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Hookup Culture: The Unspoken Rules Of Sex On College Campuses

Few topics send the media into a panic like the idea of hookup culture on college campuses. But are college students actually having more sex than their parents did a generation ago? Research suggests the answer is no.

Lisa Wade, a sociologist at Occidental College, says something has changed, though: In today's hookup culture, developing an emotional attachment to a casual sex partner is one of the biggest breaches of social norms.

For her new book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, Wade spent 5 years investigating hookup culture on American colleges and universities. In this culture, she says, there's a dichotomy between meaninglessand meaningful sex, and students have to go out of their way to "perform meaninglessness." They have to prove that they're not emotionally attached to their sex partners, and in fact that they care less than the other person.

This leads to seemingly contradictory situations, such as people who only have sex with partners they're not interested in, and friends being meaner to each other after developing a sexual relationship.

In this February 2017 episode, Lisa Wade talked with us about hookup culture and the complex rules surrounding casual sex on American college campuses.

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Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.