It “Just Happened” One Night: Gender Norms and Consent to Unwanted Sexual Activity on College Hookups
Kettrey, Heather Hensman
Popular media often portray college hookups (i.e., casual sexual encounters with no expectation or guarantee of commitment) as harmful to young women and beneficial to young men. Research indicates that hookups tend to be positive experiences for both young women and men, but young women are more likely to report negative hookup experiences (i.e., unwanted sexual activity, lower sexual pleasure than men, negative feelings following a hookup). Rather than being a direct product of contemporary hookup culture, these gender-divergent outcomes may be related to dominant gender norms that can place young men in a privileged position over young women (e.g., sexual double standards and mores that prioritize male sexual desire/pleasure over female desire/pleasure). In this dissertation I present findings from three empirical investigations that use data from the Online College Social Life Survey to examine relationships between gender norms and negative outcomes of college hookups. In the first study I explore relationships between sexual subjectivity (i.e., self-entitlement to pleasure and pursuit of sexual activity) and unwanted sexual activity on college hookups and, as a comparison, dates. In the second study I examine relationships between endorsement of sexual double standards and negative experiences on hookups (i.e., unwanted sexual activity and feelings of regret following a hookup). In the third study I Investigate relationships between unwanted sexual activity, sexual pleasure, and college students’ post-hookup interest in their hookup partners (i.e., interest in a relationship or subsequent hookup). Collectively, findings indicate that (1) hookups can, in some cases, be harmful to young men and (2) negative hookup outcomes may not be inherent to hookup culture itself, as they are associated with gender norms that privilege young men over young women. These findings have implications for outreach efforts targeting adolescents and college students and may inform debates about transforming “sex education,” which focuses on physical health, into “sexuality education,” which includes attention to social aspects of sexuality (e.g., power).