Study finds female students at Catholic colleges more likely to “hook up”

Author surprised by results

Billy Joel may have been wrong — some Catholic girls don’t “start much too late.”

A recent study shows that women who attend Catholic colleges tend to engage more frequently in sexual “hookups” than women at secular colleges.

“‘Hooking Up’ at College: Does Religion Make a Difference?” was published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion in September 2009.

Catholic women surveyed displayed a 72 percent increase in the odds of a “hookup,” a casual physical encounter, compared to those women with no religious affiliation.

Amy Burdette, a sociology professor at Mississippi State University and primary author of the study, said she was surprised by the results. Researchers predicted that Catholic and Protestant women would be less likely to engage in this behavior because they are known to be more conservative, she said.

According to the study, students generally use the phrase “hooking up” to refer to a physical encounter between two people unfamiliar with one another. A hookup typically involves moderate to heavy alcohol consumption and carries no anticipation of a future relationship.

Since this is the first published study on religious affiliation and hooking up, Burdette said more extensive research is necessary to find the reasons behind the trends. She said some might credit the frequency of Catholic women hooking up to the decline of Catholic education. “Catholic high schools today are more secular, where they used to be more focused on religion,” she said. “Women receiving less religious education in schools and also in the home might be more likely to participate in the hookup culture.”

After reviewing the study, Steve Blaha, assistant director of Campus Ministry, said the study provides a helpful first look at the effects of religion on casual physical encounters. As a university, Marquette has room for improvement in this area, he said.

Blaha said Campus Ministry promotes necessary programs to offer students the chance to talk about human sexuality. He said fostering a deeply-rooted faith in students could make the difference.

“The bigger question for us concerns students and their access to quality faith formation,” Blaha said. “The youth is an essential time when we as human beings are starting to see the world differently and make connections that help us grow into an adult faith.”

Blaha said the generational and cultural differences of students today cause them to experience religious connections differently than their parents and grandparents. Understanding this interaction, he said, is very important.

“Students may need a stronger experience to help them see what a Catholic community is,” Blaha said. “How do we provide those communities? The challenge is asking that question not only to our Catholic students, but also asking similar questions to all students, no matter their religious affiliation.”

Robin Brown, staff physician at Student Health Service, said an increase in hookups on campus creates student health risks. These risks include increases in exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and sexual assault, she said.

“Certainly something the university can do is promote education about the negative effects (of sexual encounters),” Brown said.