A recent survey of more than 1,000 college women indicates that long-term relationships and short-term "hookups" are more prevalent than traditional dating.
The survey, conducted by the Institute for American Values for the Independent Women's Forum, found that 40 percent of college women had engaged in "hookups" and 10 percent had hooked up more than six times.
Hooking up was defined as any sexual contact — ranging from kissing to sexual intercourse — in which the participants expected no further contact. Thirty-nine percent of respondents described themselves as virgins, while 91 percent said their campuses had a pervasive "hook-up culture."
Author and scholar Elizabeth Marquardt, who led the research team, said half the college women surveyed reported they had been on six dates or fewer in their entire college careers.
Gender roles have become more ambiguous, Marquardt explained. "Though the feminist movement brought a lot of positive changes, it also has drawbacks." Women still "don't like asking guys out, and guys don't ask women out," she added.
The American Values survey did not include Princeton in its poll. However, a spring 2000 survey of "Relationship and Sexual Practices" among University undergraduates, which was conducted by the McCosh Health Center, reported that 41.6 percent of students abstained from sexual activity — not including kissing — within the last school year. Nearly 32 percent said they were in committed relationships.
University students have their own explanations for the relationship habits on campus.
"The ideal most Princeton students have is a long-term, committed relationship, but then their academic goals get in the way," Geoff Chang '03 remarked. "When people are forced to choose between romance and their career ambitions, they often decide they don't have time for a relationship."
Ilka Netravali '03 expressed similar sentiments. "People are so busy here that they're afraid to commit, they're scared of having one more thing on their plate . . . in the 'work hard, party hard' scene there's no time for an extra commitment," she said.
"Students are also sometimes afraid to get involved because they know that at a school the size of Princeton they'll have to see that person again and again," Netravali noted, sharing the story of a friend who tried every day to dodge an overly friendly ex-boyfriend in the dining hall.
According to Amit Chatwani '04, the reason University students have "either a serious relationship or are hooking up" is because "there's no place to go on a date."
"Where are you going to take a girl? Frist?" his roommates chimed in, laughing.
"No one dates," Justin Johnson '04 agreed.
The reason for this recent trend in dating habits on college campuses nationwide is complex, but Marquardt said that, in the study, "co-ed dorms kept coming up in a negative way. They have reduced the mystery [of male-female relationships] while facilitating joined-at-the-hip relationships."
Associate Director of McCosh Health Center Janet Finnie said she was amazed by the number of "college students who become friends with people because of proximity" rather than on the basis of shared interests or compatible personalities. Such a trend may also extend to relationships.
The University study showed that the actual number of sexual partners of undergraduates was dramatically lower than the perceived number of partners of their peers. Respondents thought that only 32.5 percent of students limited themselves to between zero and one partner in the last school year, when in fact 79.3 percent reportedly did. Only 20.6 percent of respondents reported having two or more partners, while the general perception was that 67.7 percent had two or more.
University sociology professor Patricia Fernandez-Kelly said she believes "hookups are not as frequent as people think. There is a tendency towards exaggeration and the perception is that people have easy access to sex."
Further, Fernandez-Kelly commented that she is "amazed and astounded by the endurance of the feelings of young women and men" and that they seem "fairly cautious about who they sleep with."
Fernandez-Kelly said she thinks it is important for "people to protect themselves physically and emotionally," but "disagrees with moralists" who argue that young people should not experiment sexually.
Instead, Fernandez-Kelly said she is more worried about those in committed relationships, who are not taking advantage of their years of relative freedom.
Marquardt said college women have "a lot of confusion" about what they want from relationships. She explained that freshmen are reluctant to commit because they are just getting to know people and that senior women do not necessarily want a serious relationship either, because they are about to graduate.
College women, Marquardt said, "want the recognition that their relationship is special" but are caught between conflicting expectations. Though parents discourage sexual activity and do not want their children to "get married too soon," they tell them to "have fun" in college.
"We have done a lot of sex education and talking about safe sex, but not about the emotional experience of sex," Marquardt said.
"Young people are still experiencing the same kind of dilemmas as in my generation [although now] there is more acceptance of casual sex," Fernandez-Kelly reflected. "They ask themselves the same questions: am I attractive? Will I be happy? Will I be able to make another person happy?"
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