Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Thirty Years of Sexual Behaviour at a Canadian University: Romantic Relationships, Hooking Up, and Sexual Choices

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Thirty Years of Sexual Behaviour at a Canadian University: Romantic Relationships, Hooking Up, and Sexual Choices

Article excerpt

Every 10 years from 1980 to 2010, students in a British Columbia university were surveyed about age of sexual initiation, number of partners, and degree of emotional intimacy within their partnerships. Between 1980 and 1990, the socially acceptable prerequisite for premarital sex appeared to shift from the promise of marriage to mutual love. This change was demonstrated by a fall in the virginity rate among unmarried females, and the rise of monogamous romantic relationships for males. From 1980 through 2010, men reported more sexual partners than did women, with a smaller, though rising, proportion of serious relationships. Since 1990, never-married students were classified into three sexual behavioural groups: monogamists (about 55%), abstainers (30%), and multi-partnered "experimenters" (20% of men throughout each decade, and 7.6% of women in 1990-2000, rising to 14.4% in 2010). Experimenters generally reported concurrent partners, most of them casual. Since 1980, most sexually active students have experienced both romantic relationships and casual sexual partnerships, yet since at least 1990, the majority have been primarily monogamous. This article traces the changes and continuities in romantic relationships, casual sex, and sexual behavioural groups over 30 years, concluding that contrary to the claims of popular media and some academics, casual sex ("hookup culture") has not replaced romantic relationships as the most common form of student sexual behaviour.

KEY WORDS: Student sexual behaviour, romantic relationships, monogamy, hookup culture, casual sex, friends with benefits, sexual revolution, sexual scripts, emerging adulthood

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The past decades have been significant for the history of North American sexual expression, with university students in the vanguard. The sexual revolution of the 1960s replaced the promise of marriage with mutual love as the primary criterion for premarital sexual intercourse (Bailey, 1988; Darling, Kallen, & Vandusen, 1984). Some scholars believed this revolution was incomplete, as the goal of gender equality was not achieved and many aspects of sexuality, especially for women, remained restricted (Bailey, 1999; Kalish & Kimmel, 2011). They predicted that as women approached the socioeconomic power of men, the love standard for sexual involvement would be replaced for both genders by the principle of pleasure with consent.

By the turn of this century, some social scientists (e.g., Bogle, 2008; England, Shafer, & Fogarty, 2007) argued this shift was under way. These studies and the journalists who popularized them (e.g., Taylor, 2013) suggested that by the turn of the 21st century, "sexual hookups" had replaced romantic relationships as the most common form of sexual activity among university students. They defined "hookups" as sexual encounters, which might include anything from kissing to sexual intercourse, between near-strangers with no commitment or expectation of commitment to each other. The multi-campus Online College Social Life Survey (OCSLS), based on questionnaires and enhanced by in-depth interviews (England et al., 2007), showed that approximately 75% of the respondents had hooked up, though less than half their hookups included intercourse. Although most hookups led to nothing more lasting, two-thirds of relationships originated as hookups (England et al., 2007). Corroborating these findings with data from the next (2008) wave of the OCSLS, Kalish and Kimmel (2011) concluded: "hooking up is today's culture of courtship" (p. 148).

Student hookup culture has been further explored in a myriad of studies, whose consensus is that most university students (between two thirds and three quarters) have hooked up, with men more likely than women to report the activity (e.g., Fielder & Carey, 2010; Owen & Fincham, 2011b). However when only hookups involving intercourse were counted, the prevalence of hooking up dropped by about half (e. …

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