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Does Hookup Culture Impact Mental Health?


Two partners participate in hookup culture.

The History of Hookup Culture

Hookup culture is a relatively new acceptance and encouragement of casual sexual encounters outside of romantic, committed relationships.

The rise of hookup culture can be attributed to many societal shifts, but the somewhat recent waves of feminism have been huge contributors to such a culture change.

The second wave of feminism in the Western world occurred in the early 1960s, and one of the waves’ defining characteristics was the FDA approval of hormonal birth control pills. This gave women more sexual freedom and opportunities for family planning, and it is thought to be related to what is seen today as hookup culture.

Dr. Lisa Wade is a sociologist who is well-known for her explanation and critique on hookup culture and its impact on mental health. Wade focused her research on college students and their culture of sex.


Sex on College Campuses

One significant way hookup culture occurs is on college campuses. Wade found that this new sense of freedom that college students experience combined with the ease of accessibility to parties and substances leaves students feeling as if hookups are “inevitable.”

It is important to note that college students typically define hookups as sexual intercourse whereas many high school students would define hookups as making out. However, when using the term “hookup” many people find that it simply refers to the casual relationship you have with the person you are “hooking up” with.


How does hookup culture impact mental health?

Looking back at college students, research suggests that individuals with depressive symptoms and feelings of loneliness typically experienced a decrease in these feelings when participating in hookup culture.  Interestingly, however, individuals that originally had fewer depressive symptoms and feelings of loneliness (relative to the more acute students) reported an increase in these feelings after casual sexual engagements.


Pros and Cons of Hookup Culture on Mental Health

There isn’t a definitive answer of whether hookup culture is good or bad for your mental health. Rather, it is important to explore both sides and follow your personal values and morals when making any decisions about sexual relationships.


  1. Being in a casual sexual relationship – long term or short term – can help someone explore their sexual interests. The beauty of hookup culture is if you are not sexually compatible with the person, you do not need to engage in sexual activity with them again. Hookup culture can remove the pressures that men and women may feel to stay with someone when they are not sexually compatible. This can help reduce anxiety and shame related to sexual discomfort.


  1. Sex is a great way to decrease mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression. An orgasm releases feel good neurotransmitters in the brain, and sex should be enjoyable!  Casual sex allows people to enjoy the benefits of sex without the serious commitment of a long-term intimate relationship.



  1. Casual sexual encounters require that the people involved are safe and responsible. Having multiple sexual partners increases the chances of contracting an STI so practicing safe sex is an important part of participating in hookup culture. While many STIs are preventable and/or curable, the stigma associated with STIs and lack of education on treatments can have negative effects on young people’s mental health.


  1. Some people struggle with differentiating between their sexual desires and their romantic desires. Relationships between hookup partners can become complicated if one person becomes emotionally attached and the other does not. This can have negative effects on one’s self-esteem and may increase stress and anxiety.


  1. Specifically on college campuses, many hookups take place at parties and/or in the presence of drugs and alcohol. Being under the influence of any substance prevents someone from giving or obtaining proper consent. Sexual trauma can take a huge toll on someone’s mental health, and it is critical that if you choose to engage in casual sexual encounters, you do so in a safe, consensual manner.


Overall, who you choose to engage in sexual activity with is ultimately your choice. There is no right or wrong when it comes to sex. Hookup culture has both pros and cons, so making safe, informed decisions can help protect your physical, mental, and sexual health.


Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Jessie is the Digital Media Coordinator at Modern Intimacy. A recent graduate of the University of Miami (FL), with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health and Psychology, she hopes to become a clinical psychologist and a certified sex therapist. She is passionate about empowering women to speak up in a professional and a personal setting.



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