Sex Roles

, Volume 62, Issue 9, pp 661–669

To Hook Up or Date: Which Gender Benefits?

Authors

  • Carolyn Bradshaw
    • Department of PsychologyJames Madison University
    • Department of PsychologyJames Madison University
  • Bryan K. Saville
    • Department of PsychologyJames Madison University
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s11199-010-9765-7

Cite this article as:
Bradshaw, C., Kahn, A.S. & Saville, B.K. Sex Roles (2010) 62: 661. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9765-7

Abstract

Hooking up on college campuses has become more frequent than dating in heterosexual sexual interaction. Analysis of the relative benefits and costs associated with dating and hooking up suggest that women benefit more from dating while men benefit more from hooking up. U.S students (150 women, 71 men) at a midsized southeastern university indicated preferences for dating and hooking up across a number of situations and indicated the perceived benefits and risks associated with each. As hypothesized, in most situations women more than men preferred dating and men more than women preferred hooking up. Both genders perceived similar benefits and risks to dating and hooking up; differences provided insight into the sexual motives of college women and men.

Keywords

DatingHooking upGender differences

Introduction

Because hooking up has replaced dating as a means for heterosexual sexual interaction on U.S. college campuses, we sought to explore the perceived benefits and costs of hooking up versus dating for U.S. college women and men. We exposed college students to a variety of situations and asked the extent to which they would prefer dating or hooking up in each situation. Although past research has examined gender roles in college students dating (Laner and Ventrone 2000; Morr Serewicz and Gale 2008; Rose and Frieze 1993), as well as hooking up (Lambert et al. 2003; Paul and Hayes 2002; Paul et al. 2000), research has not explored college student preferences for the two forms of heterosexual interaction.

Traditionally, among heterosexual college students, courtship includes the practice of dating. Although dating can take many forms, research suggests that when asked what happens on a typical date, college students report a predictable pattern that is consistent with traditional gender roles, the man being active and the woman being reactive (Laner and Ventrone 2000; Morr Serewicz and Gale 2008; Rose and Frieze 1993): The man asks the woman to go out with him and informs her where he would like to take her and at what time. He then picks her up and takes her to the location of the date, pays any bills, initiates sexual activity (if any), and takes the woman home, ending the date. The woman waits to be asked out on a date, takes extra effort to groom, waits to be picked up, accompanies the man to the place he has chosen, accepts or rejects the man’s sexual overtures, and is taken home. Typically, drinking alcohol is mentioned by both college women and men as occurring on a date (Laner and Ventrone 2000; Morr Serewicz and Gale 2008). This dating pattern is the predominant one across various date contexts and assessment methods (Bartoli and Clark 2006; Morr Serewicz and Gale 2008) and seems to be what college students think of when asked what happens on a date. A date differs from “going out with a friend”; whereas a date implies romantic or sexual interest, going out with a friend does not.

On college campuses, in recent years, “hooking up” appears to be as popular as, if not more popular than, the traditional date (Gute and Eshbaugh 2008; Lambert et al. 2003; Paul and Hayes 2002; Paul et al. 2000). A hook up is defined as “a sexual encounter which may or may not include sexual intercourse, usually occurring between people who are strangers or brief acquaintances” (Paul et al. 2000, p. 76). Although casual sex or one-night stands are certainly not new phenomena, hooking up appears to have become normative on college campuses. In their survey, Lambert et al. (2003) found that 77.7% of female and 84.2% of male college students indicated they had hooked up. Paul et al. (2000) found that 78.4% of college students reported having hooked up, with a mean of 10.8 and a range of 0–65 hook ups. Paul and Hayes (2002) found that 75% of men and 84% of women had hooked up during their college career, with a mean of 10.28 hook ups. When casual sex is more narrowly defined as vaginal, oral, or anal sex with a non-dating partner, over one-half of male students (52%) and over one-third of female students (36%) reported having engaged in such behaviors (Grello et al. 2006; see also Gute and Eshbaugh 2008). Hooking up is not limited to college students. Of 7th, 9th, and 11th grade students who were sexually active, Manning et al. (2006) reported that 68.5% of the boys and 51.8% of the girls engaged in non-dating sexual intercourse.

Like dating, hooking up in a college student population tends to follow a pattern, although the script appears to be less detailed. Two people, usually strangers or casual friends, meet at a party or bar where they have been drinking alcoholic beverages; indicate their interest in one another through flirting, eye contact, or dancing; and engage in sexual behaviors ranging from kissing to sexual intercourse, with no commitment to a future relationship (Paul and Hayes 2002).

Although much research has addressed who hooks up and what happens during a hook up, little is known about the situations that facilitate or inhibit dating and hooking up. Likewise, research has not explored the perceived benefits and risks of hooking up and dating. Because, as indicated below, hooking up can have many negative consequences for women, including rape, we were interested in exploring the extent to which women and men prefer hooking up or dating. Based on previous literature of what happens on a traditional date and a typical hook up, we conducted a cost-benefit analysis of dating and hooking up for women and men.

Gender and Dating

Men and Dating

Traditional heterosexual dating among college students is a highly patriarchal affair in which the man usually has more control than the woman because he is both the initiator and decision-maker; the woman, for the most part, only has veto power (Bartoli and Clark 2006; Morr Serewicz and Gale 2008; Rose and Frieze 1993). Having this control can be difficult for men, who risk rejection from the outset when they attempt to initiate a date. Dating is also costly for a man both in terms of responsibility and finances. He is responsible for getting himself and his partner to the location of the dating activity, paying for himself and his date, and making sure the woman has a good time. The man also risks rejection if he attempts sexual overtures. These decision-making responsibilities can lead to stress and anxiety in college students who may be shy and lack confidence in their ability to successfully carry out all the dating functions (Himadi et al. 1980). Unlike women who date infrequently, college men who date infrequently report more anxiety about dating and fewer dating-related social skills (Leck 2006).

Traditional dating is not without benefits for college men: They decide who to ask out; they arrange the date at a time of their convenience; they choose to engage in activities they enjoy; and they decide when to end the date (Laner and Ventrone 2000; Rose and Frieze 1993). Nevertheless, the risks and stresses of dating may outweigh these benefits for some men.

Women and Dating

Traditional dating presents a very different set of circumstances for college women. Women tend to play a more reactive role in order to complement the man’s behavior (Rose and Frieze 1993). The woman chooses to accept or reject the man’s invitation to go out. If she chooses to accept, she becomes a passive participant. She is picked up by the man and taken to the dating location. Her activities are paid for by the man, and she is then taken home. If the man initiates sexual behaviors, the woman can choose either to engage in these behaviors or reject them (Bartoli and Clark 2006; Laner and Ventrone 2000; Rose and Frieze 1993; Morr Serewicz and Gale 2008).

Although gender roles may be changing, research suggests the changes have had little effect on traditional dating. Laner and Ventrone (2000) reported that 92% of college men and 78% of college women believed the man has to pay the bill on a date. Likewise, only 29% of women and 16% of men stated that a woman as well as a man can ask the other gender for a date. A female-initiated date leads to different sexual expectations than a male-initiated one; specifically, college men expect more sexual activity to occur when the woman initiates the date (Lenton and Bryan 2005; Mongeau and Carey 1996; Mongeau et al. 2004; Morr Serewicz and Gale 2008). Although date rape was perceived as unjustifiable regardless of the gender of the date initiator, Muehlenhard et al. (1985) found that college students perceived date rape as more justifiable during a female-initiated than a male-initiated date. Thus, men who receive date initiations from women may have expectations of enhanced sexual activity, which may be one of the reasons why women are reluctant to initiate them.

Despite women’s passive, reactive role, they receive many benefits in traditional dating situations. They have the power to reject a date initiation. They do not have the responsibility of planning the details of the dating activity and do not have to pay for those activities. They are usually expected only to look nice and be pleasant. They usually have the ability to accept or reject a man’s sexual overtures. The costs of traditional dating for women include not being asked out in the first place, engaging in activities in which they have little or no interest, and fending off unwanted sexual advances. Compared to men, it would appear that traditional dating involves fewer costs and responsibilities and is often less stressful for women. Finally, college women more than college men report relationship goals for dating such as companionship, intimacy, and having fun that can more easily be achieved through dating than through hooking up (Mongeau et al. 2007; Mongeau et al. 2004; Roscoe et al. 1987).

Gender and Hooking Up

Hooking up can be a much more egalitarian relationship than traditional dating. A college-student hook up involves two people, typically casual acquaintances or individuals, who have met earlier that evening, agreeing to engage in some sexual behaviors for which there is little or no expectation of future commitment. The sexual experience can either be completely spontaneous, or a person may plan to hook up with someone that evening without knowing his or her future sexual partner’s identity (Paul and Hayes 2002; Paul et al. 2000). Hooking up has become such a common occurrence on college campuses that students, even those who have never hooked up, report very consistent stories when asked to describe a typical hookup (Paul and Hayes 2002).

Paul and Hayes (2002) collected data from college students on what they would characterize as a typical hook up. They found that a hook up was preceded by activities such as flirting, drinking alcohol, hanging out and talking, attending parties, and dancing. Hook ups typically occurred at parties, in dorms, fraternity houses, at bars and clubs, and in cars. Alcohol and drugs were frequently involved and, unlike traditional dating, 60% of college students believed that either a man or a woman could initiate a hook up. The sexual behaviors during a hook up ranged from kissing to sexual intercourse. Participants reported that there was typically little or no communication between hook up partners, and the hook up ended when one partner left, fell asleep or passed out, or when one or both partners reached sexual climax.

Men and Hooking Up

Men have consistently expressed more comfort than women for engaging in sexual behaviors (e.g., Cohen and Shotland 1996; Knox and Wilson 1981; Mongeau et al. 2007; Oliver and Hyde 1993). Consistent with this research, Lambert et al. (2003) found that college men were more comfortable than women in engaging in a variety of hooking up behaviors ranging from petting above the waist to sexual intercourse.

College men would appear to benefit more from hooking up than from a traditional date. The flirting and brief interactions that precede a hook up make rejection less likely; and women sometimes initiate hook ups (Paul and Hayes 2002). The frequent presence of alcohol or drugs helps lessen men’s (as well as women’s) inhibitions and reduces the anxiety many men feel interacting with women (Himadi et al. 1980; Leck 2006; Öner 2000). Furthermore, at least within college samples, men are more likely than women to have sexual goals as the primary motivation for dating (Mongeau et al. 2007; Mongeau et al. 2004; Roscoe et al. 1987), as well as more positive attitudes towards casual sex (Oliver and Hyde 1993). These sexual goals can be more easily obtained at less cost by hooking up than by dating. Although frequent casual sex is associated with greater depression in women, this is less true for men (Grello et al. 2006).

Women and Hooking Up

College women consistently express less comfort engaging in sexual behaviors than do men (e.g., Cohen and Shotland 1996; Knox and Wilson 1981; Oliver and Hyde 1993). Lambert et al. (2003) found that in hooking up, college women expressed less comfort than men with petting above the waist, petting below the waist, oral sex, and sexual intercourse. Paul and Hayes (2002) reported that college women’s descriptions of their worst hook ups involved being pressured by aggressive partners to engage in unwanted sexual behaviors, including behaviors that would legally be considered rape. As mentioned previously, college women are more likely than college men to mention dating goals of companionship, intimacy, and fun, whereas men are more likely than women to mention sexual goals (Mongeau et al. 2007).

The sexual double standard can make women feel guilty about hooking up. Although there is some evidence this double standard has disappeared (Marks and Fraley 2005), most research suggests this double standard continues to affect the perceptions of women and men, such that women are derogated and men rewarded for frequent sexual activities (e.g., Crawford and Popp 2003; Smith et al. 2008), and the double standard continues to be endorsed by the media (Medley-Rath 2007). Paul and Hayes (2002) reported that following a hook up, college women often felt regret and shame for uncommitted sexual behaviors with a stranger they might never see again; men, on the other hand, rarely expressed regret and shame following a hook up. Hooking up can also be costly to women who risk unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Depression is also associated with hooking up. Eshbaugh and Gute (2008) found that feelings of sexual regret in college women were associated with having sexual intercourse with someone only once, having intercourse with someone they had known for less than 24 h, and receiving oral sex from someone known for less than 24 h—behaviors more likely associated with hooking up than with dating.

Of course, hooking up can provide benefits to women. College women can have an enjoyable sexual experience, feel wanted and cared for, and feel excitement (Paul and Hayes 2002); they can also enjoy a break from the traditional gender role restrictions associated with dating. However, on balance, men would appear to gain more by hooking up than would women.

Hypotheses

The evidence appears to suggest that women are likely to perceive more benefits from traditional dating than from hooking up, whereas men appear to be likely to perceive more benefits from hooking up than dating. Based on this cost-benefit analysis, we hypothesize that, overall, when given the choice between a traditional date and hooking up, women, more than men, will prefer a traditional date to hooking up. Given that women more likely than men seek more long-term relationships, we hypothesize that a woman’s preference dating over hooking up should be greater in situations that imply the possibility of a long-term relationship. In contrast, we hypothesize men, more than women, will prefer hooking more than a traditional date. We also examined gender differences in the perceived risks and benefits of dating and hooking up, but we did not make specific hypotheses. Because the risks and benefits differed slightly for women and men, we were unable to conduct statistical analyses for these items.

Although not based on it, we note that the same predictions can be made from an evolutionary psychology framework (Buss and Schmitt 1993; Trivers 1972). According to this perspective, women have higher parental investment than men and should therefore seek a long-term relationship. If a woman gets pregnant, she will have to carry the fetus until birth and then care for the infant. As a result, she will be careful with whom she mates, seeking to choose a partner who will help her care for the infant and provide resources for the family. Dating, more than hooking up, would give a woman the opportunity to assess the likelihood that her date would provide such resources. Men, whose parental investment at a minimum is to provide sperm, should be more interested in short-term relationships in order to impregnate as many women as possible and increase the likelihood of reproducing their genes. Hooking up provides men with such short-term sexual relationships.

In summary, we predict that women more than men will prefer dating to hooking up and men more than women will prefer hooking up to dating. We tested these relative preferences by presenting college students with an overall preference question followed by preferences across a variety of situations.

Method

Participants

Two hundred twenty-one undergraduate students (men = 71, women = 150) from a southern, public university volunteered to participate in the study through the Psychology Department participant pool. Most participants were first-year students (81.4%), White (89.1%), and heterosexual (96.4%), with an average age of 18.72 years (SD = .47). Asked to identify their current relationship status, 115 reported being single, 29 were in a relationship of 6 months or less, 76 were in a relationship of 7 months or more, and 1 was engaged.

Materials

Participants were given a definition of traditional dating and a definition of hooking up. Traditional dating was defined as “one person asks another person to do something together on a date and this may or may not turn into a committed relationship.” Hooking up was defined as “a sexual encounter, usually only lasting one night, between two people who are strangers or brief acquaintances. Some physical interaction is typical and may or may not include sexual intercourse.” They first answered 11 questions concerning the extent to which they prefer traditional dates or hooking up across a number of different situations: (a) overall, (b) when there was potential for a relationship, (c) when you had a friend with whom you could see the potential for a relationship, (d) when partner has a great personality, (e) when partner was physically attractive, (f) when you are interested in a long-term relationship, (g) when the person and you lived in the same residence hall or apartment, (h) when drinking was involved, (i) met an attractive person in class and there was no risk of rejection, (j) when you met an attractive person at a party and there was no risk of rejection, (k) when you met an attractive person when you were consuming alcohol, and (l) when you met an attractive person and no alcohol was consumed. Participants indicated on 7-point scales their relative preferences: 1 = greatly prefer traditional dating to hooking up, 2 = prefer traditional dating to hooking up, 3 = slightly prefer traditional dating to hooking up, 4 = no preference, 5 = slightly prefer hooking up to traditional dating, 6 = prefer hooking up to traditional dating, 7 = greatly prefer hooking up to traditional dating.

Next, participants indicated from a checklist the top three benefits and the top three risks to traditional dating and hooking up. We generated the checklists by asking other undergraduate students from the same university to indicate what they believed were the benefits and risks of each practice. Women responded for women in general (e.g., “What are the benefits to dating, such as the man paying for things?”); and men responded for men in general (e.g., “What are the benefits of dating, such as being able to choose where to go and what to do on a date?”). Because the benefits and risks of traditional dating and hooking up differed for women and men, our checklists were somewhat gender-specific. For the benefits of traditional dating, we listed 36 possible benefits for men and 34 possible benefits for women. Twenty-seven of these benefits were identical for both genders (e.g., “Traditional dating is romantic”), with the remaining possible benefits gender specific (e.g., for men, “You can ask anyone you are interested in on a date”; for women, “You have the power to reject a date”). For the risks of traditional dating, we listed 27 risks for men and 29 risks for women. Seventeen of these risks were identical for both genders (e.g., “Risk of a broken heart) with the remaining risks gender specific (e.g., for men, “You are expected to initiate sexual advances”; for women, “You are expected to deflect sexual advances”). We listed 32 possible benefits to hooking up for both women and men, the potential benefits of which were identical (e.g., “Hooking up is fun and exciting,” “Hooking up is sexually gratifying”). We listed 28 possible risks of hooking up for both women and men. Twenty-six of these possible risks were identical for men and women (e.g., “You risk being with a ‘bad’ partner,” “Risk of feeling shame/self-blame after the hook up”). Two items were gender specific. (“Risk getting pregnant” vs. “Risk of getting partner pregnant” and “Can get a bad reputation of being ‘easy’ or a whore” vs. “Can get a bad reputation of using women”).

Finally, after answering several demographic questions (gender, age, class year, ethnicity, religious involvement, Greek involvement, dating status, and sexual orientation), participants reported (a) how many times in the last 2 years they had been on a first date, (b) how many times in the last 2 years they had initiated a first date, and (c) the number of people with whom they had hooked up in the last 2 years.

Procedure

Participants signed up for the research through the Psychology Department participant pool and received partial course credit for their participation. Up to 45 participants at a time reported to a large classroom and were seated in every other seat, with women in the front half of the room and men in the back. The first author then distributed an information sheet containing general background information about the study, informed consent information, and a statement regarding participants rights. After everyone finished reading the information, she answered questions and then distributed the survey. Upon completion of the survey, participants returned the surveys to a box by the door. The survey took approximately 20 min to complete.

Results

An independent-samples t test revealed that men (M = 2.79, SD = 3.09) initiated significantly more first dates in the past 2 years than women (M = .45, SD = .90), t (218) = −8.56, p < .001. There was not, however, a significant gender difference in the number of first dates, t (216) = −2.06, p = .15, or the number of hook ups, t (215) = −1.21, p = .28, in the past 2 years. For both men and women, the number of hook ups was nearly double the number of first dates. Women reported an average of 2.31 (SD = 2.04) first dates and 4.34 (SD = 7.77) hook ups; men reported an average of 3.11 (SD = 3.72) first dates and 5.71 (SD = 7.63) hook ups in the past 2 years.

To test the hypotheses that women would prefer traditional dating more than men and that men would prefer hooking up more than women, participants responded to the question, “All in all, everything being equal, I would prefer...” The results are displayed in Table 1 and show support for the hypothesis. Although both genders showed a preference for traditional dating, there was a significant difference between men and women, χ² (5, N = 221) = 28.48, p < .001. Significantly more women (41.3%) than men (19.7%) greatly preferred traditional dating, whereas fewer women (2.0%) than men (16.9%) showed even a slight preference for hooking up. Overall, 95.33% of women and 77.47% of men expressed at least some preference for dating over hooking up.
Table 1

Percentage of participants expressing preference for traditional dating and hooking up.

 

Greatly prefer TD

Prefer TD

Slightly prefer TD

No preference

Slightly prefer HU

Prefer HU

Greatly prefer HU

Women n = 150

41.33% n = 62

46.67% n = 70

7.33% n = 11

2.67% n = 4

2.00% n = 3

.00%

.00%

Men n = 71

19.72% n = 14

45.07% n = 32

12.68% n = 9

5.63% n = 4

4.23% n = 3

12.68% n = 9

.00%

TD Traditional Dating; HU Hooking Up

Ten additional questions assessed the preferences for dating and hooking up across a variety of situations. Because we conducted 10 χ² tests, we used a Bonferroni correction (α = .05/10 = .005). We found both significant gender difference as well as gender similarities. Gender differences were found when participants answered whether they were “interested in a person who lived in the same residence hall or apartment unit” χ² (6, N = 221) = 38.77, p < .001. Whereas the vast majority of women (72.0%) preferred traditional dating, the largest percentage of men (40%) showed a preference for hooking up. We also found significant gender differences with women expressing more interest in traditional dating than men for the following questions: (a) “met a person you found physically attractive,” χ² (6, N = 221) = 25.96, p < .001; women = 60.67%, men = 39.44%; (b) “if there was no risk of rejection and the attractive person was met in class,” χ² (6, N = 221) = 21.84, p < .001; women = 66.0% and men = 39.44%; and (c) “if there was no risk of rejection and the attractive person was met at a party,” χ² (6, N = 221) = 31.83, p < .001; women = 45.33% and men = 21.12%. Men more than women preferred hooking up both when consuming alcohol with an attractive person, χ² (6, N = 221) = 26.41, p < .001; men = 77.41% and women = 60.0%; and when not consuming alcohol with an attractive person, χ² (6, N = 221) = 24.12, p < .001; men = 30.98% and women = 7.33%. The effects of alcohol can be seen in preferences between meeting an attractive person while consuming alcohol, X2(6, N = 221) = 28.64, p < .001, and not consuming alcohol, X2(6, N = 221) = 26.55, p < .001. Although there were significant gender differences, the majority of women (60.0%) and men (77.41%) showed a preference for hooking up over traditional dating when consuming alcohol with an attractive person; women (81.34%) and men (56.33%) showed a preference for traditional dating when not consuming alcohol with an attractive person,

No significant gender difference was found for “when you had a friend with whom you could see the potential for a relationship” χ² (6, N = 221) = 13.75, p = .03. In this case, both women (90.4%) and men (75.8%) showed a preference for traditional dating. A similar preference for traditional dating by men and women was found for the questions, “if you met a person who you could see a potential for a relationship,” χ² (5, N = 221) = 6.66, p = .25; “if you were interested in a long-term relationship with someone,” χ² (4, N = 221) = 6.86, p = .14; and “if you met a person who had a great personality,” χ² (5, N = 221) = 4.75, p = .45.

In sum we found both differences and similarities in gender preferences for hooking up and traditional dating. Contrary to our hypothesis, gender similarities appeared mostly in situations involving an interest in long-term relationships; gender differences appeared more frequently when a long-term relationship was not mentioned.

We also asked participants to choose their top three benefits and top three risks associated with both traditional dating and hooking up from checklists. We could not conduct statistical analyses comparing the responses of men and women because they were given somewhat different items (e.g., under risks of traditional dating, men were given the statement, “You are expected to ask a woman out on a date,” whereas women had the statement, “You are expected to wait to be asked out on a date.”). Women and men, for the most part, agreed on the benefits and risks. The top four benefits and risks for dating and hooking up can be found in Table 2. Regarding the benefits of traditional dating, 48.0% of women and 22.5% of men checked, “Your partner is a friend who you can disclose information/problems/happy moments/tough times with.” Likewise, 36.6% of the men and 31.3% of the women endorsed, “You have the feeling of being liked/loved.” Both genders (women = 26.7%, men = 19.7%) endorsed the statement, “Traditional dating is a more productive/healthy relationship,” and both genders (men = 19.7%, women = 19.3%) checked “You get to share something you enjoy with another person.” The only item in which the genders disagreed was, “Dating offers physical intimacy,” which was checked by 25.4% of men but only 7.0% of women.
Table 2

Top four perceived benefits and costs of traditional dating and hooking up.

Women

Men

Perceived benefits of traditional dating

1. Your partner is a friend who you can disclose information/problems/happy moments /tough times with (48.00%)

You have the feeling of being liked loved (36.62%)

2. You have the feeling of being liked/ loved (31.33%)

Dating offers physical intimacy (25.35%)

3. Traditional dating is a more productive/ healthy relationship (26.67%)

Your partner is a friend you can disclose information/problems/happy moments/ tough times with (22.54%)

4. You get to share something you enjoy with another person (19.33^%)

You get to share something you enjoy with another person (19.72%)

Perceived risks of traditional dating

1. Traditional dating is an investment of feelings and there’s a potential of getting hurt (42.00%)

Risk of being rejected (38.03%)

2. Risk of a broken heart (42.00%)

Traditional dating is an investment of feelings and there’s a potential of getting hurt (22.45)

3. Risk of losing a friendship if you cross a line (28.67%)

Risk of a broken heart (22.54%)

4. You risk being more interested in your partner than they are in you (24.67%)

Lose of some freedom/independence partner (21.12%)

In terms of risks of dating, there were similarities and differences between men and women. Both women and men checked, “Traditional dating is an investment of feelings and there’s a potential of getting hurt” (women = 42.0%, men = 22.5%) and “Risk of a broken heart” (women 42.0%, men = 22.5%). Women also frequently endorsed the statements, “Risk losing a friendship if you cross the line” (28.7%) and “You risk being more interested in your partner than he is in you” (24.7%). Men frequently checked, “Risk of being rejected” (38.0%) and “Lose some freedom/independence” (21.1%).

Men and women also agreed that the benefits of hooking up include, “There is no expectation for commitment” (women = 37.3%; men = 36.6%), “Hooking up is fun and exciting” (women = 33.3%; men = 40.0%), and “Hooking up is a ‘no strings attached’ situation” (women = 23.3%; men = 22.5%). In contrast, only women (20.7%) frequently checked the item “Provides a feeling of being wanted and desired,” whereas only men (38.0%) frequently checked, “Hooking up is sexually gratifying.”

There was strong agreement among men and women that the greatest risks of hooking up were contracting a sexually transmitted disease (men = 70.4%; women = 64.0%) and pregnancy (men = 33.8%; women = 38.7%). Men (22.54%) also checked the item “You don’t know the sexual history of your partner.” Women checked the statements “Wanting a relationship after a hook up and your partner feeling otherwise” (25.3%) and “Risk of getting emotionally attached,” (19.3%), whereas men (25.4%) checked “Your partner wanting a relationship/getting attached.”

Discussion

Over the past 2 decades hooking up and the traditional date have been ways for heterosexual college students to pair up. Dating typically involves a rather formal pattern in which participants know one another, or want to get to know each other, and there is the prospect of a future relationship. Hooking up usually involves a casual friend or stranger for which no future relationship is anticipated, although Grello et al. (2006) found a significant minority of female students (18%) viewed hooking up as a stepping stone toward a relationship.

We received support for the hypothesis that overall women more than men would prefer traditional dating whereas men more than women, would prefer to hook up. This proved true for a general, everything-being-equal question, as well as for some other specific questions regarding interactions in different contexts that did not imply a future relationship (lived in the same residence hall, met a physically attractive person, an attractive person in class or at a party when there was no fear of rejection). Contrary to our hypothesis, there were no differences between women and men’s preferences for hooking up or dating in situations involving a long-term relationship (a friend with the potential for a long-term relationship, the possibility of a potential long-term relationship, if one were interested in a long-term relationship, meeting a person with a great personality, and meeting an attractive person when there was no alcohol involved). As found in previous research (Mongeau, et al. 2007; Mongeau et al. 2004; Roscoe et al. 1987), women appear to seek relationships more than men and prefer dating to hooking up in most situations. However, when there was the potential for a relationship, men as well as women preferred dating to hooking up. The only situation in which a greater percentage of women preferred hooking up to dating was when consuming alcohol with an attractive person.

Contrary to our hypothesis, as discussed above, men as well as women preferred dating in situations in which there was interest in having or establishing a relationship. The situations in which a greater percentage of men preferred hooking up to dating involved brief interactions (met an attractive person while drinking or at a party or a classmate when there was no risk of rejection; or a person living in the same residence hall). Thus, although women preferred dating more than men in almost all situations, men generally preferred dating over hooking up only when there was a possibility for a relationship.

In Western society men more than women tend to separate sex from love, whereas women more than men link sex and love (Hatfield and Rapson 2005; Leigh 1989; Regan and Berscheid 1995). This distinction can be seen in participants’ perceived benefits and risks of dating and hooking up. Although women and men checked similar benefits and risks for both the traditional date and for hooking up, women more than men perceived that, in dating, a woman risked losing a friendship and being more interested in her partner than he was in her. Women also saw the risks of hooking up as wanting a relationship with her partner and becoming emotionally attached to him. Women more than men seem to want a relationship and fear, both in dating and in hooking up, that they will become emotionally attached to a partner who is not interested in them. The possibility of forming a long-term relationship can be more easily obtained through traditional dating, and dating does not lead women to be labeled a “slut” or to feel ashamed and depressed, feelings women sometimes have after hooking up (Eshbaugh and Gute 2008; Grello et al. 2006; Paul and Hayes 2002; Smith et al. 2008).

Men more than women viewed physical intimacy as a benefit of dating and sexual gratification as a benefit of hooking up. For men, a risk of dating was a loss of freedom and independence, and a risk of hooking up was having a partner who wants to have a relationship. Thus, men more than women seem to value independence and fear that even when hooking up, a situation that is typically viewed as free of commitments, a woman might seek to establish a relationship. Rather, supported by the double standard that labels men who have multiple sex partners as “players” or “studs” (Crawford and Popp 2003), men appear to gain status by having sexual encounters without the commitment of a relationship, and this goal can clearly be obtained more easily through hooking up than through dating.

If hooking up continues to be more frequent than dating, women might become increasingly at risk for feeling guilty, experiencing depression, and the possibility of rape. Grello et al. (2006) found a positive correlation between the frequency of casual sex and signs of depression in women but not men. Women’s feelings of guilt following a hook up were found in the present study. Eleven women and no men voluntarily clarified the number of hook ups they had in the past 2 years with the comment they did not have sexual intercourse with every hook up. Lambert et al. (2003) found that women were less comfortable than men with a variety of hooking up behaviors. Paul and Hayes (2002) noted that women more than men are likely to report feelings of shame and regret after hooking up. Kahn et al. (2000) asked participants whether they ever had a really terrible hooking up experience and what caused it to be so bad. They found that nearly half of the women’s (48.3%) but none of the men’s terrible hooking up experiences involved feeling pressure from their partner to engage in more intimate sexual behaviors than they were comfortable doing, including responses that suggested rape: “I hooked up with a guy who didn’t understand the meaning of ‘no’” and “I didn’t want to—he did—he wouldn’t back off.” This suggests that rape education programs should not only teach men that no means no, but also teach women how to be assertive about their limits when engaging in sexual behaviors.

A limitation of this—and indeed most research on hooking up—is that our sample was a convenience sample composed primarily of White, heterosexual, first-year college students. Indeed, very little research has been conducted on samples from other populations. Further research needs to address whether the preferences for dating versus hooking up remain consistent across the college years and occur with equal frequency across non-college students of the same age, of other racial and ethnic groups, and with other sexual orientations. It may well be that as students get closer to the age at which they begin to think about marriage, both women and men will increasingly prefer dating to hooking up. It would also be interesting to examine the preferences of adults who are not attending college. Mongeau et al. (2007) found differences in the dating goals of male and female college students: Whereas women sought more relationship goals, men sought more sexual goals. However, these differences were not found in a sample of non-college older adults, although the non-college sample was significantly older than the college sample.

Another limitation is that, although we defined traditional dating and hooking up for participants, we don’t know whether participants’ responses were based on the definitions we provided or their own definitions of what they considered dating and hooking up. Future research might explore whether similar results are found when participants are asked to provide their own definitions.

In the present research we separated women from men, and this may have heightened participants’ sensitivity to gender. We separated participants by gender to make for an efficient distribution of questionnaires that were slightly different depending on gender. This could be avoided in the future by conducting research on-line; however, this method might have other problems, such as self-selection of participants.

All research on hooking up to date has been quantitative; we know of no qualitative research that has sought to understand in more depth the dominant discourses (Foucault 1981) that motivate women and men to hook up or date. We had participants check from checklists the benefits and risks involved in dating and hooking up, but did not pursue this in an in-depth manner such as Phillips (2000) did to understand women’s reactions to men’s domination and violence.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010