August 13, 2013

Study: College students aren't having more sex than in '80s, '90s

Young adults may be more open about sex, but new evidence belies tales of the "hookup culture."

By KATY MURPHY/Oakland Tribune

They may be more frank about their sexual adventures — and have many more ways to share those stories with the world — but college students today aren’t having any more sex than they were in the ’80s and ’90s, according to a new study. Tales of a new, no-strings-attached “hookup culture” on college campuses — as seen on the anonymous “UC Berkeley hookups” Facebook page — are mostly exaggerated, the analysis found.

Young adults in the past decade had no more partners and sex no more often than those surveyed 10 or 20 years earlier, said Martin Monto, a University of Portland sociologist, whose study, “A new standard of sexual behavior?” was released Tuesday.

“I am not surprised, to be honest, that the numbers haven’t changed,” said Elisabeth Bahadori, a University of California, Berkeley, student who writes for the campus newspaper’s Sex on Tuesday column. “I think the media overhypes how sexualized college students are.”

It’s easy to see how colorful anecdotal accounts might trump the statistics; online forums contain an abundance of steamy material that was largely private a generation ago.

“To the guy who gave me the best study break of my life in between the bookshelves at Main Stacks — you rock my world,” wrote one poster to the anonymous, open “UC Berkeley hookups” site on Facebook. “I’ll be needing you again sometime this week. Call me ;-)”

Bahadori says students in her generation are more aware of their sexuality and less constricted by “old-school values.”

“I think people are trying to deal with their sex lives from a more honest place, and I think that’s admirable,” she said.

The hookup culture so fascinated a former Stanford professor that in 2005 she surveyed students on campus about their relationships. She discovered that hookups, rather than dates, often led to exclusive relationships.

“Today, on college campuses … the traditional date is nearly dead,” wrote Paula England, who is now teaching at New York University.

Although Bahadori and others noted that college students — women, especially — tend to be more open about their sex lives, some said commitment-free physical relationships happened rarely, if at all, among their friends.

“I’ve definitely heard stories like that, but I haven’t known anybody to have those kinds of relationships,” said Aaron Jameson, who will be a junior at UC Berkeley this fall. “I think sharing just physical intimacy and not emotional intimacy can be harmful.”

Students sometimes overestimate how much their peers are having sex, said San Jose State University’s associate director of campus wellness.

“I think there’s always that preconception that ‘Oh, maybe I’m the only one who’s not sexually active,’” said Laurie Morgan. “When you see the actual data, it’s enlightening for all.”

But relationships have slightly shifted since the ’90s, said Monto, who is presenting his paper to the American Sociological Association on Tuesday. Fewer young adults with at least one sexual partner had a long-term relationship in the previous year. They were more likely to hook up with a friend or a casual date. Because college-educated adults are marrying later in life, Monto said, they don’t necessarily see sex as something that must lead to marriage.

“A lot of my female friends always thought I was crazy to have a boyfriend,” said Krystle Bartholomew, who graduated from UC Berkeley in May.

Still, she said, “I’m not even thinking about marriage. I’m not even thinking about kids.”

 

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