As most young adults know, the hookup culture has been around for quite some time, marked by brief, uncommitted sexual encounters between people who are not romantically involved or otherwise interested in one another.

While such hookups used to be primarily fueled by alcohol consumption at weekend parties, they are increasingly facilitated through hookup dating apps. Tinder has a recent advertisement that promises to help users “meet the love of your … night.”

Cute, but deeply troubling.

Such uncommitted relationships have never been a good idea, but new research is showing just what a poor idea they actually are.

The Institute for Family Studies (IFS) features a brief survey of this more recent research, concluding, “The consequences of hookup culture extend beyond fleeting dissatisfaction, manifesting in tangible psychological distress” for increasing numbers of adolescents and adults. This is concerning, given that more than 70% of sexually active teens and adults report having some sort of sexual hookup in the last year.

Erica Komisar, a New York City-based family clinician, who wrote the IFS review explains, “In my practice, I am witnessing firsthand the profound effects of hookup culture on the mental well-being of young women and men.”She adds, “Many of them struggle with anxiety and depression that stem from feelings of disconnection or being overwhelmed by the emphasis on freedom over commitment.”

Komisar’s experience is not unique.

An American Psychological Association survey of 1,468 undergraduate students found that 82.6% reported negative mental and emotional consequences after hookups, including embarrassment, loss of respect, and difficulties with maintaining steady relationships. One study revealed that 78% of women and fewer men who had engaged in uncommitted hookups experienced some feelings of regret.

Not surprisingly, males and females feel differently about casual sex. A 2010 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that women were about half as likely as their male peers to feel positively about such engagements and about twice as likely to feel badly. The early morning “walk of shame” is largely a feminine phenomenon because women are more likely than guys to feel some sense of modesty.

A 2017 article in the Journal of Sex Research states, “Research specifically examining hooking up suggests that having engaged in a hookup and the number of hookup partners are related to greater symptoms of depression.” This article, unsurprisingly, documents that unprotected and inebriated sex are very common in hookup experiences, thus elevating the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

But they also report that most young adults reported “being unconcerned about the risks of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from hooking up, and most were unaware of the risks of STIs from unprotected oral sex performed while hooking up.” These scholars report, “Given these findings, it is not surprising that engaging in more hookups is associated with a greater likelihood of STIs.”

Komisar explains that in one survey, 78% of unwanted sexual encounters occurred in the context of hookups, stating that “hookup culture pressures people into dangerous and harmful situations that they don’t even want to be involved in because society has perpetuated that it’s ‘fun’ and ‘sexually liberating.’” She adds, “We can no longer ignore the fact that the societal normalization of hookup culture is likely a contributing factor” in the steady rise of rape experiences on college campuses.

Hookup partners are more likely to be friends or casual acquaintances, rather than absolute strangers. This can have negative consequences regarding reputation for both male and female youth and young adults in one’s own social circle.

This 2017 study explained that “the majority of participants (77.4%) experienced at least one negative impact associated with a hookup in the past three months.” Regret and embarrassment were the most common negative consequences, while 25% reported having serious concern over contracting an STI from their hookup experience.

Komisar notes as well, “I am confident that the increase in attachment disorders I am seeing among the young people in my practice and the amplification of the hookup culture are not coincidental.” This can be combated by teaching young people the joys and benefits of traditional and enduring romantic relationships and that the best way adults can model this is through marriage.

Komisar states boldly that citizens must “actively encourage and support the institution of marriage and the formation of strong, nurturing families. By demonstrating the beauty and stability of committed partnerships, we provide our children with the solid foundation they need to build their future relationships.” She continues, “As Brad Wilcox writes in his new book, marriage and family should be celebrated as cornerstones of society that foster love, support, and resilience across generations.”

She concludes,

If we want to stem the tide of the hookup culture and replace it with a culture of lasting and committed love, the adults in the room need to do better. The hookup culture is contributing to the mental health crisis, and the imperative to cultivate a culture that venerates enduring love over fleeting interactions has never been more pressing.

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