Match.com has cornered the market on creating happy marriages via the internet according to their commercials, and technology has certainly enabled people to connect with distant soul mates. However, the advent of social media, consisting of random bytes of information flung into the public sphere without thought to consequences, responsibility, or the emotional impact on others, has also led to more fragile relationships in many cases; students who rely heavily on virtual interactions to sustain them socially, often miss the more valuable aspects of real-world connections.
Pair this detached approach to relationships with the all too common binge drinking of college age students, and you have a recipe for risky hook ups. Even among young people, there are disputes about the meaning of the phrase hooking up. While the physical act can run the extremes from kissing to casual sex, negative psychological consequences remain constants.
Hooking up, especially under a veil of alcohol or drugs, obscures responsibility, causes psychological harm, and devalues the importance of meaningful relationships. Where there is no expectation of future contact or commitment once the deed has been done, there can be no expectation of emotional investment or shared responsibility should unwanted repercussions - pregnancy or STD, for example - arise. For those college age students who engage in sex with casual acquaintances, relinquishing the intimate emotional bonds that come from a committed relationship means coping with unforeseen consequences alone.
Psychological studies have repeatedly shown links between casual sex and psychological injury. While students may experience confidence and even pride during a casual sexual encounter, feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-esteem commonly creep into the psyche after the events. Though a momentary hookup may alleviate feelings of loneliness momentarily, participants in Kinsey researcher Justin Garcia’s study of casual sex among students reported increased feelings of loneliness after these fleeting interactions. Likewise, participants in the study who experienced no depression prior to a casual sexual encounter, elicited depressive symptoms after.
In her book The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy, author, lecturer, and professor Donna Freitas suggests that dating may be a thing of the past and that romance, in turn, may have breathed its last. So prevalent has casual sex become that the term "emotional zombies" has been coined to describe individuals who have never experienced authentic romantic relationship, moving instead through mindless, emotionless sexual encounters. Yet, consistently, during my therapy sessions, both males and females say they long for more relatedness.
We thrive on relationships as a species. From birth through death, our troubles are more tolerable, our fears more bearable, and our lives more pleasurable thanks to the comforting arms of our family and friends. Meaningful, authentic connections provide a safe haven for us, and committed romantic bonds can be a source of joy, excitement, and encouragement. To develop these relationships, though, we have to demonstrate respect for ourselves and for others. Don't settle for less. Make your relationships powerful, strong, and healing.
Dr. Eileen Wynne PhD
Bersamin, M., Zamboanga, B. L., Schwartz, S. J., Donnellan, M. B., Hudson, M., Weisskirch, R. S., Kim, S. Y., Agocha, V. B., Whitbourne, S. K., & Caraway, S. J. (2014). One night stands may not be good for your mental health: Casual sex and psychological well-being and distress. Journal of Sex Research, 51, 43-51
Freitas, D. (2013). The End of Sex; How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy. Basic Books: New York.
Garcia, J. R., Reiber, C., Massey, S. G., & Merriwether, A. M. (2012). Sexual hookup culture: A review. Review Of General Psychology, 16(2), 161-176. doi:10.1037/a0027911