Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

The Impact of Peers and Perceptions on Hooking Up

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

The Impact of Peers and Perceptions on Hooking Up

Article excerpt

Hooking up is common on college campuses, but evidence shows that students overestimate the sexual permissiveness of their peers (Barriger & Vélez-Blasini, 2013; Chia & Gunther, 2006; Freitas, 2008; Holman & Sillars, 2011; Lambert, Kahn, & Apple, 2003), which can be interpreted as a form of pluralistic ignorance. Despite the existence of a hookup culture, only a limited number of students regularly engage in highly sexual hookups. This leads us to ask: What social factors influence students to participate in hookups? This is an important question for student affairs because research finds evidence of negative consequences, especially for women, who report increased psychological distress, less sexual satisfaction, and are at a greater risk for sexual assault (Bradshaw, Kahn, & Saville, 2010; England, Shafer, & Fogarty, 2007; Fielder & Carey, 2010; Freitas, 2008). Interaction with peers, important agents of socialization and social control, reinforces hooking up. Peers communicate attitudes about sexual norms and sanction behavior perceived as good and bad. Applying the principle of differential association (Sutherland, 1947), a student whose peer network endorses hookPlease ing up will be more likely to participate than a student whose friends communicate neutral or negative attitudes.

The purpose of this study is to explore the theoretical concepts of pluralistic ignorance and differential association and investigate social factors related to hooking up. We sur- veyed students on two college campuses to assess the frequency of participation in three types of hookups: (1) the make out hookup, a physical encounter limited to kissing and fon- dling; (2) the oral sex hookup; and (3) the sex- ual intercourse hookup. We examine the relationship between students' behavior and their perceptions of close friends and students in general as well as type of school, gender, religiosity, church attendance, Greek member- ship, alcohol consumption, and attitudes supportive of hooking up. The research ques- tion that guides this study is: "What social characteristics are related to different levels of participation in hooking up?"


Broad social changes such as the delay in mar- riage, greater acceptance of premarital sex, and the availability of birth control create condi- tions ripe for hooking up. Coeducational resi- dence halls (Willoughby & Carroll, 2009) without visitation restrictions create a social environment that gives students easy sexual access to one another. Most students view col- lege as a place to have fun, hang out, drink alcohol in excess, and live in the moment rather than a time to meet a spouse (Bogle, 2008). Strong support also comes from a pop- ular culture that glamorizes casual sex and from media depictions that breed mispercep- tions about sexual and romantic relationships (Kunkel et al., 2003). Students internalize favorable attitudes toward hooking up from popular culture, the college environment, and close friends. Given college lore as well as cul- tural and structural support for hooking up, the existence of pluralistic ignorance is not sur- prising.

Pluralistic Ignorance and Peer Perceptions

Allport (1924, 1933) defined pluralistic ignorance as a form of misperception where individuals believe in a social norm that does not accurately reflect behavior. Each individ- ual, "wishing to be seen as a desirable member of the group, publicly conforms to the norm, each believing that he or she is the only one in the group experiencing conflict between his or her private attitude and his or her public behav- ior" (Lambert et al., 2003, p. 130). College stu- dents consistently overestimate their peers' acceptance and participation in sexual activi- ties and view themselves as less promiscuous (Barriger & Vélez-Blasini, 2013; Chia & Gun- ther, 2006; Freitas, 2008; Holman & Sillars, 2011). Chia and Gunther (2006) noted that over half of students thought they were less permissive than their friends and two thirds believed they were less permissive than stu- dents in general. …

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