Hook-Up Culture During COVID-19


Yuri Kim/The Bates Student

One of the hallmarks of college campuses is “hook-up culture,” or the tendency of students to enter into sexual relationships with their peers. Oftentimes, these relationships defy the new norms set by COVID-19 protocols: they require entering different dorms, close contact, and expanding social bubbles.

Coordinators of Residential Life and Health Education have directed students towards a resource from the NYC Health Department on Safer Sex and COVID-19. The pamphlet recognizes that people will continue to have sex and suggests ways to enjoy safer sex, such as limiting sexual contact to people within the same household, using condoms during oral sex to reduce contact with bodily fluids, and avoiding kissing when possible.

The pamphlet also acknowledges that scientists still have little definitive knowledge on COVID-19 and sex. Although the virus has been found in the semen of COVID-19 carriers, scientists are not sure whether the virus can be spread through vaginal or anal sex. They do know that other coronaviruses have not been easily spread through sexual contact.

Molly Newton ‘11 and Andee Bucciarelli, both of the offices of Residential Life and Health Education, shared that the pandemic is “an important time to connect with your own values around community behaviours and expectations.” However, they went on to emphasize that regardless of these community expectations, no one should “condone or condemn anyone else’s sexual activity.”

Various students have found ways to partake in sexual relationships outside of long-term relationships despite the current environment. Although interviewees conceded that hook-up culture looks different now, they believe that there are positives to the current situation. Specifically, the culture has transitioned from something mostly occurring during drunken moments after parties to one with more consent and consideration. 

The pandemic is forcing people to rethink many aspects of our lives, hook-ups being one of them,” the junior female said. “I recommend that people get creative and try out new activities until we can all be safe.

“In the past I’ve definitely regretted hook-ups after the fact. Now I really need to think through and plan before doing so, leaving less room for intoxicated mistakes and ending up in vulnerable situations with people I decided to trust more than I should have,” shared one interviewee, a female junior at Bates. She describes previous hook-up culture as “less intimate and more spontaneous and blurry,” a stark contrast to the more recent necessity of establishing consistency and trust. 

Newton echoed these characteristics of current hook-up culture: “Intimacy isn’t just about a physical connection; communication is hugely important, as is building trust and a mutual understanding of the relationship.”

Other students are relying on the rules to guide their hook-ups. A female sophomore recounted that although it is frustrating, she has avoided seeing her sexual partner more than once so far during this module because they live in different dorms. 

“The added risk of us getting together can have implications [for] the rest of students, so while it [is frustrating] not being able to get together as much, we just have to wait it out,” she said. 

Although entering other dorms is currently a violation of Bates guidelines, interviewees raised other options such as meeting people within your dorm, obtaining sexual and romantic satisfaction through masturbating or Zoom dates, and meeting new people on dating apps.

“The pandemic is forcing people to rethink many aspects of our lives, hook-ups being one of them,” the junior female said. “I recommend that people get creative and try out new activities until we can all be safe.”

This is not to say that hook-up culture is ultimately selfish or forbidden. Students are finding ways to adjust to new guidelines whilst also grappling with the reality that college life often comes paired with intimacy and sexual exploration. Pandemic hook-ups may also come with the added benefit of emphasizing consent and communication more than past alternatives.