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The Changed Dating Landscape: What's up With Hookup Culture

This video taps into what my friends with older kids are freaking out about: “hookup culture.” Apparently, the kids are doing a lot of “hooking up”—making out, having sex, having oral sex—without any commitment to each other. As one friend told me, “It’s like this incestuous thing where they’re all making out with each other and it’s driving me insane. What happened to going steady?”

I didn’t have the answer to her question, but this video from New York Magazine’s The Science of Us section does. As the report explains, there have been a gazillion articles about dating apps and the promiscuity of kids today—except it might not all be true.

It is true that the “dating landscape has changed” and that people are getting married later in life. As a result, it could mean lifetime number of sexual partners has increased. If you’re getting married later—then you’re going to date more. Makes sense, right? Except scientists who have looked into this theory didn’t find any evidence of people having more sex just because they were married later in life. In fact, they said, that people born in the ‘70s and ‘80s are actually less promiscuous.

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So then, if this hookup culture isn’t actually happening, why does it feel that way? One reason, the video explains, is that we look at the past with rose- colored glasses. We forget what it was like to be a teen. A teen with raging hormones. A teen who maybe was obsessed with hooking up. It’s nothing new.

Another reason is that kids and college students think that their peers are having a lot more sex than they’re actually having. Researchers say that they think they’re the only ones not having sex—and that everyone else is having more sex than them. Also not the case.

The last reason is because of the media. Oh, the media. The media, he explains, tends to focus more individual cases. Maybe one person had a party where a group of 17-year-olds were having sex with each other in someone’s basement (I’m making this up) and because of that—it appears that every single 17-year-old is doing it.

Except they’re not. They might be “fun” to write about. But they don’t represent all of the kids.

In the end, the report has this to say: yes, apps have changed the dating landscape. And yes, dating norms do change over time. “But a whole new hookup culture that’s unique to today’s teens and 20-somethings? There’s just no evidence to support that.”