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Just how prevalent is the often-debated “hook-up culture” on college campuses? It’s a question that many anxious college freshman and concerned parents alike may wonder. After years of surveying students at Catholic colleges about culture and relationships, Jason King, associate professor of theology at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania has an answer. Yes, it’s out there, he says but not for the reasons you may think. If you’re thinking it’s because today’s young Catholics long for the days of free love, you’re mistaken.

The truth is hookup culture has become widespread on college campuses, and Catholic colleges are no exception. While most students on Catholic campuses report being unhappy with casual sexual encounters, most studies have found no difference between Catholic colleges and their secular counterparts when it comes to hooking up. Drawing on a survey of over 1000 students from 26 institutions, as well as in-depth interviews, King argues that religious culture on Catholic campuses ca, in fact, have an impact on the school’s hookup culture, but when it comes to how the relationship works it’s complicated.

There’s a complex way these dynamics play out at Catholic colleges and universities. In King’s book “Faith with Benefits” he shows how these dynamics come to being. He found that there is no straightforward relationship between orthodoxy and hookup culture – some of the schools with the weakest Catholic identities also have weaker hookup cultures. And not all students define the culture the same way. The idea of hooking up can take on many forms from just kissing to having sex with someone without being in a committed relationship. Some see a hookup as a casual encounter, where others see it as a gateway to a relationship. According to King, the majority of Catholic students dislike the culture, yet still participate in it in some way. Why? Because many see the only alternatives as being alone or being in a serious relationship.

King explains that while most students long for good, healthy relationships even serious relationships among young adults often begin through hook ups. “They tend to hookup with people they’ve known for awhile,” King says. “They might drink at a party, then hookup, and then not explicitly acknowledge the interaction, though many are still hoping a relationship will come of it.”

King found that hooking up in general is less frequent on Catholic campuses compared to state or private schools – 60 percent of college students overall say they hookup at least once per year. On Catholic campuses, that percentage drops to 40. However, about 60 percent of hookups among students at Catholic colleges include sex, compared to 50 percent at state or private universities. “Students tend to try to use sex as a way to try and build intimacy, because most want relationships,” King says. “They’re interested in someone and trying to move the relationship forward.”

Unfortunately, dating isn’t what it used to be. Many young adults hook up without any plans of commit. We live in a hookup culture that accepts and encourages casual sexual encounters, including one-night stands and activities which focus on physical pleasure without emotional bonding or long-term commitment. These relationships are consumed by lust or selfish needs as opposed to true love and commitment. We can’t find true love when we approach our relationships this way. If these young adults continue this pattern in their dating lives, they will continue to feel empty.

In modern dating, it’s hard to tell how a person really feels about you because everyone is focused on playing it cool and not looking too pressed. The same applies to the hookup culture on college campuses. A person being carefree because they have zero interest in you looks exactly like a person being carefree because they think you’re amazing and are making a conscious effort to play it cool. Unfortunately, it’s extremely hard to decipher between the two. The lines should not be fuzzy. When someone is in love with you, there is no confusion when it comes to interest and intentions. They want you to know how much you mean to them so that your heart will gravitate towards them and not end up with anyone else.

The hookup culture is getting the younger generation nowhere. Instead of relationships, it’s non-relationships that are often condoned. Participating in today’s hookup culture may seem easy and fun, but it isn’t getting us anywhere, and we’re gaining very little. The series of hookups and non-relationships leave us feeling unfulfilled; yet, barely anyone seems willing to do anything about it.

It would be great if young college students would start dating again. So many people lose hope that they’ll find someone who truly sees them as an awesome person without the need for immediate gratification. What people need to realize is that traditional dating is dying, but it’s not dead yet. The hookup culture is appealing in part because it is so low-risk. Keeping things casual ensures that you face much less rejection than you would if you were attempting to take the relationship to the next level. The casual nature of the hook-up culture and non-relationship guarantees that there won’t be that tearful breakup if things don’t work out. But where is chance and vulnerability to make love work?

Young adults should open themselves up to the risk of embarrassment, awkwardness, and rejection they so greatly fear to put their feelings on the line and open themselves up to a chance at real love. They also shouldn’t be afraid to define what they want and not compromise those values. While hooking up may seem like a stepping stone towards a real relationship and commitment, there’s so much you give up in the process which can ultimately leave you feeling empty.

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