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Hookup: The search for satisfaction

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JUNE 11, 2012

This is the fourth and final installment in a four-part series exploring UC Berkeley’s “hookup culture.” Students’ names have been changed or withheld in order to protect their privacy and foster honest conversation.

While the hookup culture at UC Berkeley is viewed differently by everyone in the campus community, the fact remains that the system works for students when they get what they want, but not when they remain unsatisfied.

University Health Services health educator Karen Gee said that if those involved are prepared and open to communicating with each other, hooking up can be an empowering and positive experience. Yet she questioned how much pleasure was being produced in some of these interactions.

“I hear from students who are not getting their sexual needs met. After a hookup, they say, ‘Oh, I guess that’s it.’ I don’t want people to have mediocre sex, I want people to enjoy the time they have together,” Gee said. “That can only happen if the chemistry and communication are good.”

Biological desire and the oft-alluded to “thrill of the conquest” aside, for those who perhaps are not receiving full carnal satisfaction — why continue participating in the hookup culture?  There is no definitive answer, though psychologists, social scientists and students all offer countless theories.

Some students suggested that students at UC Berkeley, or any other school with a competitive admittance rate, were too busy studying or pursuing extracurriculars in high school to be aggressively hooking up every weekend. Alcohol and an absence of authority figures could prompt freshmen to embrace the hookup culture, students have speculated.

On the other hand, the drive to hook up could draw from more serious psychological issues, such as low self-esteem or the desire to fill a void, some students said.

“Unfortunately, it’s this never-ending cycle,” one campus sorority member said. “You hook up with someone, he gives you attention, and then, when he doesn’t, you feel bad about yourself and go search for another fix.”

Some of the interviewed females said they found the arguably objectifying dynamic of hookups empowering and thus had no qualms about perpetuating the system via style of dress or attitude.

The uncertainty that accompanies the transition from high school to college also factors into this desire for physical validation.

“Girls do it as a confidence booster,” said another female sorority member on campus. “There is kind of a void when you come to college. You are unsure of yourself and the thought that ‘He chose me; I’m pretty’ makes some girls feel better about themselves.”

Peer pressure plays an important role. Fraternities and sororities, in particular, have a reputation for their association with the adverse effects of this pattern of behavior, which actually has a basis in social science.

According to Christopher Gade, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, taking on the mental attitude of a group allows a person to disassociate from their individual identity. This provides a rationale for doing things you would not hold yourself personally accountable to.

The element of alcohol use also comes into play when considering the hookup culture at UC Berkeley. While Gee said that the majority of students on campus neither frequent the Greek party scene nor overdrink, she emphasized that it is impossible to discuss the hookup culture without addressing alcohol use on campus.

“There is nothing wrong with casual sex,” Gee said. “But anytime someone engages in alcohol-fueled activity, there is potential for it to be nonconsensual and unsafe in terms of protection.”

While some students said they would not have a problem dating someone who frequented parties, they were skeptical that a serious relationship would develop out of a hookup or in the party context.

There are, of course, exceptions. One female junior described meeting her current boyfriend at a party and hooking up with him almost immediately.

She said that when they both grew tired of the repetitive cycle of partying and hooking up every weekend, and they realized they enjoyed hanging out together more.

“A lot of people get boyfriends just to get out of this culture,” she said.

So what are the prospects for a hookup generation after college graduation?

One male student said he believes that leaving college will unquestionably improve the dating scene.

“There is a different mentality being at a bar,” he said. “You’re not supposed to get shitfaced and be all over this cute girl. That doesn’t fly at a bar the way it does at a frat party.”

But some acknowledged that the drive to hook up is too deeply entrenched in psychology to be uprooted by a diploma and a change of scenery.

“For some people, even post-college, you just want to hook up and not deal with rejection,” explained one female student. “(At college parties), rejection is fast, an immediate glance. It’s not personal. Until people can harness that fear of deep rejection, they’ll keep hooking up because they want to feel desired.”

The general consensus among interviewed students indicated three factors as the most impelling motivators to leave the hookup culture: entering a relationship, realizing the futility of partying or having a bad experience within the system.

For most students, so long as participants are getting what they want out of hooking up — whether that be physical satisfaction, emotional justification or just a good time — then there is nothing wrong with a certain degree of indulgence. Knowing when they have had enough is the key.

Contact Shannon Najmabadi at 


JUNE 13, 2012

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