Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: “Hooking-Up”:Good Practice for a Bad Marriage

hooking upThe media, social scientists and a majority of young people report that “ Hooking Up” has replaced traditional dating relationships on college campuses.

What is “Hooking-Up”?

Hooking up is defined as a sexual encounter including everything from oral sex to sexual intercourse, between two people who are strangers or brief acquaintances without commitment or expectations and usually lasting no more than one night.

According to a 2013 article, published in the Monitor of the American Psychological Association, between 60-80% of college students in North American report having had a hook-up experience.  Research from different authors interviewing college men and women corroborate these numbers; but suggest that the misconception that “ everyone else” is doing it, media coverage, alcohol and fear of being left out of the social scene may actually fuel the trend.

Why Hook-Up?

The reasons for hooking-up and the benefits and risks involved, are a function of who is reporting and whether the disclosures by men and women about hooking-up are public or private.

A recent article by Kate Taylor in the New York Times, “ Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too” reports on hooking-up” by woman at the University Of Pennsylvania. Both the title and the tenor of the article suggest that women are choosing “ hooking up” as a functional choice to find sexual gratification without the hassle or time commitment of being in a relationship. Implied is the message that now women have taken back control of the sexual arena. They, like men, are free to choose uncommitted sex because their goal is a great resume—not a great relationship. The expectation is that when their career is all set, they will meet the right man.

The other side of hooking up is described by Laura Sessions Stepp in her book, Unhooked, Donna Freitas in her book, The End of Sex, and even by Kate Taylor in the end of her New York Times article. It is the personal and private disclosure by women and men of compliance, regret, discomfort, guilt, and opting out by many after hooking-up.

  • In public young people will describe hooking up as “ Immediate Gratification” and “Fast Food.” In private, they describe it as “ No Relationship,”  “ Increases Cynicism,” “ No Emotional Fulfillment.
  • Some report wanting a relationship but feeling they had no choice but to hook-up.
  •  Some hope hooking-up might bring a relationship, but report feeling used and disappointed.
  •  Some men report have little respect for women who want to hook-up. Some report guilt.
  • Sixty-four percent of hook-ups involve alcohol consumption by men and women.
  • Many women report needing to be drunk to tolerate hooking-up with a stranger and as a way to rationalize what happened the next day.
  •  Some men report keeping their hesitations to become involved to themselves—particularly as there is social pressure “ to score.”
  • Woman report instances of sexual coercion and assault from hooking-up during which they were too drunk to protest and after which they did not feel entitled to protest.
  • Over the course of the last few years and hundreds of interviews, Donna Fritas reports with concern that too many students have become desensitized and uncaring from the hook-up culture.

Hooking-Up: Good Practice for a Bad Marriage

Whether a young man or woman hooks up by design or default. Whether it works for them or traumatizes them—hooking-up is good practice for a bad marriage. Why?

  • When hooking up reduces the possibility of seeking and experiencing different types of relationships, it limits the use of the college years as formative in terms of understanding and developing a sense of self, attunement to another, expression of physical and emotional desire, an understanding of intimacy in many dimensions and an experience of balancing needs of self and other.
  • Instead of expanding relationship skills, hooking-up involves practicing some of the very patterns that destroy marriages.
  • It is striking that the characteristics of hooking up mirror the very issues voiced with resentment and despair in troubled relationships.


We are like strangers!”

“I am an outsider in his/ her life.”

  • Intimate connections involve the wish to know and be known by the other in a way that is different from connection with others. Intimate connections confer insider status on partners.
  • When marriages are strained be it from conflict, crisis, trauma or betrayal, partners report that they lose this special role. They don’t know who the other has become. Sometimes they can’t even recognize themselves.

The hallmark of hooking-up is sex with a stranger without commitment or expectations. People are unknown and disposable. Learning to know and be known is not possible.

Communication Problems

“We never talk.”

“If I want to speak about how I feel, I have to go to my friends.”

  • Most marriage experts maintain that without communication—there is no relationship. Crucial to a couple’s stability, satisfaction and attachment is the ability to share in a way that invites the other to listen and to listen is a way that helps the other share.
  • Research reveals that problem solving, anger management and intimacy are enhanced by the ability to self-disclose and to perceive from the partner’s response that he/she understands and cares.
  • A marriage is in crisis when the partners are no longer confidantes; when there is nothing left to speak about; or when speaking equates to fighting.

In this culture, young men and women who are hooking-up sexually are not communicating. If they are speaking, it is with friends about what happened in a hook-up; how drunk they were; and/or how much they remember or regret. There is no experience of pairing intimate sharing with intimate relating. 

Sexual Difficulties

” I feel like a sex object.”

“I just go through the motions when he/she wants sex.’

“I never feel desired.”

  • Sexual intimacy matters in marriages–whether is involves a high frequency of sexual intercourse or the tender touch of a beloved partner passing in the kitchen or holding hands in a hospital.
  • While men and women may differ in the triggers of arousal, both ultimately want to feel the other’s passion and desire for them.
  • Most are not willing to share their partner with other sexual partners and feel betrayed by infidelity, be it an affair or on-line cybersex.
  • Work with couples who have struggled with sexual relating very often reveals the negative impact of one or both partners’ sexual history.
  • It is difficult to undo the imprint of early sexual abuse; the use of promiscuity as a desperate attempt at approval; numbing as self-protection; or the necessity of alcohol or drugs to regulate the anxiety or aversion to sex.

It is very hard to imagine that hooking-up would not impact future relationships that call forth the very trust, knowing, communication, safety and fidelity precluded by hooking-up.

It is very hard to imagine that practicing random sexual acts with strangers would not complicate the future expression of loving sexuality and sexual desire with a chosen life partner.


“There is no ‘We.’

“We haven’t grown together!”

  • When two people are secure enough in their individuality to become a “ we” they usually have a strong and sustaining marriage. A close look reveals that they are partners who have affirmed each other’s dreams and supported each other’s endeavors. Essentially they have benefited from the presence of each other in the journey of life.
  • Marriages suffer when partners can’t or won’t trust that giving to each other has powerful potential.
  • The result is that some limit their partner’s dreams. Some outgrow their partner. Some risk the marriage rather than risking sharing.

The rationale of hooking-up as functional sex for fostering one’s career goals without the burden of a relationship is good practice for a problem marriage.

It limits the experience of balancing emotional connection with intellectual and career goals. It limits appreciating the power of mutual support on both partners’ dreams.

In a culture of young people who want to do it all, see it all, have it all, and know it all in high tech time, the trend of hooking-up gives too little and risks too much of the gift of sexual intimacy.