An article on the CNN website claims that dating is dead. Casual hook-ups and online dating have taken the place of traditional dating. According to CNN, we should embrace this change and see every encounter as a means to spark romance. But what does that mean?
The dating years are often a time of self-discovery. This is an important developmental time for young adults to discover who they are, what they want from life, and who they want to be. When we look at the media–television shows, movies, and music–it is no wonder that hooking-up is an acceptable option over traditional dating for young people. You can turn the T.V. on and you will probably see two people catch each other’s eye from across the room, walk up to one another, spend a few moments “getting to know each other,” and before you know it they have “hooked-up.” In our culture this is a normal and acceptable way to meet one’s physical needs.
Today in the U.S., the age that many people get married and consider having children has been pushed back significantly. Many women are waiting until age 27, and men age 29, before getting married. In 2013, the mean age of women having their first child was 26. Another unique occurrence is that children begin puberty earlier than they have in the past. The normal range of puberty in girls can be anywhere between the ages of 9-16, and 13-15 for boys. If a young girl starts puberty at 10, but does not get married and consider having children until 26, there are 16 years where she is physically able to reproduce and have children, but mentally and socially not ready to take on the responsibility of having a family.
According to a cover story found in the APA (American Psychological Association), the number of college students who have had some sort of hook-up experience is between 60% and 80% . Many may engage in this type of sexual encounter and use contraceptives properly, avoiding STI’s and an unexpected pregnancy. Our culture would look at that and congratulate our young people for being responsible. One thing we are forgetting to consider is the damage casual hook-ups may have on our mental health. According to a study of 832 college aged students, only 26% of women and 50% of men reported having positive feelings after a hook-up.3
Regret after a hook-up is only one issue that young people may experience. According to one study, as many as 33% of those who have reported participating in a hook-up stated that they didn’t mean for it to happen, and that the hook-up was likely due to drug or alcohol use.3 This type of behavior can commonly leave people feeling anxious and even depressed. It also affects their view of themselves, leaving them with a lowered sense of self-worth. This lowered sense of worth and the anxiety that some may experience can also lead to sexual dysfunction later in life. According to an article found in Psychology Today, common reactions after a hook-up include not only regret, but also disappointment, confusion, guilt, embarrassment, and low self-esteem. Not all people report negative feelings, however. Some people reported feeling proud, nervous, excited or desirable.4 It is important to note that positive feelings were reported more often before or during a hook-up and negative feelings after a hook-up.
Hook-ups often occur in the heat of the moment, when people have not taken time to consider what the possible effects of their behavior may be. It is crucial, just as we would consider a potential STI or unexpected pregnancy, to consider the effect a casual hook-up may have on our view of ourselves and our value. Before engaging in a hook-up, ask yourself—“Who am I and who do I want to be? Will hooking up with someone affect that?”