College Game Plan

Not Just Hookups: Dating Is Thriving On College Campuses, Survey Says

Think romance is dead, particularly on college campuses, where hookups are commonplace? Think again, say the authors of a new study.

The study, called "The Date’s Not Dead After All: New findings on Hooking Up, Dating and Romantic Relationships in College," surveyed 24,000 college students across 22 campuses.

”What it says is that casual sex is not the only option,” Arielle Kuperberg, an assistant professor of sociology at University of North Carolina at Greensboro, told NBC News. “There are plenty of people having more traditional dates and having long-term relationships. So students shouldn’t feel like if they don’t want to participate in hookup culture that they are going to be excluded from romantic relationships.”

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Image: Married medical students kiss after matching with hospitals in March 2015 in Irvine, Calif.
Married medical students kiss after matching with hospitals in March 2015 in Irvine, Calif. Mark Boster / LA Times via Getty Images

Kuperberg co-authored the study, which was published earlier this week. Among the other findings:

Myth 1: The hookup culture has destroyed dating on campus.

The study showed that the rate of dating and hooking up were essentially the same: While 62 percent of college students had hooked up, 61 percent had been on dates. Only a very small number of students, a mere 8 percent, had hooked up yet never been on a traditional date or involved in a romantic relationship.

Myth 2: Hookups suits those who have little interest in long-term relationships.

“Even we believed that men would be interested in casual sex over long-term relationships,” Kuperberg said. “We do find there are gender differences. Men do want hookups more than women do. But overwhelmingly, both of them want long-term relationships much more.” The authors found that not only did 67 percent of the female respondents say they wished they had more opportunities for long-term romantic relationships, but an even larger 71 percent of male students felt this way.

Myth 3: Hooking up with strangers leads to unprotected sex.

Kuperberg found that the contributing factors to unprotected sex during a hookup were heavy alcohol intake, marijuana use and knowing your hookup partner well. When students were friends with the person they were hooking up with or had repeated hookups with the same partner, they were less likely to use a condom but also less likely to have been binge drinking. The authors speculate that greater familiarity created a false sense of safety and a greater sense of trust that lead to more unprotected sex.

Myth 4: Hooking up is one and done.

“When we asked people about their last hookup, they were actually on average on their fourth hookup with the same person," Kuperberg found. A fifth of respondents said they knew their partner “very well” before their hookup. Hookups were not always just a single night, but rather the beginning of a longer term relationship.

Hooking up and finding romance are far from mutually exclusive: The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia found that 32 percent of marriages began as a hookup.

Lisa Heffernan is the mother of one college student and two recent grads. She is an author and cofounder of Grown and Flown, a site for parents of 15-25 year-olds.