USA Today reports some new trends on college campuses: While more young men and women are staying virgins, casual sexual encounters are also on the rise.
The relationship game among college-age adults today is a muddle of seemingly contradictory trends. Recent studies indicate that traditional dating on campuses has taken a back seat to no-strings relationships in which bonds between young men and women are increasingly brief and sexual. (A new website to arrange these encounters that began at the University of Chicago last month now is expanding to other campuses.)
But even as casual sex — often called “hookups” or “friends with benefits” — is a dominant part of campus life, a new report by the National Center for Health Statistics indicates the percentages of men and women 18-24 who say they are virgins also are increasing.
It all reflects an emerging paradigm that is altering the nature of sex and relationships among young adults: fewer men than women on campuses; a more openly sexual society that often takes cues from media, and a declining desire to make relationship commitments early in life.
In 2009, women made up more than 56% of the college population. More females on campus means that males have plenty of options, so they’re less inclined to commit. There’s very little dating going on:
“For the majority of students, they’re not going to dinner and a movie unless they’ve hooked up with someone. Some physical interaction comes before the dating,” he says. Often, “dates happen after a relationship, rather than before.”
“Hooking up” can mean anything from kissing an acquaintance to having sex with someone you’ve just met. At the same time, research by sociologist Paula England of Stanford University shows that “by senior year, 72% of both sexes reported having at least one hookup, with the average of 9.7 for men and 7.1 for women. Just under one-quarter (24%) of seniors say they are virgins…”
A recent National Center for Health Statistics study breaks down that last figure using data from 2006-2008:
Among 18- and 19-year-olds, about one-quarter of men and women said they hadn’t had sexual contact with another person, up from 17% of women and 22% of men in 2002. Among those ages 20-24, 12% of women and 13% of men said they were virgins, up from 8% for both sexes in 2002.
Some studies find virgins in even higher numbers. Responses collected from 1,500 Duke University freshmen and seniors at the Durham, N.C., campus in 2007 found that about 53% of women and 40% of the men said they were virgins, says Wendy Brynildsen, a Duke doctoral student who will share that data in a paper at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in August.
Chastity and hooking up are polar opposite reactions to the challenges young adults face when it comes to relating to the opposite sex. It’s probably just good old-fashioned qualities like wisdom, self-confidence, respect, and moral courage that determine which path you ultimately choose.