A recurring column exploring various statistics related to sexual wellness, mental health, and substance use at Colorado College, brought to you in collaboration with the Wellness Resource Center.
This is the percentage of Colorado College students who have had four or more sexual partners in the last month.
Twenty-two is also the percentage of CC students who have had zero partners.
It is often said that, as college students, we exist in a “hookup culture.” This phrase is usually accompanied by shaking heads and small sighs of resignation, representative of the lack of control we perceive ourselves to have over this phenomenon.
Whether used to dismiss regrettable interaction, or to express excitement over the night’s brimming potential, “hook-up culture” has quickly become a cliché. It serves as an excuse for miscommunication, confusion, heartbreak, and erasure of experiences that don’t align with the overall narrative of frequent, detached sexual encounters.
The danger in hookup culture is not casual sex itself — so long as it’s consensual — but the expectations created by commonplace stories of public make outs, “walks of shame,” and irrepressible desires, especially as these expectations are so often grounded in incorrect information and assumptions.
So, while 22 percent of CC students had four or more partners in the last month, 22 percent didn’t have any, and 31 percent had one. For greater context, 11 percent of students nationwide had four or more partners in the last 12 months; 31 percent had none; and 43 percent had one. This is to say that our campus and campuses across the country represent a diverse range of experiences. Each is statistically significant and therefore prove that, regardless of how often you are having sex, there are many others engaging in — or abstaining from — sex in a similar way.
Students form unreal expectations in response to both peer- and media-circulated stories about what hook-up culture can look like on a campus. When we perceive everyone around us to be having sex, it is almost impossible not to compare one’s own experience with others. What we forget is that only the loudest voices are the ones heard. This makes it all the more important to dispel myths surrounding the nature and frequency of hook-ups, instead working to ground personal thoughts or conversation in accurate information.
However, beyond shaming individuals who “aren’t getting any,” the expectations associated with hook-up culture can often manifest in harmful behavior, both to oneself and one’s partner(s). That is to say, while hookup and rape culture are not the same, there is significant overlap, as one often facilitates the other.
A study conducted from Harvard Business School found that 45 percent of men say they expect vaginal sex if they go home with a woman after a party. Thirty-one percent of women say the same. Not only does this research speak to the overly presumptive character of college social interactions writ large, but it also highlights the gendered gap between such presumptions, a gap that could lead to non-consensual sex. It is important to note that this study focuses only on heterosexual encounters.
Expectations can trap us. Thinking critically about whether norms are driving our actions will not only work to eradicate rape culture, but will also make us more comfortable expressing personal desire and happier with our individual sex lives overall.