PLATTSBURGH -- Some say it's making out, and some say touching and oral sex, while others contend it's no-strings-attached intercourse.

Whatever the definition, "hooking up" is happening among college students, possibly more than ever before.

"It's quite common in a college setting," said Plattsburgh State sophomore Travis Dasilva. "I've done it."

All the local college students with whom the Press-Republican spoke were familiar with "hookups," though not all did it. Still, none judged those who do participate in one-night stands, stressing that, as long as all involved know what's expected and practice safe sex, then to each his or her own.

PRETTY COMMON'

"I've never done it," said Clinton Community College student Emily Crossman. "I'm not the casual-sex type."

She thinks sex is better in a relationship.

"But I think hooking up is pretty common."

The term hookup gained in popularity and made its way into media reports during the late 1990s and was popularized by the sitcom "Sex and the City." Today, several online dating services cater to people looking for casual sex.

But college students don't need the Internet to hook up.

"All you need is a party where you meet random girls and start dancing, and next thing you know you are hooking up," said Dasilva.

He's had "friends with (sexual) benefits" and said he was always safe, though he steers clear of the practice now.

"I kind of have a girl back home. But things happen when you get drunk."

Alcohol works as a social lubricant, agreed Clinton Community College student Bryan Shortell.

He's had hookups, anything from making out to intercourse. He doesn't see anything wrong with it, as long as everyone is on the same page and no one expects a follow-up.

The only bad experience he's had with hooking up was when a girl didn't tell him she was involved with someone.

"That can cause problems."

VOWED ABSTINENCE

In between boyfriends, Plattsburgh State senior Julia Salas has had friends with benefits.

"There's nothing wrong with it. Just use a condom."

She said hooking up can also be oral sex, which some people don't consider sex.

She heard of students hooking up during freshman orientation, which grossed her out and resulted in a pledge of abstinence.

"That lasted a month."

But not all her hookups have been worth it.

"It's like eating a meal and it wasn't satisfying at all. You might as well have not eaten it and saved the calories."

WORRIES

During Sunday meetings, Salas and her sorority sisters poke fun at guys who are bad in bed.

But some of her friends were worried about more than the guy's sexual prowess after hooking up.

"I have had friends who used the morning-after pill. I think thanks to things like birth control and the morning-after pill, you don't see girls going away and leaving college."

Of course, there are other concerns, too.

"We are hounded by STD information and scared of it," Salas said, "but we are still hooking up."

Some people feel pressured to do it, guys seek status, and girls want attention from boys, she said.

"Some women think of it as empowerment."

Washington Post reporter and author Laura Sessions Stepp argued in her book "Unhooked" that young women mistake the freedom they feel from hooking up for empowerment. She contended hookups deny the emotional needs of women and put them at risk for depression.

GROWING TREND

The few studies on hooking up that have been conducted indicate more college-age students prefer casual sex than in years past.

In 2000, College of New Jersey psychology professor Elizabeth Paul surveyed 555 undergraduates and found that 78 percent had hooked up, usually after consuming alcohol. The average student, she found, had 10.8 hookup partners during college.

Researchers at James Madison University found that 77.7 percent of women and nearly 85 percent of men had no-strings-attached flings.

Many religions consider casual sex immoral. But social attitudes toward it changed for many after the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.

"Maybe people who judge it are jealous because they can't get any," Dasilva said.

"Who am I to judge someone else," said Plattsburgh State junior Jaimie Ruggiero.

She wouldn't hook up with random strangers but sees nothing wrong with friends with benefits.

"I've hooked up sexually."

EXPERIMENTING

Ashley Kelley, on the other hand, says she has never gone as far as intercourse when hooking up.

"I'm a goodie."

To her, hooking up entailed french kissing.

"You go to school with the same students for 18 years and then you go to college and there are all these hot guys and girls and you are away from your parents," Kelley said.

"You are experimenting, and people are finding you attractive."

She hooked up her freshman year at Plattsburgh State.

"Your freshman year is the year you go crazy."

She slowed down as a sophomore and now has a boyfriend she's in love with. But her friends continue to hookup, many going as far as intercourse.

"I wouldn't do it, but I don't think that's a bad thing. As long as you are using protection, that's all that matters."

Her girlfriends who didn't use protection turned to the morning-after pill, one after hooking up with a guy for a week.

"People are going to do what they want to do," Kelley said, "and for people to say that is wrong, well, that is just their belief or opinion, and someone else may feel differently."

sbartlett@pressrepublican.com

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