The scoop on 'hook-ups'
Relationships that start with a spark and not much else aren’t necessarily doomed from the get-go, new research suggests.
In an analysis of relationship surveys of 642 adults, published in the journal Social Science Research, University of Iowa sociologist Anthony Paik found that average relationship quality was higher for individuals who waited until things were serious to have sex compared to those who became sexually involved in "hookups," "friends with benefits," or casual dating relationships.
But having sex early on wasn't to blame for the disparity. When Paik factored out people who weren't interested in getting serious, he found no real difference in relationship quality. That is, couples who became sexually involved as friends or acquaintances and were open to a serious relationship ended up just as happy as those who dated and waited.
The ‘Sex and the City’ approach
"The study suggests that rewarding relationships are possible for those who delay sex,” said Paik. “But it's also possible for true love to emerge if things start off with a more 'Sex and the City' approach, when people spot each other across the room, become sexually involved and then build a relationship."
So if not the context of sexual involvement, what is behind the lower quality scores for relationships initiated as hookups? Paik points to selection: Certain people are prone to finding relationships unrewarding, and those individuals are more likely to form hookups. "The question is whether it's the type of relationship that causes lower quality or the people," he said. "We found that it's something about the people."
People with higher numbers of past sexual partners were more likely to form hookups, and to report lower relationship quality. Through the acquisition of partners, Paik said, they begin to favour short-term relationships and find the long-term ones less rewarding. It's also likely that people who are predisposed to short-term relationships are screened out of serious ones because they don't invest the time and energy to develop long-term ties, Paik said.
The research showed that plenty of people date even if they aren't interested in a long-term relationship. It's a bit surprising, Paik said, since dating falls under the romance category, while "friends with benefits" and hookups do not.
"While hookups or friends with benefits can turn into true love, both parties typically enter the relationship for sex and the expectations are fairly low," Paik said. "In the casual dating category, some people think they're headed for a long-term relationship, but there are also people who are only in it for sex. It basically brings 'players' and 'non-players' together. As a consequence, it raises the question of whether casual dating is a useful institution. This paper would suggest not really, because it doesn't screen out the non-romantic types."