Red solo cups litter the ground as young hormonal-infused 20-year-olds shuffle into a house with strobe lights filling every dark corner of the bigger rooms. Students attempt to avoid the spills of sticky unknown substances as they make their way past groups of party goers.
Hazy conversations and nameless interactions fill the air from the front door to the bathroom line, where dozens of kids look to relieve themselves for the third time of the night. But none of this late night conversing compares to the kind of physical foreplay going on in the basement.
A man dressed in a flannel and khakis, eager for the night to go somewhere exciting, spots a girl wearing high wasted shorts and a crop top. She is alone and clearly not dancing with anyone… this is his opportunity. He inches behind her and slowly moves his hips with hers. It takes just one ambitious sway from the man against his female counterpart’s waist before they are in sync, linked together for the next couple of songs.
“Casual hookups are such a big part of the social part of college,” said sophomore Will Reider.
Well known to incoming freshmen, hookup culture holds heavy weight in the social pressures that accompany students enrolled at universities.
“It’s an inevitable part of college as well as our generation,” Rieder said. “People go out, knowing they aren’t going to find a boyfriend or girlfriend, just have some fun.”
The concept of dating changes from high school to college—suddenly relationships are stressful, taking up time and keeping people from the “college experience.” Hooking up can provide an opportunity to fill the void for physical pleasure while rooting out the issue of emotional commitment.
“There is a lot more dishonesty when it comes to hooking up,” Rieder said. “People will say or do anything to get with someone. If you want to go out with someone, you need to be honest and some people don’t want that.”
So why does the mentality of sexual freedom change so much when welcome week rolls around? Stephanie Amada, a faculty member in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures at Michigan State University, has conducted extensive research on hookup culture and its enablers and consequences.
“Alcohol is the obvious one, [hookup culture] wouldn’t exist without it,” Amada said. “I believe a vast majority of hooking up takes place when it’s present.”
This liquid courage is a common trend among late-teen and early 20 year olds.
Amada said she believes alcohol provides people with the bravery to approach someone they think is cute.
“Some drink it intentionally so when they find themselves in the process, it’s okay,” said Amada. “They feel less inhibited and use it as an excuse.”
In addition to alcohol, Amada believes there to be a much bigger less obvious influence surrounding the lives of sexually active students.
“The media is the biggest one,” said Amada. “A lot of TV shows give the message that [hookup culture] is the norm and expected kind of behavior.”
Amada also finds the availability of tools such as plan B and condoms seem to be emphasizing what the media and alcohol already say is okay. Universities may not want to promote the culture, but they still retain a responsibility to reiterate practicing safe sex. It’s almost like posting on every dorm room: “Don’t do it, but if you do, use these.”
“They’re everywhere, ever-present,” said Amada. “They are being given the message it’s okay because of how readily available.”
A common theme that trails many random sexual crusades students embark upon is the promise of anonymity. When two kids meet up on the dance floor, this is very likely a spontaneous meeting between two unknown parties.
“Remaining anonymous is important for people hooking up,” said sophomore Alicia Geniac. “No one has to know. People can get drunk at parties, hook up then go home without ever knowing the person.”
Geniac also noted a darker side to a students attempt to remain unknown in their endeavors.
“Risk is created with people meeting on Tinder,” she said.
The smartphone application has been a contributing factor for anonymous hookups. After making an account featuring only their first name and five of their favorite self-flattering photos, users can swipe right or left on profiles of the preferred gender they are interested in meeting.
There aren’t many assumptions that can be drawn from ones profile besides their looks and the short bio they have the option of writing. If two people both show a mutual interest in one another, they can become “matched” and a message thread opens where they can get to know each other further.
“A barrier is created that I don’t think people mind having,” said Geniac. “It makes it easier and there are fewer pressures for it to go anywhere. But it’s still very dangerous.”
This barrier has led to ample opportunity for anyone seeking out an exclusively physical relationship. For some, the consequences are minor after a hook up.
“One of my frat brothers had been with a girl the night before when we saw him walking around the house,” said Rieder. “He looked like he had been attacked by a vampire just be looking at the purple bruise on the side of his neck.”
Facing the uglier side of this culture, there are plenty of chances for these kinds of engagements to make a student regret everything they had done in the recent past.
“There was a first year student who got pregnant by the first two weeks of college,” said Amada. “She had been with three different guys and therefore didn’t know who the father was.”
In truth, many don’t consider a potential pregnancy or colorful hickey being the result of the night. Students in the heat of passion, wrapped up in each other with alcohol buzzing in their brains and promiscuous thoughts traveling their minds, there isn’t much else teenagers are going to consider.
“We have become a more openly sexualized generation,” said Geniac. “Now people are more shy about asking people on dates, less about physical activity. It’s coming first, the physical activity is more common, less get to knowing.”