology, reproductive and mental health, and sexuality studies. Both popular scripts and predictions from evolutionary theory suggest that a reproductive motive may influence some sexual patterns, such as motivation and regret following uncommitted sex.
However, patterns of casual sex among gay men highlight inadequacies of the reproductive motive and suggest that further theorizing is necessary before a satisfactory evolutionarily informed theory can be established.
We thank Melanie Hill for valuable discussion and feedback on an earlier draft of this review. We also thank Maryanne Fisher and Catherine Salmon for helpful editorial feedback. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Author manuscript; available in PMC Jun 1. Garcia , Chris Reiber , Sean G.
Massey , and Ann M. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Justin R. See other articles in PMC that cite the published article. Cultural Shifts in Dating Hookup culture has emerged from more general social shifts taking place during the last century. Representation of Hookups in Popular Culture Contemporary popular culture is now ripe with examples that depict and often encourage sexual behavior, including premarital and uncommitted sex. Hookup Venues Among college students, hookups have been reported in a variety of college settings.
Theoretical Frameworks for Hookup Research An interdisciplinary biopsychosocial model can synthesize traditionally disconnected theoretical perspectives and provide a more holistic understanding of hookup culture.
In their comparison of theoretical models, they found that attachment fertility theory posits that short-term mating and other forms of mating outside of pair-bonds are natural byproducts of a suite of attachment and care-giving mechanisms… selected for in human evolutionary history to ultimately enable men and women to seek, select, create, and maintain a pair-bond… pointing to an increasingly coherent picture of the underlying biological and chemical systems involved… that generally operate similarly for men and women.
Prevalence of Alcohol and Drugs In addition to sexual risk-taking, in terms of low condom use, another issue of concern involving hookups is the high comorbidity with substance use. Hookup Culture and Psychological Well-Being The discrepancy between behaviors and desires, particularly with respect to social—sexual relationships, has dramatic implications for physical and mental health.
Hookup Regret A number of studies have included measures of regret with respect to hookups, and these studies have documented the negative feelings men and women may feel after hookups. Conclusion Hookups are part of a popular cultural shift that has infiltrated the lives of emerging adults throughout the Westernized world.
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