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Help us improve your experience by providing feedback on this. With more emerging adults having casual sex, researchers are exploring psychological consequences of such encounters. By Justin R. Massey, and Ann M. This feature will provide you with updates on critical developments in psychology, drawn from peer-reviewed literature and written by leading psychology experts.
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A cultural revolution
It is an unprecedented time in the history of human sexuality. These developmental shifts, research suggests, are some of the factors driving the increase in sexual "hookups," or uncommitted sexual encounters, part of a popular cultural change that has infiltrated the lives of emerging adults throughout the Western world.
Hookups are becoming more engrained in popular culture, reflecting both evolved sexual predilections and changing social and sexual scripts. Hook-up activities may include a wide range of sexual behaviors, such as kissing, oral sex and penetrative intercourse.
However, these encounters often transpire without any promise of — or desire for — a more traditional romantic relationship. In this article, we review the literature on sexual hookups and consider the research on the psychological consequences of casual sex.
It isn't just for twentysomethings.
This is a transdisciplinary literature review that draws on the evidence and theoretical tensions between evolutionary theoretical models and sociocultural theory. It suggests that these encounters are becoming increasingly normative among adolescents and young adults in North America and can best be understood from a biopsychosocial perspective.
Hookups — defined in this article as brief uncommitted sexual encounters between individuals who are not romantic partners or dating each other — have emerged from more general social shifts taking place during the last century.
Hookups began to become more frequent in the s, with the upsurge of automobiles and novel entertainment, such as movie theaters. Instead of courting at home under a parent's watchful eye, young adults left the home and were able to explore their sexuality more freely. By the s, young adults became even more sexually liberated, with the rise of feminism, widespread availability of birth control and growth of sex-integrated college party events.
Today, sexual behavior outside of traditional committed romantic pair-bonds has become increasingly typical and socially acceptable Bogle, Influencing this shift in sexuality is popular culture. The media have become a source of sex education, filled with often inaccurate portrayals of sexuality Kunkel et al.
The themes of books, plots of movies and television shows, and lyrics of numerous songs all demonstrate a permissive sexuality among consumers. The media suggest that uncommitted sex, or hookups, can be both physically and emotionally enjoyable and occur without "strings. Another film, "No Strings Attached," released infeatures two friends negotiating a sexual, yet nonromantic, component of their relationship. Popular pro-hookup same-sex representations have Single women want casual sex Washington DC emerged in television series like "Queer as Folk" and "The L-Word.
When it comes to real life, most of today's young adults report some casual sexual experience. The most recent data suggest that between 60 percent and 80 percent of North American college students have had some sort of hook-up experience. This is consistent with the view of emerging adulthood typical college age as a period of developmental transition Arnett,exploring and internalizing sexuality and romantic intimacy, now including hookups Stinson, Although much of the current research has been done on college campuses, among younger adolescents, 70 percent of sexually active to year-olds reported having had uncommitted sex within the last year Grello et al.
Similarly, in a sample of seventh, ninth and 11th graders, 32 percent of participants had experienced sexual intercourse and 61 percent of sexually experienced teenagers reported a sexual encounter outside a dating relationship; this represents approximately one-fifth of the entire sample Manning et al. On average, both men and women appear to have higher positive affect than negative affect after a hookup. The gap between men and women is notable and demonstrates an average sex difference in affective reactions.
Similarly, in a study of college students, 26 percent of women and 50 percent of men reported feeling positive after a hookup, and 49 percent of women and 26 percent of men reported a negative reaction the remainders for each Single women want casual sex Washington DC had a mix of both positive and negative reactions; Owen et al.
However, both sexes also experience some negative affect as well. A of studies have looked at regret with respect to hookups and have documented the negative feelings men and women may feel after casual sex. In a large Web-based study of 1, undergraduate students, participants reported a variety of consequences: Fisher et al. It appears the method of asking participants whether and when they had experienced regret i. This is consistent with Stinson's message of sexual development requiring experimentation, including trial and error, good feelings and bad feelings. Another study identified two types of sexual encounters that were particularly predictive of regret: engaging in penetrative intercourse with someone known less than 24 hours and engaging in penetrative intercourse with someone only once.
Among a sample of 1, individuals who had experienced a one-night stand, Campbell showed that most men and women had combinations of both positive and negative affective reactions following this event.
Campbell also found that men had stronger feelings of being "sorry because they felt they used another person," whereas women had stronger feelings of "regret because they felt used. An individual history of hook-up behavior has been associated with a variety of mental health factors. In a study of young adults followed across a university semester, those with more depressive symptoms and greater feelings of loneliness who engaged in penetrative sex hookups subsequently reported a reduction in both depressive symptoms and feelings of loneliness Owen et al.
At the same time, participants who reported fewer depressive symptoms and fewer feelings of loneliness who engaged in penetrative sex hookups subsequently reported an increase in both depressive symptoms and feelings of loneliness Owen et al. In another study, among sexually experienced individuals, people who had the most regret after uncommitted sex also had more symptoms of depression than those who had no regret Welsh et al.
However, in the same sample, women's but not men's degree of depressive symptoms increased with of sex partners within the last year Welsh et al. In the first study to investigate the issue of self-esteem and hookups, 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 Paul et al.
Just as multiple motivations can be in conflict, a person's affective reactions during and after a hookup can be in conflict.
Discrepancies between behaviors and desires, particularly with respect to social-sexual relationships, have dramatic implications for physical and mental health. Despite the allure of engaging in uncommitted sex, research shows that people engage in these behaviors even when they feel uncomfortable doing so Lambert et al. In addition, people overestimate others' comfort with hookups and as variable meanings to those behaviors Lambert et al. Misperception of sexual norms is one potential driver for people to behave in ways they do not personally endorse.
In a replication and extension of Lambert et al. Hook-up scenarios may include feelings of pressure and performance anxiety, contributing to feelings of discomfort.
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In Paul et al. In this sample, 12 percent of participants felt out of control when intercourse was not involved, while 22 percent felt out of control when sexual intercourse took place. Note that this study asked participants about typical hookups, and although this is informative for general patterns, it does not capture specific factors influencing specific individual scenarios. For instance, it is unclear how one might rate a "typical" hookup if one instance involved sexual coercion and regret while another, before or after, was consenting and more enjoyable.
Hookups can result in guilt and negative feelings. The percentage of women expressing guilt was more than twice that of men.
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This is consistent with a classic study by Clark and Hatfieldwhich found that men are much more likely than women to accept casual sex offers from people they find attractive. Conley replicated and extended this finding, demonstrating that, under certain conditions of perceived comfort, the gender differences in acceptance of casual sex are diminished.
This is also consistent with earlier work demonstrating a sex difference, with women generally identifying more emotional involvement in seemingly "low investment" i. Possibly contributing to findings on gender differences in thoughts of worry, in a sample of undergraduate students, more women than men hoped that a relationship would develop following a hookup. Only 4. It is possible that regret and negative consequences result from individuals attempting to negotiate multiple desires.
It is likely that a substantial portion of emerging adults today are compelled to publicly engage in hookups while desiring both immediate sexual gratification and more stable romantic attachments. Despite the prevalence of positive feelings, hookups can include negative outcomes, such as emotional and psychological injury, sexual violence, sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy.
Compounding disease risks, people who hook up are more likely to have concurrent sexual partners Paik, b.
Moreover, in a sample of 1, college students, among the students who had engaged in oral sex, anal sex or vaginal intercourse in their most recent hookup, only In terms of condom use, another issue of concern involving hookups is the high comorbidity with substance use. As part of a larger study, in a sample of several thousand people ages 15 to 25, men and women who had used marijuana or cocaine in the 12 months were also more likely than nonusers to have had nonmonogamous sex in the past 12 months van Gelder et al.
In Fielder and Carey's study among first-semester female college students, participants reported that 64 percent of uncommitted sexual encounters followed alcohol use, with the average occuring after consuming three alcoholic drinks.
Similarly, another study found that nearly 61 percent of undergraduate students used alcohol, with an average of 3. Not all hook-up encounters are necessarily wanted or consensual. In a sample of college students, participants noted that most of their unwanted sex occurred in the context of hookups: