Rice students are lonely and looking for love. A group researching sex and romantic relationships at Rice for Research Methods (SOCI 381) expected many students to have no hookup experience but didn’t realize the extent to which they were correct. They were also surprised to find that the hookup culture at Rice is largely mythical: An overwhelming majority of study participants thought they were hooking up less than their peers, and most want to be in a long-term, committed relationship.
The group members, McMurtry College sophomore Simone Bergsrud, Hanszen College senior Lena Hall, Brown College senior Jasmine Isokpunwu, Duncan College senior Emily Jacobson, Hanszen junior Gillian Perkins and Hanszen senior Natalie Polacek, conducted an online survey as well as two focus groups of respondents. They asked respondents how many hookups they had experienced since they began their Rice career, as well as how many they believed the average Rice student had experienced, among other questions.
“We defined hookup as any sort of sexual encounter from kissing or making out all the way up to sex outside of the confines of an exclusive romantic relationship,” Jacobson said. “’I have never hooked up with anyone at Rice’ was by far the most common answer.”
59.6 percent of men and 58.5 percent of women, as well as three non-binary respondents, had never hooked up with anyone since matriculating at Rice. The majority of students have never had a sexual encounter outside of a relationship. However, among those who had hooked up during their time at Rice, their average number of partners was 5.83.
According to the focus groups, students who engaged in hookup culture were uninterested in the emotional and time commitment required by relationships.
“A lot of people said sex is necessary but romance and the social and psychological aspect of a relationship are not,” Perkins said.
“They said that they could get that from friendships,” Jacobson said.
According to the study, the college with the lowest average number of hookups was Jones College at 2.2, and the highest was Will Rice College at 5. Social sciences majors hooked up the most, and humanities majors the least. Religiosity and financial aid status were not significant factors in determining the number of hookups students had in their Rice career.
“We weren’t trying so much to get at people’s sexual history or sexual experiences, but more how the hookup culture works and how people are participating in it,” Jacobson said.
The group also wanted to verify whether hookup culture was actually present at Rice.
“[We wanted to find out] if it exists at all, or if it’s more mythological,” Perkins said.
80 percent of respondents said they believed they hooked up less than the average Rice student. The average number of hookups that students attribute to Rice students is 4.9, which was far above the actual number of hookups for the majority of respondents: 0. The median number of hookups for a Rice student was approximately 1, while the average was 3.38.
“People think that they’re hooking up less than their friends and people think the average student is hooking up a lot more,” Hall said.
The research group said they thought a lot of perception about hookup culture is based on one’s friend group as well as the possibility that students tend to talk more about their hookup experiences than their lack thereof.
“I think it’s kind of like how when you watch the news, you think that the world is a horrible place because of all of the negative stuff,” Perkins said. “People don’t talk about like, ‘Oh, yeah, guess what? This week I didn’t hook up with anyone.’”
“Although it could be a result of the people I am around, it seems as though everyone is continuously tallying up their ‘hookups’ to compare their progress in college bingo,” Brown sophomore Emma May Anderson said.
63 percent of respondents were women and 37 percent were men. There was no statistical difference between men and women’s hookup tendencies, according to Hall.
“We didn’t get much difference by gender,” Hall said. “Even though we got more female respondents, they tended to answer the question in the same way.”
For example, approximately the same proportion of men and women said that men and women enjoy hooking up equally: 57.8 percent of men and 54.4 percent women.
To be confident the survey results could be generalized to the full undergraduate population, the group said they needed 350 responses; they received 580, not counting responses they later disqualified for facetious answers. However, the group acknowledged that the survey may not be fully reflective of the Rice population.
“We didn’t really consider how experiences of LGBTQ+ students may differ from those of heterosexual students,” Jacobson said. “About 85 percent of our respondents said that they preferred partners of the opposite sex. Only three respondents identified themselves as gender non-binary.”
In the two focus groups conducted after the online survey, students raised a point about three distinct social groups at Rice. They said that there was a group of people who never hooked up with anyone, another group in long-term relationships, and a final group who hooked up frequently.
Many respondents complained that people were either in a long-term relationship or hooking up, and that casual dating was rare.
Hall said that the students in the focus group echoed the survey responses.
“There was this idea of getting into a relationship right at the beginning of college and then maintaining that relationship throughout the four years and not experience anything outside of it,” Hall said. “That relationship is central to their social life.”
This is exactly what most Rice students appear to want: 74 percent of respondents said their ideal relationship status would be “in an exclusive romantic relationship.” However, most of the students who would like to be in relationships are not.
So why can’t Rice students meet The One? In the focus group, students blamed academic pressures and time constraints for the disparity between the number of people who wanted to date and the number of people who were in relationships.
“People are pretty high-stress here, so I think that kind of lends itself to hookup culture,” one of the focus group participants said.
Students said they wouldn’t have the time to maintain an exclusive relationship and, while ideal, long-term romance was not practical for Rice’s workload. Jacobson also attributed the lack of romantic relationships to difficulties in meeting those willing to date.
“People feel that people who are interested in dating either casually or more seriously might come up against this hookup culture and have a hard time finding people who are interested in doing more than that,” Jacobsen said. “You’re not supposed to date in your college, but you’re not supposed to date in your major, so who are you dating? It can be hard to meet people at Rice, I think.”
“There are some people who desire to date who often find themselves limited by hook-up culture,” one focus group member said.
Anderson said that another contributing factor is that Rice students are too eager to jump into relationships.
“I think people want to be in a relationship too much for one to actually work,” Anderson said. “Most of the people at Rice were probably the nerdy kids who didn’t have much chance of dating anybody in high school and when they got here became overexcited and weren’t mature enough to handle the relationships they were looking for.”
The research group concluded that Rice students want, but are unable, to be in relationships.
“If there’s a large number of people who want other avenues to be able to engage in sexual and romantic life at Rice, and there’s not an opportunity for them to do so, then that can kind of signal a problem in Rice’s culture,” Hall said.
This article has been edited to reflect changes to some of the statistics, which resulted from a review of the data the group carried out after publication. The changes are: 580 responses were counted, not 581; 67 percent of Rice students thought they hooked up less than the average student, not 80 percent. Additionally, it was clarified that the 'average' of one hookup partner per respondent referred to the median, not the mean.