National correspondent Daniel McGinn featured the research of the College�s Elizabeth Paul, associate professor and chair of the psychology department, in his Oct. 4 Newsweek article addressing student sexual experiences. The article focused on the growing trend of �hooking up� on college campuses and the long term effects it can have on students.
According to Paul, she has been doing research on student sexual experiences for the past 10 years for the purpose of finding out how hookups can potentially affect students long-term.
�This appears to be a very significant experience for many college students about how they learn to be intimate,� Paul said.
Unlike other researchers who have looked at the effects of sexual intercourse on young adults, Paul focuses on a broader sense of sexual experience.
�I think we�re missing a big part of the picture,� Paul said. �I want to look at all kinds of hookups and their psychological significance.�
Paul, who uses the definition of �hookups� as it is stated in the Newsweek article, �one-time encounters � anything from kissing to intercourse � between acquaintances who�ve no plans to even talk afterward,� feels these experiences can affect the psychological health and growth of students.
According to Paul, she has been and is currently working with various focus groups in order to collect further data. These focus groups consist of different, diverse groups of undergraduate students at the College including male and female athletes, fraternity and sorority members, and Residence Hall occupants. In the focus groups, her purpose is to discuss �bad hookups� and how the students felt as a result.
When asked how these studies and students� experiences differ from years ago, Paul responded, �I think it�s so interesting. If I had a conversation with 30- or 40-year-olds, they�d say, �How is this different from me at that age?� I think it�s the historical context within which it is happening that is different.�
According to Paul, as a society we no longer view long-term relationships as being as magical as we used to. Paul said 25 years ago she would be researching dating and its psychological effects.
�Dating is not as considerable a trend now. I think we see hooking up as much more the norm,� Paul said. �We now live in a very sexually saturated society. Youth grow up thinking sex is no big deal � (it is now) an instant-gratification society.�
Based on her findings from her focus groups, Paul said that many students say they pursue hookups for a quick sense of connection without the baggage that comes with a relationship.
�This is not necessarily bad,� Paul said. �But I think some of the implications are difficult � I want to make sense out of that and try to turn it into positive learning.�
Triggered by the write-up in the Newsweek article, Paul was also interviewed by Ann Curry on NBC�s �Today Show.�
According to Paul, the five- minute interview was marketed toward an adult, parent audience and addressed this topic of �hookups� on college campuses.
�This was a very good media experience,� Paul said. �I was impressed by both the Newsweek and �Today Show� interview and how they took this research seriously.�
Susan Albertine, dean of the school of Culture and Society, said the school is pleased and proud to see such attention paid to Paul�s work in the mass media.
�Dr. Paul has opened a new area of inquiry into young adult behavior, and she has done this work, significantly, through collaboration with undergraduate students and innovative teaching,� Albertine said. �Dr. Paul�s thorough integration of faculty/student research and experiential teaching and learning exemplifies the best that we do at the College.�
Paul�s research and media appearances have prompted much discussion, including student reactions.
�I can see how if students hook up a lot and have many meaningless relationships it can have negative effects on having long-term, committed relationships in the future,� Jen Disler, junior elementary education major, said.
Like Disler, other students felt such research seemed routed in reality, understanding how such experiences could potentially lead to long-term difficulties. Others felt this occurrence seemed circumstantial.
�I think it has to do with the character of the person involved,� Clint Cappiello, senior biology major, said. �It can have long-term repercussions for people seeking to feel better about themselves, people who have low self-esteem issues. (It) can skew the view of what a relationship should be.�
Jason Ackrivo, sophomore biology major, said he thinks the effects of hookups depend on the maturity of those involved.
Paul said she plans to continue her research through further data collection and reception of first-hand student responses to their personal experiences. For the next phase of her study, she said she would be interested in analyzing student journals.
�What I�d love to do is look at students that have kept journals from high school through college and do an in-depth study about the roles (these experiences) play in young lives.�
Paul, who received her bachelor�s degree and Ph.D. from Boston University, has been a faculty member at the College for 13 years.