For many young adults, college can be a shocking and drastic transition from high school. College students must navigate a host of changes in their lives, such as challenging classes, living free of parental supervision, and meeting new people. The college dating scene is another area of life that is completely new for incoming students. The use of alcohol and drugs in social situations, as well as the pervasive “hookup culture” on college campuses, can be daunting and sometimes dangerous to navigate. In addition, sensationalized portrayals of college in mass media can be misleading and do not prepare students for the reality of college life. This article provides information on the college dating scene, as well as tips on how to navigate it in the safest and most enjoyable way possible.
Hookup Culture Perceptions Versus Reality
Many college students believe that their peers are engaging in frequent casual sex, and that hooking up is an important part of the college experience. This perception can lead to feelings of self-doubt and pressure to conform to the culture for students who are not engaging in such encounters. While there is nothing wrong with sexual experimentation between consenting partners, the prevalence of hookup culture is extremely exaggerated in the mass media and in many people’s perceptions.
According to the Online College Social Life Survey, the average graduating senior has hooked up just eight times during their entire college career. One-third of students don’t hook up at all during college. Additionally, the frequency of sexual encounters among young adults has not risen significantly in recent years.1 This survey data contradicts the popular assumption that hooking up is now the norm on college campuses and that there is something wrong with students who do not wish to participate.
One accurate perception of hookup culture is that alcohol is often involved in sexual encounters for college students. The majority of casual sexual encounters are preceded by alcohol consumption, often heavy consumption. This causes a safety concern, since partners are less likely to use a condom when they have consumed large quantities of alcohol.2 Additionally, alcohol causes an impaired state of consciousness in which people are unable to make the decision to consent to sexual acts. In fact, alcohol consumption is involved in approximately half of sexual assaults on college campuses.3 Due to the risks associated with alcohol and hooking up, it is important for students to be educated on safety protocol in order to have a positive experience.
Many of the hookups on college campuses take place at social gatherings with loud music, large numbers of people, and alcohol present. While these gatherings can be fun, there are also many risks involved. The following list provides advice on how to mitigate these potential risks and ensure the safety of yourself and those around you. While this list provides advice on avoiding unwanted sexual encounters, keep in mind that sexual assault is never the survivor’s fault if it does occur.
Start the night off by having a mental conversation with yourself (and your friends if you want) about your limits for the night.
Set ground rules for yourself and follow them. If you meet someone at a party and you like them, one possible rule you could set for yourself would be to not “hook up” with them until you have spent time with them during the day while you are both sober and can express your feelings more readily. Getting to know someone before having sex may decrease the likelihood of experiencing awkward encounters in the future. If you respect yourself and your partner, hooking up is not something you should be ashamed of. Everyone has different personal limits, but as long as you feel comfortable and stay safe, hooking up can help you experiment and discover more about yourself and your partner.4
Stick with your friend group. Make it a rule to not leave your friends under any circumstances.
Establish a code word or phrase with your friends to alert each other if you are uncomfortable in social situations. For example, if you are at a party and someone is attempting to pressure you into an unwanted hookup, you can say the code word to your friends and they can find an excuse to pull you into another room or leave the party altogether. This provides a discreet and easy way to escape unwanted or uncomfortable situations.
Know your limits. Many people enter college with no real idea of how comfortable they are in certain social or sexual situations. Many also enter without knowing their tolerance for alcohol. New experiences are a very big part of the college experience, but it is important that these happen with people that you feel comfortable with and will not push you past your limit.4
Use your campus’ escort services. Keep the escort service number in your phone so you can easily call a representative when you or a friend are alone (especially in the evening). While you are waiting for an escort to arrive, wait in a well-lit, public location.4
Make sure the door to your residence is locked at all times. Do not let anyone into your building complex that you do not know.
Be careful with your keys. Try attaching your key to a hair tie or bracelet on your wrist so you do not have to worry about it falling out of your pocket.
Put emergency numbers in your phone under your “Favorites” tab, so if your phone gets lost or you are unable to make a call, someone else can easily make it for you.
Make sure your roommate(s) know where you are and who you are with. This does not have to be a formal system. Many houses use a bulletin board in the house or social media to alert each other of their whereabouts (e.g., “going…study” or “getting…downstairs”). The “Find My Friends” iPhone app allows users to track each other’s locations, which can be helpful for friends or roommates to keep track of one another.
Know the basics of self-defense. Almost every college campus offers self-defense classes. Both men and women should become familiar with the basic mechanics.
Be aware of your surroundings at all times. When walking home or jogging in your neighborhood, make sure that you are not distracted. Simultaneously blasting music through your headphones and texting completely compromises your awareness of your surroundings.
College parties and hooking up may seem daunting, but you can reduce your risk of harm by following these tips. Always be cautious and aware of your surroundings, and you can enjoy a positive and enjoyable college dating experience.
What to Do If You Are Sexually Assaulted in College
Unfortunately, sexual assault is a prevalent phenomenon on college campuses. Approximately one-fourth of female undergraduates experience rape or sexual assault during their college career.5 Sexual assault can have devastating consequences for survivors, such as feelings of shame or guilt and even PTSD. Our site has an article detailing resources and options for survivors of sexual assault, which you can read here.
College campuses usually have additional resources for students who have been sexually assaulted. Many schools provide free, confidential counseling services where students can work through the aftermath of an assault with the help of a trained professional. Additionally, you can research your school’s disciplinary policy to find out if there is a way to report the perpetrator to the university.
If your school does not have these resources or you do not wish to use them, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at any time by dialing (800) 656-4673 . The hotline provides confidential counseling and advising to determine how to report the assault if you wish to do so.6
Dating and hooking up in college can be fun and exciting for students who are discovering all the freedoms that college life has to offer. However, the college dating scene can be unsafe at times and students should be aware of the risks before they engage in partying or hooking up. At the end of the day, being aware of your surroundings and taking steps to make sure you and your friends are safe will lead to a more fun, positive experience for everyone.
- England, Paula. Online College Social Life Survey.
- Walsh, Jennifer L., et al. “Do Alcohol and Marijuana Use Decrease the Probability of Condom Use for College Women?” The Journal of Sex Research, vol. 51, no. 2, 2013, pp. 145–158., doi:10.1080/00224499.2013.821442.
- Abbey, Antonia, et al. “Alcohol and Sexual Assault.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- “Staying Safe on Campus.” Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
- “Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics.” Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
- 6. “About the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline.” Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
Last Updated: 17 April 2018.