The Notre Dame Hookup Culture

Michelle Mowry

University of Notre Dame

Keywords: hookup, academic/extracurricular commitment, religiosity, Notre Dame


The heterosexual "hookup culture" on college campuses has received copious attention since the year 2000 (Bogle 2007: 775). Hookups are defined as "brief uncommitted sexual encounters between individuals who are not romantic partners or dating each other" (Garcia et al 2012: 161). This thesis examined the hookup culture at the University of Notre Dame through an online survey of Notre Dame undergraduates. This university provided the unique opportunity to investigate the effects of academic and extracurricular commitment and religiosity on frequency of hooking up.

The Hookup Culture

The hookup culture on college campuses has changed modern conceptions of romance and dating for emerging adults. Traditional dating and courtship are steadily decreasing as students choose to pursue physical and sexual encounters with various partners as opposed to with a single partner in the context of a well-defined, formal relationship. However, traditional dating has not become entirely antiquated because many students still pursue committed, monogamous relationships; even so, the hookup culture is conceived by some sociologists as the driving force behind gender relations on college campuses (Glenn and Marquardt 2001: 4) and the "hallmark of the college experience" (Bogle 2007: 776). Researchers have responded to these claims by investigating the effects of the hookup culture on students' mental health, such as respective levels of self-esteem, depression, and anxiety, and physical health, especially the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and infections (Garcia et al. 2012).

Although the aforementioned research has been instrumental in formulating responses to the hookup culture, little has been done to investigate its various forms and the causal mechanism(s) behind them. A common error made in studies of the hookup culture is the assumption that its manifestation is identical across environments. On the contrary, the hookup culture is a polymorphous phenomenon that is shaped by the university environments and, as such, should be regarded on a case-by-case basis. To lump all American colleges and universities together is to ignore fundamental characteristics that determine the hookup culture, such as its reputation for academic prestige, religious affiliation, the size of the student body, and its geographic location. All of these characteristics play a role in defining each university's social norms and, consequently, the type of hookup culture that exists.1 The present research investigated the hookup culture at the University of Notre Dame, an elite university with a strong Catholic identity. These two aspects of the Notre Dame community create an interesting system of social norms governed by secular and religious forces. As such, it provides the unique opportunity to analyze the interplay of high levels of academic and extracurricular commitment and religiosity and hookup behavior. This research touched on several subfields of sociology, such as modern romance and sexuality, academic and extracurricular commitment, and religiosity of emerging adults.

Literature Review

Modern Romance and Sexuality

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, social and cultural norms governing heterosexual male-female interactions on college campuses have become gradually more informal, leading to higher frequency of hookups (Bailey 1988). Although formal dating still exists on college campuses, opportunities for romance, sexual expression, and exploration of one's sexual identity have been diversified by the introduction of informal hookups. The hookup culture reverses the traditional order of romance, placing sexual intimacy before commitment and removing the obligation of emotional attachment and future interaction. Although many people consider the hookup culture a recent development of the 1990s and 2000s, Garcia et al. (2012) argued that its roots could be traced back to the 1920s to the development of the entertainment and automobile industries, both of which allowed young people to escape the highly-scrutinized and well-supervised domain of courtship (162). The sexual revolution of the1960s only augmented this freedom with the advent of feminism and the widespread availability of contraceptives (Garcia et al. 2012: 163). Heldman and Wade added that the creation of co-ed dorms in the 1960s and 1970s and the popularity of binge drinking brought men and women together in informal contexts often driven by the presence of alcohol (2010: 328-329).     

Data collected by several studies estimate that three quarters of undergraduate students hook up during college (Armstrong et al. 2009; England et al. 2008; Paul et al. 2000). According to England et al. (2008), vaginal intercourse took place in approximately 38 percent of hookups, oral sex without intercourse in 15 percent of hookups, and kissing and "nongenital touching" in 31 percent of hookups. Although the number of partners varies among individuals, nearly one third of students have ten or more hookups during the four years of college (England et al. 2008). England's research also emphasized the spectrum of behaviors encompassed by the term "hookup." An inherently ambiguous term, it first appeared in research on college slang in the 1990s (Eble 1996; Glowka et al. 1999; Hancock 1990; Murray 1991) and was used to described the acquisition of a "sexual companion" (Murray 1991: 222). As the research on this topic expanded, the definition was further refined. Garcia et al., defined hookups as "brief, uncommitted sexual encounters between individuals who are not romantic partners or dating each other" (2012: 161). Stepp referred to a hookup as an "unrelationship" to delineate the distinction between hookups and formal relationships (2007: 24-31). The word "hookup" is thus conceived as an all-inclusive term used to describe any physical contact ranging from just kissing to vaginal intercourse; regardless of the sexual act that occurs, one can observe an absence of commitment in the form of a clearly defined relationship and delineated expectations for the future.2

The hookup culture has diversified socially acceptable sexual acts and redefined "sexual intercourse." Rates of vaginal intercourse have dramatically decreased while rates of anal and oral sex have risen (Heldman and Wade 2010: 324). Due to the diversification of sexual practices involved in the hookup culture, a "hierarchy of intimacy" has emerged that allows students to subtly demonstrate intimacy and level of emotional involvement by the acts they choose to pursue with partners (Heldman and Wade 2010: 324). In this way, commitment can be expressed through physical intimacy rather than through a verbal agreement usually found in traditional relationships. The hierarchy of intimacy has also changed the parameters of "sexual intercourse." According to data collected by Sanders and Reinisch (1999), 60 percent of college students surveyed did not believe that oral sex constituted sexual intercourse, thus resulting in the concept of "technical virginity" (277). This concept renegotiates previously accepted definitions of sexual intercourse and allows students to become sexually intimate with others without losing their virginity. This may encourage students to explore their sexuality more and also assuage the guilt of religious undergraduates who fear the consequences of being seen as "impure." 

Academic and Extracurricular Commitment

Research on the academic success of undergraduates has long looked to high school grade point averages and standardized test scores as predictors of college achievement (Chemers et al. 2001: 55). However, recent studies suggest that standardized tests disadvantage minority populations, such as women, Latinos, and African-Americans, thus underestimating their academic potential and exaggerating the potential of their white, male counterparts. According to Chemers et al. (2001), levels of self-efficacy and optimism were directly correlated with academic performance and adjustment to the university setting for first-year college students. They also found that self-efficacious attitudes had a positive effect on the reduction of stress and illness during the first year of undergraduate study (Chemers et al. 2001: 62). Although significant research has documented the factors that influence academic success, very little research has examined the effects of high-pressure environments on students' personal choices, particularly romantic relationships and sexual behavior.

The modern university environment is characterized by heavy academic workloads, opportunities for employment, and a variety of extracurricular activities. Ross et al. (1999) identified increased academic workload (compared to high-school academics) and new responsibilities as two of the top five stressors among college students (312). Although the university environment posits many academic challenges in comparison to high school academics, Babcock and Marks (2010) found that time spent studying decreased between 1961 and 2003. In 1961, students spent an average of 24 hours studying per week, while undergraduates in 2003 spent only 14 hours. Even after controlling for changes in technology and increased diversity in terms of race and gender in the current student population, total study time per week has decreased by approximately 10 hours. They concluded that this was the result of an increase in "leisure time," on which students spend upwards of 25 hours per week (Babcock and Marks 2010). However, McCormick (2011) argued that the label of "leisure time" should be broken down into "discretionary activities," such as socializing and relaxing, and "nondiscretionary activities," such as commuting to school and working at home (36). After reclassifying these activities as such, results show that students spend about 15 hours a week studying, 10 working for pay, 18 hours on nondiscretionary activities, and 17 hours on discretionary activities (36). The redistribution of activities could be attributed to the popular perception of college as a time of academic and professional preparation as well as "the best four years of one's life," which cause many students to adopt the "work hard, play hard" mentality. Rosin (2012) claimed that the hookup culture is a response to increasing demands on students. As students strive to meet these expectations, investing time into a relationship becomes undesirable and burdensome. In a New York Times article entitled, "Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too," Taylor (2013) supported Rosin's hypotheses with interviews of female undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania. Many of those young women used "cost-benefit" analyses in their personal lives and chose hookups over relationship because of the notion of "low risk and low investment costs" (2013: 1). Traditional relationships obstruct trajectories to academic and professional success. As college years are further transformed into a period of "unencumbered striving," traditional relationships and the time commitments they entail take the backseat to the unattached, sexual fulfillment found in spontaneous hookups (Taylor 2013: 2). As such, the hookup culture becomes an outlet and coping mechanism for social and academic challenges. The hookup culture can be especially difficult for female undergraduates to navigate due to their continuously evolving role. In their research on the intersection of gender and class, Hamilton and Armstrong (2009) found that hookups allowed privileged women to focus on their education and delay the onset of marriage and family life, as is expected of high-status women; however, sexual double standards give men the upper hand, leading to disrespect for women in the form of "sexual stigma" and associated feelings of shame (606).

Religiosity of Emerging Adults

The role of religion in the lives of young people, especially emerging adults, has long been a question of pertinent interest to sociologists. Recent research analyzed the trend of religiosity among emerging adults to assess whether self-identification as "religious" and attendance of religious services are becoming more or less frequent. According to Smith (2009), 46 percent of emerging adults identify as Protestant, 18 percent as Catholic, and 27 percent as "not religious," with the remaining 9 percent self-identifying as Jewish, Mormon, and other faiths (104). However, Smith observed a significant decline in religiosity among the participants in the National Study of Youth and Religion between the ages of 13 to 17 and 18 to 23, mostly among individuals formerly affiliated with Protestantism and Catholicism, which declined by 7 percent and 6 percent, respectively. He also witnessed a 13 percent increase in the number of individuals who self-identified as "not religious" (2009: 105).3 In addition, regular attendance to religious services dropped by nearly 25 percent for these individuals between the years 2000 and 2005, while nonattendance increased by nearly 25 percent (2009: 105). These findings are important indicators of the evolving religious beliefs and practices of young Americans that could provide valuable insight into their personal choices about sexual behavior.

The trend of decreasing religiosity among emerging adults coincides with an increase in sexual activity, leading one to wonder if there is a causal relationship. According to interviews conducted by Freitas (2007), between 73 percent and 85 percent of college students are "sexually active," a term denoting a variety of sexual behavior, such as vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Approval rates for premarital sex have also increased significantly since 1940 among male and female college students who took the Cuber and Pell Moral Evaluation Questionnaire (Lance 2007 729). In addition, Penhollow et al. (2005) found that religiosity, measured by religious feeling and religious service attendance played a significant role in determining hookup behavior. For females, whether they had ever hooked up and the frequency of having sexual intercourse during a hookup was strongly correlated with religious service attendance. For males, these behaviors were strongly correlated with religious feeling (344). Eaves (2007) corroborated these findings, claiming that attending religious services delays "first intercourse" and reduces the total number of sexual partners and one-night stands.

The question that immediately stems from these findings is whether religiosity reduces hooking up for college students of all religious backgrounds. According to Burdette et al. (2009), "religious involvement," measured by religious affiliation, religious service attendance, and subjective religiosity, is correlated with a decreased likelihood of hooking up; however, religious service attendance and subjective religiosity played a much more important role than affiliation alone (545). In their sample of 1,000 college-aged women, 38 percent of women who indicated an affiliation with the Catholic Church but with infrequent religious service attendance and low levels of subjective religiosity had hooked up compared to 24 percent of their non-religious counterparts (545). These results corroborate those of Stoddard (1996) who observed that an affiliation with the Catholic Church did nothing to diminish the likelihood of engaging in premarital sex. 

While interviewing students at secular, Catholic, and evangelical colleges about each college's particular hookup culture, Freitas (2007) concluded that the hookup cultures at secular and Catholic colleges were nearly identical. Both exist as pervasive aspects of the college environment despite the latters' affiliation with Catholicism and this religion's promotion of chastity. Students interviewed at these colleges remarked that Catholicism was only a visual presence denoted by crucifixes in classrooms and churches on campus (2007: 66), a perspective that stands in stark contrast to the overwhelming religious environment of evangelical schools, where faith is woven into nearly all aspects of life (2007: 64). Although evangelical students invoked their Christian faith in nearly all aspects of their lives, especially their personal lives and romantic relationships, students at Catholic schools spoke about religion as an isolated subject, thus compartmentalizing it and separating it from their sexual choices (2007: 66-67). The obvious influence of religion on all areas of life at evangelical schools cultivates a purity culture that emphasizes sexual restraint, while Catholicism's more limited influence at Catholic colleges cultivates a hookup culture that mirrors secular universities.   

Although Freitas' findings are a valuable contribution to the field, her convenience sample is not representative of college students, thus making it impossible to generalize her findings. Many students who would have felt uncomfortable participating in such an interview or who had neutral feelings about interviews may not have been included in her interviews, leaving her with a sample of students who self-selected into the interview group. Because each university has a unique environment and hookup culture, case studies of individual universities would be beneficial additions to the research on the physical and psychological consequences of hooking up. This research was designed to contribute to the field's understanding of the hookup culture's causal mechanism as is manifested at the University of Notre Dame. Unlike the Catholic colleges Freitas visited, Catholicism at Notre Dame is seen and felt. All 29 residence halls and most academic buildings have chapels. The residence halls house only one sex, thus enforcing the Catholic belief that men and women should not live together before marriage. In addition, Notre Dame enforces parietals, a rule that requires members of the opposite sex to leave individual residents' rooms by 12 a.m. on weeknights and 2 a.m. on weekends. For these reasons, Notre Dame is a Catholic university in word and deed, which is pertinent for the hookup culture here. By investigating the relationship between academic and extracurricular commitment and religiosity and hookup behavior, this research was designed to expand upon Freitas' findings to investigate the effect of two salient characteristics of the Notre Dame environment on hookup behavior.

Methods and Data

This research was conducted by means of an online survey administered to a random, stratified sample of 600 Notre Dame undergraduates. See Appendix A for the complete survey. This sample was obtained with the help of the Office of the Registrar and was stratified according to year at the university and gender. Qualtrics was used to create and email the survey link to the selected students. As an incentive, each respondent who completed the survey was entered into a drawing to win one of 16 $125 Amazon gift cards, purchased with funding from the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts at Notre Dame. An online survey was chosen because of its well-known low costs as well as the sensitive nature of the questions. It was assumed that the online nature of the survey encouraged respondents to be more open about their behavior to obtain improved internal validity by avoiding social desirability bias.

The survey addressed four distinct areas of interest: demographic and other background information, hookup behavior, academic and extracurricular commitment, and religiosity. The survey began with simple demographic questions regarding gender, race, and year at the university that were asked to ensure a representative sample of Notre Dame undergraduates.4 Respondents were also asked if they were transfer students and, if so, how many semesters they had been at Notre Dame. Because transfer students make up about 10 percent of the Notre Dame student body, it is important to separate transfer students, who have experienced another university's hookup culture, from traditional students who have only attended Notre Dame. Respondents were asked how many times they had been in a serious relationship lasting more than six months. Inquiring about relationship status is important because of the distinction between traditional relationships and hookups. Although hookups may be the catalyst for some relationships (England 2008: 540), the definition of a hookup for this research did not include sexual activity within the context of a dating relationship. 

The second section of the survey addressed hookup behavior. Because of the ambiguity of this term, a "hookup" was defined as an amended version of Garcia et. al's definition: a "brief, uncommitted sexual" act including all actions ranging from just kissing to vaginal intercourse between individuals who have no mutual, communicated commitment to each other (2012: 161).5 This definition fully encompassed the range of sexual activities that were likely to occur during a hookup while emphasizing its noncommittal nature. It also did not exclude the possibility of hooking up with more than one person at once, which could be lost if the definition was limited to only two individuals.6 This definition also underscored the hookup culture's reversal of the order of intimacy that places physical intimacy before emotional intimacy and allows for the distinction between a hookup and a sexual act in the context of a traditional relationship.

After providing this definition, each respondent was asked to estimate the number of times the individual had hooked up since the beginning of college and to indicate when each hookup occurred, such as while school was in session or during an official break. Because students' levels of academic and extracurricular commitment fluctuate during the year, it was necessary to isolate hookups that occurred while the university was in session. Next, respondents were asked about the number of hookup partners they had since the beginning of college. This research was interested in whether Notre Dame students were hooking up habitually with the same partners, patterns that imitate traditional relationships, or hooking up with different individuals each time. It is important to distinguish between these two categories because the two involve different levels of commitment and provide important insight into hookup trends and consequences. For example, one could consider the diseases that can be spread via different sexual acts. Kissing, for example, can spread the common cold and influenza, while engaging in other sexual activities, such as oral sex and any kind of penetration, can transmit various sexually transmitted infections and diseases, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. Finally, respondents had the option to redefine the term "hookup" if they disagreed with the definition, because this research was particularly interested to see whether or not students agreed with the inclusion of kissing.

The third section addressed levels of academic and extracurricular involvement. Respondents were asked to identify their major or intended field of study and to indicate the number of credit hours they were currently taking. The number of hours they spent studying a week outside of regularly scheduled classes was needed in order to objectively quantify their level of academic commitment. Following the questions on academics, respondents were asked about extracurricular activities in order to identify the number of activities with which they were involved. They were then asked to indicate the number of hours they spent on all of these activities during an average week in order to objectively quantify their extracurricular commitment. Finally, the survey asked if they were employed and, if so, to indicate the number of hours they worked for pay during an average week. Each of these questions provided an objective measurement of a respondent's commitment to academics, extracurricular activities, and outside employment.

The final section assessed religiosity, measured by religious affiliation, religious service attendance, and the subjective importance of religion. Respondents were asked if they identified with a particular religion and, if so, to name it. There were  also asked if they attended religious services in the indicated tradition. If they responded affirmatively, they were asked how frequently they attended these services on a scale ranging from multiple times a week to never. If respondents did not identify with a particular religion, they were asked if they considered themselves to be spiritual without a formal affiliation, atheist, agnostic, or none of the above. The survey continued with questions about the importance of religion in daily life and the importance of religion in determining one's beliefs about sexuality and sexual behavior. These two questions were answered on a scale ranging from extremely important to extremely unimportant. These questions quantified each respondent's level of religiosity and examined the hookup behavior of both nonreligious and religious respondents.

The data were analyzed using ordered logistic regression models. Because the meaning of an increase in total number of hookups or hookup partners is not linear, this method was more appropriate than an OLS linear regression. For example, the difference between having no hookups and one hookup is not the same as 12 and 13, because the former reflects a larger change in behavior than the latter. It is better in this case to measure respondents' likelihood of moving between categories.7


At the end of data collection, 419 students had started the survey, and 386 students had completed it for a 64 percent response rate. Only 352 respondents had responses for every variable under consideration. Descriptive statistics on the sample are presented in Table 1. The respondent pool was 44 percent male and 56 percent female. Eighty percent of respondents were white, 7 percent were Asian or Pacific Islander, and 13 percent were classified as "other." The "other" category included students who identified as black, Native American, and Hispanic. This distribution is comparable to Notre Dame's racial composition (Forbes). Students from all years at the university were represented, with the 2017 cohort as the modal category (30%).The modal category for major was subjects within the College of Arts and Letters. 

Table 1: Mean sample characteristics. N=352.


Mean or proportion

Standard Deviation







Grad yr






Hookup Behavior






Hookup partners



Academic Commitment



     Arts & Letters




Study Hours
     0-10 hours
     11-20 hours
     21-30 hours




Extracurricular Commitment



Extracurricular activities




Extracurricular Hours, if involved in activities







Work Hours, if employed













Religious service attendance



Frequency of attendance
    Less than once a month
     Once a month
     2-3 times a month
     Once a week
     Multiple times a week




Importance of Religion in Daily Life
     Extremely important
     Very important
     Somewhat important
     Neither important nor unimportant
     Somewhat unimportant
     Very unimportant
     Extremely unimportant




Only a small minority of respondents were transfer students (5%), so these data are a good representation of the Notre Dame hookup culture. The mean number of reported hookups according to the provided definition was 7.35, with a standard deviation of 11.13. The data on hookup partners revealed a mean of 5.29, with a standard deviation of 7.59.

In regards to extracurricular activities, 98 percent were involved in at least one activity, and the largest percentage of respondents (28%) was involved in two.8 Twenty-seven percent of respondents were involved in three extracurricular activities, indicating that over half of the sample was significantly involved in campus clubs and organizations. Two-thirds of respondents spent between zero and ten hours per week on these activities, while the rest indicated more than ten hours. The majority of respondents (55%) worked, and 24 percent worked between six and ten hours per week.

In regards to religiosity, 83 percent of the sample self-identified as religious, and 72 percent identified as Catholic. This statistic is unsurprising due to the consideration of Catholicism in student applications. Seventy percent of the sample attended religious services in their designated tradition, with weekly attendance as the modal category (38%).

The Spearman correlations in Table 2 illustrate preliminary correlations between the independent and dependent variables of interest. Study hours is negatively correlated with the total number of hookups and hookup partners and is statistically significant. One would expect a respondent's total number of hookups and hookup partners to decrease slightly as respondents studied more, especially if the respondent tended to study alone. Increased study time could be correlated with a smaller social network and less frequent socialization, which could reduce number of hookups and partners. Likely correlated with study hours, credit hours is also negatively correlated with hookup behavior and statistically significant. Frequency of religious service attendance exhibited the strongest negative correlation with hookups (-0.29) and hookup partners (-0.31), both of which are statistically significant. Work hours and extracurricular hours have a positive effect of similar magnitude (0.11) on hookup partners and are statistically significant as well. Whether or not one is employed, is affiliated with a particular religion, or is Catholic had essentially no effect on either of the measures of hookup behavior.

Table 2: Bivariate Correlations for monotonic, ordinal variables using Spearman's Rho. N=352.

Academic Commitment


Hookup Partners

Study hours



Credit hours



Extracurricular commitment



Extracurricular hours






Work hours












Frequency of service attendance



ǂ p < 0.10. * p < 0.05.  ** p < 0.01. *** p < 0.001

Table 3 shows the odds ratios from the ordered logistic regression models. The regressions predict the total number of hookups and hookup partners while controlling for race, gender, major, and year of graduation. In Model 1, each hour of additional study decreases the odds of hooking up by a factor of 0.82. Study hours has an even stronger effect on the odds of having a hookup partner (0.78) and is statistically significant. Each additional hour spent on extracurricular activities increases the odds of having a hookup partner by 1.19 and each additional hour of extracurricular activity increases the odds of hooking up by a factor of 1.13. Working an additional hour has little to no effect on the odds of hooking up (1.03) and of having a hookup partner (1.05).

Table 3: Odds ratios from ordered logistic regression models.




Hookup Partners

Hookup Partners


Model 1 N=356

Model 2 N=353

Model 1 N=356

Model 2 N=353

Academic Commitment





Study hours





Extracurricular Commitment





Extracurricular Hours





Work Hours















Frequency of service attendance





Importance of religion in daily life










 ǂ p < 0.10. * p < 0.05.  ** p < 0.01. *** p < 0.001

As in the previous regression model, Model 2 controls for race, gender, major and year of graduation. Frequency of service attendance, hours spent on extracurricular activities, and Catholic affiliation were significant predictors of hookup behavior. Although its estimated effect was not significant, an increase in study hours reduced the odds of hooking up and of having a hookup partner by 0.92 and 0.89, respectively. Each additional hour of extracurricular activity increased the odds of hooking up by a factor of 1.15 and the odds of having a hookup partner by a factor of 1.23. The latter estimated effect is a significant predictor of the odds of having a hookup partner and may be due to an expanded social network and increased contact with individuals of similar interests. As in Model 1, the estimated effect of an additional hour of work on hookup behavior was not significant. Religious affiliation decreased the odds of hooking up by a factor of 0.67 and the odds of having a hookup partner by 0.62, neither of which was significant. Frequency of service attendance was a significant predictor of hookup behavior as attending religious services more frequently reduced odds of hooking up by a factor of 0.72 and the odds of having a hookup partner by 0.70. Catholic affiliation increased the odds of hooking up by a factor of 2.03 and of having a hookup partner by a factor of 2.21, both of which were significant. Finally, importance of religion in daily life was not a significant predictor of hookup behavior.


The ordered logistic regression models show that religiosity affects hookup behavior more strongly than either academic or extracurricular commitment. The latter two seem to have little effect on hookup behavior. Although study hours do decrease number of hookups and hookup partners, it is relatively small. When measures of religiosity were included in the regression model, this effect became even smaller, suggesting that religiosity may mediate this relationship. It is possible that religious students are more disciplined in the time they allot for studying than their non-religious counterparts, although this is only speculation. Hours spent on extracurricular activities is a significant predictor of having a hookup partner. As previously mentioned, this is likely due to the fact that extracurricular activities unite individuals under a common goal and attract individuals with similar interests. Surprisingly, the estimated effect of work hours per week was not a significant predictor of hookup behavior. Perhaps this is because students have more limited opportunities for meaningful work. Because they must choose a job out of necessity and not necessarily out of interest, they may not be as personally invested in their work as they are in their extracurricular activities. It is also possible that they may not come across as many people with similar interests, creating a smaller pool of hookup partners.

In regards to religiosity measures, frequency of service attendance is a significant predictor of hookup behavior, for both the odds of hooking up (0.72) and having a hookup partner (0.70). A paradox in the data is that, though religious affiliation decreases one's odds of hooking up by a factor of 0.67 and one's likelihood of having a hookup partner by a factor of 0.62, being Catholic increases these odds exponentially (2.03 and 2.21, respectively). I tested for an interaction effect between female and Catholic as well as between female and frequency of religious service attendance (not shown), neither of which were present. These results corroborate the findings of Penhollow et al. (2005), who insist that religious affiliation is not an effective measure of religiosity. They examined instead service attendance and religious feeling. The finding that being affiliated with the Catholic Church increases one's odds of hooking up and having a hookup partner supports Burdette et. al' (2009) research of college-aged women, which found that female Catholics with low levels of subjective religiosity and infrequent service attendance were more likely to hook up than their non-religious peers. This could be the result of strict expectations of chastity whose constraints encourage rebellion among young Catholics. Although other branches of Christianity advocate for chastity as well, many Catholics who do not explicitly follow the Catholic Church's teachings on sexuality may continue to affiliate with Catholicism for various reasons. It should be recognized that Notre Dame is a majority Catholic campus, which could overemphasize Catholic students' hookup tendencies. From the researcher's personal experience, there is a wide spectrum of Catholicism at Notre Dame, from very strict observance to little or no observance. It is possible that, when compared to a larger group of non-religious or students from various religious backgrounds, the hookup behavior of Catholic students at Notre Dame could be seen in a different light.


As previously stated, this research is intended as a case study of Notre Dame. Results reported here, though generalizable to the Notre Dame population, are not generalizable to all American college students. This study could have been improved by adding a section on alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption may differ across individuals with varying levels of academic and extracurricular commitment and various religious backgrounds and may be an intervening variable. In addition, this research could have been improved by further refining the definition of hookup to the following: "a brief, uncommitted sexual" act including all actions ranging from just kissing to anal or vaginal penetration between individuals who have no mutual, communicated commitment to each other. Suggestions from respondents made it clear that the definition in the research was very heteronormative, which could have excluded homosexual students.


This research provides useful information on the Notre Dame hookup culture, especially how it is shaped by individuals' academic and extracurricular commitment and religiosity. The number of hours spent on extracurricular activities proved to be a significant predictor of the odds of having a hookup partner. Two measures of religiosity, frequency of service attendance and affiliation with the Catholic Church, were significant predictors of hookup behavior as well. Academic commitment had no effect. Although it is not possible to compare Notre Dame to other universities because of this unique study design and the definition of "hookup" that was used, insightful patterns on the relationship between religion and sexuality emerge from this analysis. Notre Dame Catholics exhibit a wide range of hookup behavior, from not hooking up at all to hooking up frequently. The frequency with which they attend religious services is a more significant predictor of hookup behavior than the affiliation itself, leading to the conclusion that some Catholics do not accept the Catholic Church's teachings on sexuality. Perhaps the notion of college as a time of experimentation with alcohol and one's sexuality takes precedence over religious teachings that may seem conservative and outdated. It is also possible that Notre Dame's consideration of whether or not a student is Catholic encourages a loose affiliation with Catholicism. Even students who have very little connection with this religion may indicate it as their affiliation for social and/or cultural reasons. Regardless, students' affiliation with the Catholic Church appears to be a salient aspect of their identity, even if its teachings do not extend into the realm of sexual behavior.

At a university that combines Ivy League academic prestige with the religiosity of a small, Catholic liberal arts college, Notre Dame students experience conflicting pressures to "work hard" and "play hard," while being influenced by the teachings of Catholic Church. In an environment where experimentation with alcohol and one's sexuality are widespread, students struggle to reconcile religious and secular expectations. Attending religious services more frequently reduces the odds of hooking up and of having a hookup partner, a fact that is especially important for Catholics, whose affiliation with this religion increases the odds of hooking up and having a hookup partner. Future research should be conducted in the form of case studies of other Catholic and secular universities to see if similar results are obtained.


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Appendix A

Notre Dame Hookup Culture Survey

  1. Please indicate your gender (Open-ended: blank box)
  2. Please indicate your race. You may choose as many options as you like       (Options: White; Black or African American; American Indian and Alaska Native; Asian; Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander; Some other race [blank box provided]; Prefer not to answer.
  3. Please indicate your anticipated year of graduation. (Options: 2018 to 2014)
  4. Please indicate if you are a transfer student (Options: yes or no).
  5. Contingency question: How many semesters have you been at Notre Dame, not including this semester? (Open-ended: blank box)

  6. How many times have you been in a serious relationship lasting more than six months while in college? (Open ended: blank box)

  7. Please use the following definition to answer the questions in the next section:    A hookup is a brief, uncommitted sexual act including all actions ranging from just kissing to vaginal intercourse between individuals who have not communicated, mutual commitment to each other. Approximately how many times have you "hooked up" since the beginning of college? (Open-ended: blank box)

  8. Please indicate the number of hookups that occurred during each of the following time frames. (Options: While school was in session [blank box] ; During the summer/over break [blank box]; during a semester or year abroad [blank box]; other [blank box])

  9. With how many different people have you hooked up? (Open-ended: blank box)

  10. Do you agree with the provided definition of a "hookup?" (Options: Yes; No)

  11. If not, please redefine it and explain your reasoning. (Open-ended: blank box).

  12. What is your major/intended course of study? (Open-ended: blank box)

  13. How many credit hours are you currently taking? Please choose one. (Five options: 11 or fewer; 12-15; 16-18; 19-21; 22+)

  14. How many hours do you spend studying outside of class during a typical week? (Options: 0-10; 11-20; 21-30; 31-40; 40+)

  15. Please list the number of extracurricular activities with which you are involved. These include clubs, organizations, varsity and intramural sports, community service, etc. (Options: 0: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5 or more)

  16. How many hours do you spend doing these activities during a typical week? (Options: 0-10; 11-20; 21-30; 31-40; 40+)

  17. Do you work for pay in addition to being a student? (2 options: Yes or No)

  18. Contingency questions: If yes, how many hours do you work for pay in a typical week? (0-5; 6-10; 10-15; 16-20; 20+)
  19. Do you associate with a particular religion? (Options: Yes or No)

  20. Contingency questions: If yes, please identify this religion (Open-ended: blank box)

  21. If yes, do you attend religious services in this particular faith tradition? (Two options: Yes or No)

  22. If yes, how often do you attend these services? (Options: Multiple times a week; once a week; a couple times a month; about once a month; a few times a year; never)

  23. If no, do you consider yourself…(Options: Spiritual without a formal affiliation; Atheist; Agnostic; None of the above)

  24. How important is religion in your daily life? (6 options: Extremely important, important, somewhat important, somewhat unimportant, unimportant, extremely unimportant)

  25. How important is religion in determining your beliefs about sexuality and sexual practices? (6 options: Extremely important, important, somewhat important, somewhat unimportant, unimportant, extremely unimportant)



1 I cannot confidently say that a well-defined hookup culture exists at every college and university in the United States, especially since many evangelical colleges boast of a "purity culture" that combats the uncommitted sexual encounters characteristic of the hookup culture. See Freitas (2013) for a more in-depth treatment of the purity culture.

2 In the survey, I operationalize the term "hookup" as the following: "'A brief, uncommitted sexual act including all actions ranging from just kissing to vaginal intercourse between individuals who have no mutual, communicated commitment to each other." At Notre Dame, where many students conceptualize hooking up as kissing a stranger or acquaintance, I felt that it was very important to classify kissing as "hooking up."

3 Faith traditions composing the remaining 9% experienced negligible declines.

4 Though I did not use a disproportionate stratified sample, the sample that I obtained was a realistic reflection of the Notre Dame environment, in terms of gender and race.

5 It should be noted that where the quotations end are where my addition to the definition begins.

6 Credit to Elizabeth McClintock for recognizing this restriction.

7 I also considered a binary logistic regression model that predicted whether a respondent had ever hooked up. Results were similar to those presented for the ordered logistic regression.

8 Extracurricular activities were defined as "clubs, organizations, varsity and intramural sports, etc."


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