Hookup Culture: Factors of Emergence, Research Paper Example

“You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals
So let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel
Do it again now”

Bad Touch (Bloodhound Gang, 2009)

These words from the popular song by Bloodhound Gang, it seems, best describe the essence of hooking up, a relatively new phenomenon in North American culture. It was named as the best song for hooking up or making out by male forum participants at BodyBuilding.Com website back in 2007 (BodyBuilding.com, 2007).  Indeed, hooking up, despite being a loosely defined and quite ambiguous term, its sexual connotation is evident. As a matter of fact, hooking up is all about getting sexual pleasure with a person that is unfamiliar or only slightly familiar. While different people would mean different things by hooking up  ranging from kissing or touching to oral sex to sexual intercourse, the defining features of hooking up are lack of commitment, lack of seriousness, and lack of attachment – all those things that are common for dating – ironically, an old-fashioned word today (Stepp, 2007).  Hooking up, this uncommitted sexual behavior, has become a widespread practice among young people today. If one asks why, the answer might be: above all, due to social factors: through social roles and sexual scripts. THESIS STATEMENT It is the newly formed perception of social roles and sexual scripts that leads young people to engage in hooking up and creates the hookup culture in North America.

In their biopsychosocial model, Garcia, Reiber, Massey, and Merriwether (2012) emphasise the role of social factors along with evolutionary (in other words, biological) and cultural ones.  In their interpretation, social and cultural factors explain how adolescents engage in hooking up, whereas the evolutionary (biological) theoretical approach explains why they get involved in uncommitted sex. Similarly, Fisher et al (2012) in their article Feelings of regret following uncommitted sexual encounters in Canadian university students emphasise that social factors have the same importance as the evolutionary ones since the social role theory provides background for explanation of sexual scripts that guide hookups. Fisher et al (2012, p. 45) observe that social roles and sexual scripts, in their turn, account for social factors that influence the formation of hookup culture. In particular, they impact how adolescents navigate their bodily desires within a specific sociocultural context (for example, within the frames of religiosity and peer expectations, etc (Garcia et al, 2012, p.164).

An important social theory that exposes the role of the social factors is that of sexual scripts. Sexual script theory assumes that people’s sexual conduct is conditioned by a range of “scripts” which are used to arrange and interpret various sexual encounters into clear conventions. In this context, scripts, specifically gender-normative scripts, dictate those behaviors which define who does what and also when, depending on the situation (for instance, men are assumed to initiate sex after a date, ask women to go out, pay the bill when on a date, etc). The overview of contemporary research into sexual scripts in Garcia et al (2012, p.166) exposes that the most common scripts produced and promoted in modern society are heterosexual and generally focused on the role of the man. Specifically, these sexual scripts posit men as active sexual agents, who see sex as a focal point of their identity and who opt for non-relational sexual behavior. On the contrary, females are described as sexual objects, who are passive in sexual relationship if compared to men, and act as sexual gatekeepers. In addition, researchers have found that scripts are not just sexualized, but they are also gendered, i.e. underlying messages that carry sexual information are evidently different for men and women (Ward, 1995; Jhally, 2007 in Garcia et al, 2012).

Sexual scripts within the social theoretical agenda are formed on the basis of certain norms that are dictated by and generally prevail in contemporary mass media (i.e. music, films, or TV shows). It is in modern lyrics that uncommitted sex is popularized. The reproductive motive is eliminated here, whereas emphasis is placed on sexual pleasure. It is this uncommitted nature of sexual behavior that makes modern songs stand out: themes of mating and reproduction have been popularized in operas and songs for centuries, yet the erotic did not have this no-strings-attached message. To illustrate, Kylie Minogue and Madonna’s works propagate sexual liberation (Garcia et al, 2012, p. 167).

In addition, the media tend to create conflicting gender scripts which are likely to contribute to mixed expectations and perceptions of uncommitted sex. For example, modern girls and women have been found to be torn apart between two images. These are the media created image of a “together” woman – an agentic and highly experienced woman who acts as Samantha, a character of Sex in the City, and the image of a good girl and a woman that can please (Phillips, 2000 in Garcia et al, 2012). Another dichotomy, as Garcia et al (2012, p.167) explain by the example of Madonna, is contradiction between the image of an expressive sexual woman and a mother as propagated by the media. While the media should, of course, be perceived as something that reflects our society, they should also be understood as a source of exaggerated examples of sexual behaviors which are deliberately led to extreme to make the media sensational and activate core interests (Garcia et al, 2012, p.167).

An empirical research by Smith and Aubrey (2008) into the factors of hookup culture emergence confirmed the exclusive role of various social factors. Initially, Smith & Aubrey distinguished 10 factors on the basis of exploratory analysis and later they united them in five providing empirically supported argumentation. Specifically, they focused on commitment: this referred mostly to lack of wish to invest certain emotional intimacy which is necessary to start a relationship at once (Smith & Aubrey, 2008, p.11).   Secondly, the factor distinguished by Smith and Aubrey (2008) is self-development/independence. This basically refers to wanting to center on oneself prior to engaging in romantic relationship and being free from some person. Thirdly, sexual and gendered norms are named as a separate factor. This applies to understanding that men who get involved in causal sexual relationships and in hooking up wish to experience emotional satisfaction and involve in emotional relationship as much as females do. It also suggests that females want to have sex as much as males do (Smith & Aubrey, 2008, p.11).

Other factors distinguished by Smith & Aubrey (2008) are peer support as well as friendship, perception of hooking up as a funny activity, status, and, finally, control and power. As for peer support and friendship, this factor accounts for peers that approve of hook-ups and includes stress on the importance of relationships (friendships) between same-sex peers over those relationships that may be called romantic (Smith & Aubrey, 2008, p. 11). Next, status is an important factor. It is about creation of a carefree persona through casual sexual encounters. Further, the factor of power/control refers to how much desired control or power a person exercises over the situation in which hookup occurs or over the environment where it occurs.

The Hookup Culture Endorsement Index , which consisted of 76 pieces derived from the factors described above, allowed obtaining responses from the study participants as to the importance of some factors over others. 69.9% said they had had hookup encounters, with 28.8% admitting they were eager to hook up in the future (Smith & Aubrey, 2008, p.15).   In due course of analysis, researchers condensed the factors into five: independence, reputation, no commitment, control, and fun (See Table 1).

Table 1. Five Factors of Hooking Up

Similarly, the book Sex at Dawn by Ryan & Jetha, explains factors that influenced the formation of certain sexual culture through analysis of sexual life in different societies. Their approach differs from the conventional one. While they make an attempt to undermine the basics of explanations provided by other sciences, Ryan & Jetha (2010) go beyond evolutionary and other perspectives. They maintain that changes in the society (e.g. changes in lifestyle, appearance of private property, etc) have led to changes in the perception of sexual culture and sexual relationships. Specifically, the way we act in sexual relationships has essentially changed. This was attributed initially to introduction of agriculture several thousands years ago.   Over the years, monogamous male-female bonds became the standard that was carefully created (Ryan & Jetha, 2010).

Yet, as appears from the book, men had needs outside the monogamous marriage which could hardly be satisfied in the marriage. This is represented as having a damaging effect on men’s sexuality and men’s nature (Ryan & Jetha, 2010). At the same time, women receive almost no attention in this regard. Women’s sexuality is beyond the scope of discussion. Anyway, the book implies the damaging effect of the societal limitations on men’s sexuality and nature in the form of the monogamous marriage. Therefore, from this research an implication can be made that the change of lifestyle – from hunters and gatherers to agricultural to industrial to postindustrial and mass society – has altered the nature of sexual relationships. Indeed, young women today are far less obsessed with getting married and giving birth to children. Typical for the mass society, both women and men value individual achievement more than kinship ties. Isolation is a widespread phenomenon. Apart from other types of societies, personal incomes are quite high. So females seek self-realization through education pursuance and career development, and many seem unlikely to wish to get seriously involved in a relationship before certain age (typically, around 25 years, as research shows) (Stepp, 2007).   Thus, the growth of the mass society favors the growth of the hookup culture.

Kathleen Bogle from La Salle University in her book Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus (2008) attributes the spread of hooking up in American society to excessive engagement of young people in workaday life. She says youth are so preoccupied with education and career that they find they have no time for establishing meaningful relationships like in dating. Instead, they go on establishing themselves. Among college students, who are the major audience of the hookup culture (Bogle, 2008; Stepp, 2007; Freitas, 2013), the hookup culture started developing rapidly once girls and boys were placed to live in the same apartment-style buildings on campuses, when they got unrestricted access to one another. In contemporary – mass – society, though, Bogle admits, it is not just college students actively involved in hooking up. Young working adults are found to engage in hooking up more and more often – in particular, due to spread of social networks and popularity of the Internet. Bogle’s research allows finding an answer to the question why it is in the United States that hooking up is so popular: the age Americans marry has crept up of late, with men marrying first at 27 and women not earlier than 25 (Bogle, 2008).   According to Bogle (2008), hooking up happens once young people who finish high school and enter colleges  realize they will not be getting married for the next 10 or even 15 years.

In conclusion, the emergence and spread of hookup culture may, above all, be attributed to the social factors. Analysis of a range of credible sources on the issue exposed the importance of societal influence on formation of hookup worldview and, respectively, hookup culture. The change from agricultural to industrial to mass society with its excessive detachment and isolation, devaluation of kinship ties, and value of successful careers has placed people in the environment where they no more have time to date, establish romantic relationships, and marry in the early age. Preoccupied with education and career pursuance, they prefer to be independent and emotionally detached. So, to satisfy their sexual needs, they opt for hook-ups. On the other hand, hooking up has been largely promoted by the modern mass media, pop singers, TV shows, etc. They form the perverted female image – as a sexually aggressive, agentive, and “together” woman. While this is mostly done to impress, exaggerate, and earn profits, the propaganda is readily absorbed. This leads to sexual and gender scripts being rewritten.

The conclusion that social factors are crucial in the formation of the hookup culture  leads to important implications. Once the society realizes the consequences of hooking up, it may find resources to turn the clock back. Indeed, too many young men and women are unhappy about this hook up culture, associating it with loneliness, boredom, isolation, ambivalence, and lack of intimacy, as is proved by Freitas research (2013).


Garcia, J. et al (2012). Sexual hook up culture: A review. Vol. 16, No. 2, Review of General Psychology, pp. 161-176.

Bogle, K. (2008). Hooking up: Sex, dating, and relationships. NYU Press.

Fisher, M. et al (2012). Feelings of regret following uncommitted sexual encounters in Canadian university students. Cult Health Sex, 14 (1), 45-57.

Freitas, D. (2013). The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy. Basic Books.

Ryan, C. & Jetha, C. (2010). Sex at Dawn. New York: Harper.

Smith, S. & B Aubrey, J (2012) Exploring the hookup culture: Factors involved in the endorsement of hook up culture.  Paper presented at the annual meeting of the NCA 94th Annual Convention, TBA, San Diego.

Stepp, L. (2007). Unhooked. Riverhead Books.