Maia Szalavitz reports:

Recent claims about the hookup culture among college students are greatly exaggerated, it seems.

Despite racy headlines suggesting that college kids are increasingly choosing casual liaisons over serious relationships, a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association finds that just under one-third of college students have had more than one partner in the past year.

And that’s exactly the same proportion of students who were surveyed between 1988 and ’96, and between 2002 and ’10; both groups also had the same number of partners. So kids aren’t hooking up more than they ever were, or even more than their parents did, which is what recent media coverage has implied.

“College students today are not having more sexual partners [after] age 18, more sexual partners over the last year or more sex than their parents,” says the study’s lead author Martin Monto, professor of sociology at the University of Portland in Oregon. Gen Xers were actually more likely to have sex weekly or more frequently compared with millenials, according to the research. . . .

But Bogle and Monto do agree that students tend to think their peers hook up far more frequently than they actually do. One study found that on average, students report a total of five to seven hookups in their entire college career. But when Bogle surveyed students about how often they thought their fellow students were hooking up, they typically said seven times a semester. “That would be 56 people” in four years, she says.

In fact, 1 in 4 college students is a virgin and in the new research, only 20% of students from either era reported having six or more partners after turning 18.

That discrepancy in perception may explain the conflicting beliefs about whether college kids are really hooking up more than they used to — or not. The current study did find — based on reports by the students of their own sexual relationships — some evidence that recent generations of college students are having slightly more casual sex and so-called friends-with-benefits relationships. About 44% of students in the 2000s reported having had sex with a “casual date or pickup,” compared with 35% in the 1980s and ’90s — and 68% reported having had sex with a “friend” in the previous year, compared with 56% in the earlier group. ( more . . . )

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