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Hookup culture affects college life, self-esteem

College is a time marked by exciting experiences. With the newfound freedom from parents, college is a place where one can unabashedly explore new things. One of those experiences is the one-night stand.

Hookup culture consists of engaging in casual sexual relations with no commitment to the other person. According to Winonan, the American Psychological Association found that 60-80% of college students have experienced a hookup.

Hookup culture has been present for decades. However, recently, mainstream media has welcomed a place for discussion around the phenomenon.

Gwena Ehlers, a sophomore studying women, gender and sexuality studies, gave her definition of hookup culture. 

“I think hookup culture is … finding physical pleasure in someone for a short period of time,” she said. “Not really learning about that person at all and just using someone’s body for personal gain.” 

She said this intimate experience often involves a stranger or loose acquaintance. Many students said detachment must be made, but removing emotions from a highly intimate situation is easier said than done. Jake Barnhart, a freshman studying communications, said a mindset is needed when participating. 

“It’s just a little bit more living life fast and then a lack of wanting to settle down,” he said. 

Over time, participating in such a fast, romantic and sexual life can take a toll on one’s psyche. Ehlers said men and women are socially treated differently when participating in hookups. 

“I think the mentality is that men are supposed to engage, and women shouldn’t want that and then for women who do want something like (a hookup)… they’re shamed for that,” she said. 

According to Ehlers, women can easily start to believe their body and their appearance are the best things they can contribute to society. She said participating in hookup culture can lead to this slippery slope.

“The worst thing that it causes is degrading your self-worth and your body image, because once you start seeing yourself as only a sexual object … it just becomes a toxic way of looking at yourself,” she said.

While this can heavily fall upon women, men too can fall into this rabbit hole with continuous participation in hookup culture. The American Psychological Association did a case study of young adults in college. It said, “Both men and women who had ever engaged in an uncommitted sexual encounter had lower overall self-esteem scores compared with those without uncommitted sexual experiences.”

Katelyn Knodell, a sophomore studying nursing, said there is the potential for being hurt when engaging in hookup culture. 

“It’s a lot of negative things, just because it’s very easy to get hurt,” she said. 

Hookup culture can be a space to explore one’s sexuality, but because of hookup culture’s nature, finding true empowerment can be difficult. Ehler said hookup culture can be masked through the guise of empowerment but is ultimately unfulfilling.

“The root of hookup culture is being disposable and being a one-night thing,” she said. “So, I don’t know if I would call hookup culture empowering.”

Ehler said to feel empowered by the experience, it is best to be in a safe space. 

“Engaging in your sexuality and exploring your sexuality can be very empowering,” she said. “It’s just a matter of doing it with people who actually care about you.”

According to students, participating in a one-night stand can be a fun, frivolous and flirty adventure. However, it also comes with a price. Even with the intense presence of hookup culture in college life, it truly depends on the individual and their choice to participate.

“It’s not for everyone but do whatever makes you happy,” Knodell said.


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