'Hooking Up' Is Nothing New

Earlier this week, I got a frantic call from a friend whose daughter has been away for her first semester at college. "She's not bringing her boyfriend home," my friend wailed. "In fact, she says he's not really her boyfriend at all!"

The "he" in question was a male my friend's daughter had repeatedly mentioned she spent time with socially: going to the movies and out to dinner, seeing concerts, once spending an entire weekend camping at a state park. Oh, there were always other people around, but the regularity of their contact led my friend to believe her daughter was involved in a relationship of romantic significance.

What my friend failed to understand is that her daughter hasn't been actually serious with this boy; rather, they've been "hooking up," a social norm that some blame for the demise of dating since it involves participation in group social activities often followed by couples pairing off for some form of commitment-free sexual activity at the end of the night.

Of course, not every instance of hooking up involves actual intercourse. The author of a recent New York Times op-ed piece on the matter explains that's not the case:

 I should point out that just because more young people seem to be hooking up instead of dating doesn't mean that they're having more sex (they've been having less, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) or having sex with strangers (they're more likely to hook up with a friend, according to a 2006 paper in the Journal of Adolescent Research).

So if they're not having sex every time they hook up, why don't they just call it dating? The answer comes down to recognizing that the attitudes of this generation of college students toward sex and relationships -- specifically that the two aren't necessarily related -- is the direct legacy of previous generations.

For those who remember our cultural heritage, this is nothing new. Legalization of the birth control pill in the 1960s precipitated a sexual revolution and an era of "free love." Cocaine fueled public sex in discos throughout the '70s and morphed into the rave scene of the 1980s when club-goers popped ecstasy and humped like bunnies.