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College Parent Math Problem: How Does Hookup Culture = Sexual Assault?

by Dr. Joe Malone

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month and relatedly, the social climate and hookup culture on college campuses is a mess these days. Although coronavirus has disrupted society for a moment, this is a problem parents of present and future college students must understand. The misguided college authorities, in the name of female equality, believe females and males must be the same, which to them means males and females are biologically identical, other than genitalia. Therefore, women should be encouraged to behave sexually just like men. This means that they condone and even encourage hookup culture while they decry what they call rape culture.

My research and that of many others show this to be in error. College women and men are significantly different beginning at the biological level. To oppose rape culture (which we all oppose) while promoting hookup culture is nonsensical, paradoxical, and damaging, particularly to women. Nevertheless, semester after semester in new student orientations, condoms are made available and the message is sent that students are expected to be sexually active and practice promiscuity. Officialdom sanctions hookup culture on campus in the 21st century.

Hookup Culture and Rape Culture

In the last 15 years, other researchers and I have begun to study this regrettable phenomenon. Two others are Justin Garcia from Indiana University and Chris Reiber from Binghamton University. Dr. Garcia and Dr. Reiber state it is likely that a substantial portion of young adults today feel compelled to take part in hookups, while actually desiring both easy sexual gratification and more stable romantic relationships, which seems complicated to us parents. To make things even more complicated, there is the ever-present issue of the prevalence and use of alcohol and other drugs. In a study of 118 freshmen female college students, 64 percent of cases hookups followed alcohol use.  When you look at this college hookup scene and understand the background factors; you can see how it got this messed up.

Most alarming of all is the relationship of the hookup culture with sexual assault. In a study of 178 college men and women, the participants revealed that most of their experience with unwanted sex happened in a hookup. Regarding unwanted sex, 78 percent took place during a hookup, 14 percent during an ongoing relationship, and only 8 percent on a date.

This is a monumentally important insight!

There are, and have been, many large-scale efforts taking place on college campuses across Western societies to decrease the amount of sexual coercion, sexual assault, and rape. The research insight that most nonconsensual sex occurs during a hookup sheds new light on what needs to be done to decrease all kinds of sexual aggression.

Once Again, Alcohol’s Role

Additionally, Dr. Donna Freitas, who has studied hookup culture extensively, says that 41 percent of the students in her survey reported being profoundly upset about hooking up. Some of them even likened the experience to abuse. She outlines the case that alcohol, hooking up, and sexual assault are often related. Dr. Freitas quotes a study that reveals that 26 percent of students who were freshmen or sophomores had sex with someone they had just met while they were under the influence of alcohol. Around 40 percent of these freshmen or sophomore students had sex with someone they knew but were not in a relationship with while drinking alcohol.

Within that same study, 44 percent of women reported at least one unwanted sexual episode while in college, and, again, 90 percent of these unwanted sexual encounters happened during a hookup. Of the total reported incidents of nonconsensual sex, 76 percent involved alcohol. Having alcohol in the mix blurred whether consent had been given. The researchers discovered that often the victim was too drunk to properly give consent and didn’t remember what happened the next day.

Parents should know that when people like me try to bring up the relationship between alcohol and sexual assault I am told to stop “victim-blaming”. You should also know that the most likely place and time for your daughters to be raped is in the dorms and the first few months of their freshman year. You won’t hear that from them.

Now that you parents know the real deal it is time for all of us to start lobbying our state legislatures to stop this insanity and bring ethical leadership back to campus. We don’t have to put up with this dangerous travesty!



Dr. Joe Malone, a physiologist, holds a Ph.D. in Health and Human Performance with a minor in neuropsychology and a specialization in female sexual health. He has taught for many years at Middle Tennessee State University, creating a women’s wellness program there, and has guest lectured at Vanderbilt and Princeton.

Dr. Malone served on the CDC Initiative for STD Prevention for the state of Tennessee. He has been happily married to his wife Jody for over 40years. Dr. Malone is author of Battles of the Sexes and co-founder of Hookups to Heartbreaks. 


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