Introduction: Hookups refer to a range of sexual or physically intimate behaviors characterized by a lack of any expectation of a relationship or emotional intimacy. This study was designed to assess college students’ experiences and perceptions about hookups as related to mental/emotional and physical health issues.
Methods: Students at a 2-year liberal arts college in the southeastern United States participated. A survey was created using current evidence on hookups and health issues. Random sampling invited 300 students to take the anonymous online survey. Responses to open-ended questions were analyzed quantitatively; content analysis was used to assess responses to 2 open-ended questions.
Results: Participants (N = 210) reported their own or their friends’ experiences as a result of a hookup. Feelings included sexual regret (reported by 62%), relationship/interpersonal conflict (48%), negative emotional reactions (47%), negative social repercussions (41%), learning to “shut down” emotionally (33%), psychological distress (31%), loss of friend(s) or peer group (28%), anxiety (28%), depression (21%), and sexually transmitted infections (19%). Most students (60%) had at least one hookup experience; more than half (55%) had mixed feelings/ambivalence about these experiences. Qualitative analysis identified 6 themes regarding reasons for sexual regret: regret over choice of partner, negative social repercussions, hopes for relationship did not materialize, moral issues, too much/too fast/too drunk, and suboptimal sexual performance/experience.
Discussion: The findings indicate that a significant level of negative health issues is experienced in conjunction with hookups, and health care providers should be aware and educate patients appropriately.