RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. On Monday mornings, we report on Your Health. And this morning, we'll look more closely at something that many people hearing this may well have done over the weekend: hooking up. People skip dating and go straight to mating. They're also putting off the search for a permanent partner. NPR's Brenda Wilson reports.

BRENDA WILSON: It's not that 25-year-old Elizabeth Welsh never dates, but for now, she prefers the hookup, something she describes by recounting an encounter with a young man at a party her last year in college - a dance that was as old as time.

Ms. ELIZABETH WELSH: There's just sort of give and a take, almost like a gravitational pull. You know, you sort of go off and wander and do your own thing but kind of always find your path intersecting with the same person. You check each other out and maybe say something witty or funny and go back to rotating and your paths are crossing. And it's tension building. Is someone going to say anything, or are you both just going to go home alone?

WILSON: Meanwhile, your friends are leaving. It's getting late.

Ms. WELSH: I ended up being the one who asked him if he wanted to come home with me. And he sort of made sure that he understood what my intentions were. And he said, oh, well, you know, do you have a couch? Do you have a floor? I said, well, I have a bed. He's like, okay.

WILSON: The hookup is definitely about sex, but the term is deliberately vague. Hookups can run the gamut from cuddling to intercourse and everything in between. There have always been one night stands, but Kathleen Bogle, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at La Salle University who has been studying the phenomena, says the hookup is reversing the way things were traditionally done.

Professor KATHLEEN BOGLE (Sociology and Criminal Justice, La Salle University): The idea used to be you're going to date someone which may lead to something sexual happening. And in the hookup era, something sexual happens, even though it might be less than intercourse, which may or may not ever lead to dating. So that's kind of the big cultural shift.

WILSON: And she traces the change back to campus life in the 1960s and 1970s, when male and female students were thrown together in apartment-style dormitories. That's how it started, but it's lasted for another reason. Young people are waiting later and later to marry. The average U.S. man marries around age 28, a young woman about age 27.

Prof. BOGLE: What would mating and dating look like if college freshman or high school seniors knew that they weren't going to get married for 10, 15 or 20 years? And I think that's part of the reason we see the hookup culture today.

WILSON: Just as the hookup has replaced dating for many young people, friendship appears to answer to the need for relationships. For Elizabeth Welsh, more important than a guy she may spend the night with is the circle of friends she has known since college. The very idea of dating a guy who might intrude on that makes her more uncomfortable than hooking up with him.

Ms. WELSH: It's a lot easier for me to go for than really inviting them into my life and bringing them into my inner circle of the people who are closest to me that I've had all these shared experiences with. To me, that seems like a bigger step, that kind of emotional intimacy.

WILSON: And the guys feel the same way.

Mr. AVERY LEAKE: I'm with 10 guys right now.

WILSON: Ten?

Mr. LEAKE: Ten guys, and eight of them have got the same personal goal, and that is to get laid.

WILSON: That was 25-year-old Avery Leake at Black Beach weekend in Miami with his buddies, surrounded by hundreds of women in swimsuits and less. Back in D.C., he's in a relationship. But he explains that for guys, dating - even taking a woman to a movie - is more expensive for young men than it used to be, so it's harder to manage than a hookup.

Mr. LEAKE: Matinee was $3 to $5. Now a matinee is $7 and the main event is, what, $10. You may want to get some popcorn. Popcorn's about $7, $8. Two drinks. So on the average, you're spending about anywhere from about $43 to maybe $50 just in a movie theater.

WILSON: Not to worry. In the era of hookups, a lot of things get reversed, so women have got it taken care of.

Mr. LEAKE: At one time, it was the man who had to pay for everything, but now the woman say, you know what? I like you that much. I got it. I'll pay for it. And they know what they want is a physical thing. And some days, it used to be the man who won't call you the next day. The woman won't call you the next day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILSON: A number of experts accept this relaxed attitude towards sex outside of relationships as a natural and even positive consequence of the sexual revolution, women's growing independence and the availability of modern contraceptives.

But Deborah Roffman, who conducts human sexuality workshops for middle and high-school-age students and their parents, sees it as a distorted view of liberation.

Ms. DEBORAH ROFFMAN (Conducts Human Sexuality Workshops): I think most people would probably look back and agree this has been more a traditionally, or at least stereotypically, male model. So that what I've seen over the last few years is girls adopting a more compartmentalized view and feeling very good and empowered by it.

WILSON: She's not convinced it's good for women and would feel a lot better, she says, if young men were also developing a greater capacity for intimacy. At 25 years of age, May Wilkerson sounds more resigned to than enthralled by the idea of hookups. She would like a relationship - not a family, not yet. But she has had trouble finding intimacy or a date with the men she's met while living in Canada, Argentina and Paris. In New York City where she moved two years ago, she found an even greater resistance to intimacy.

Ms. WILKERSON: A lot of people that move here are driven by a heightened sense of individualism and a drive to succeed in some respect. For many of us, that requisite vulnerability and exposure that comes from being really intimate with someone in a committed sense is kind of threatening.

WILSON: (Singing) All you need is love.

Ms. WILKERSON: (Singing) Love.

WILSON: (Singing) Love. Love is all you need

Ms. WILKERSON: (Singing) Love is all you need.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WILKERSON: Yeah. I think that love is embarrassing. It's funny, because you've been asking me about my, you know, like, my sex life. And I've been more comfortable talking about that. And as soon as you ask me if I've been in love with someone, I kind of froze up because it seems like the most personal question that you could have asked. It's the most terrifying thing.

WILSON: Yes, she has been in love, but the guy wasn't quite into it. There was one older guy who wooed her, used to bring her cupcakes. She couldn't quite work up an interest in him. So there are no dates, no courtship and no phone calls. Among young people, that's not the way it's done. Everyone hooks up via the Internet and text messaging.

Ms. WILKERSON: What it means, essentially, is that you have contact with many, many more people, but that each of those relationships takes up a little bit less space in your life. And I think that that kind of, like, fragmentation of the social world creates, like, a kind of loneliness.

WILSON: Hook ups started before the Internet and social networks, but the technology is extending the lifestyle way beyond the campus. Human sexuality educator Deborah Roffman says a major change in society has happened, and no one is offering young people guidance. And she's not talking about how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. The ones I spoke with have gotten that message. But she says they need help in managing this new stage in life

Ms. ROFFMAN: This is the dilemma for this generation, is how do I learn about intimacy? How do I have a series of relationships that are going to be really healthy for me and others and are going to prepare me for - probably what's going to happen is I'm going to settle down with one person.

WILSON: Still, young people like Elizabeth Welsh don't see the hook up as an obstacle to future relationships.

Ms. WELSH: We've all spent so much time building friendships. It's a common and easy mistake is to assume that somehow the values of friendship and those relationship building blocks have no place in a longer term relationship.

WILSON: The way she sees it, you've got experience building and investing in relationships and friendships and in being open and communicating about sexuality. It shouldn't be impossible to fuse these things into a long-term relationship, if it is something you want and you're willing to commit to.

Brenda Wilson, NPR News.

INSKEEP: We thought you might have an opinion about hooking up by now. So we're giving you an opportunity to share it by taking our poll at npr.org.

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