Sociologist Says College Hookup Culture Is 'Incompatible' with Preventing Coronavirus

"Campuses have really struggled even before the pandemic to give their students the tools to engage in sexual activity that is safe for them," American Hookup author Lisa Wade tells PEOPLE

boston college
Photo: Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

As students return to college for the fall semester, schools across the country are attempting to address sex on campus amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Several universities, including the University of Georgia and University of Maryland, have put forth guidelines to curb the spread of the virus. The University of Georgia guidelines say "You are your safest sex partner. Practice solo sex, or limit the number of sexual partners you have." They also recommend hand washing, wearing masks and communicating with your partner about the risk of COVID-19, as well as consent, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases.

Lisa Wade, a visiting scholar at Tulane University and the author of American Hookup, tells PEOPLE that though those guidelines are necessary, campuses have struggled “to give their students the tools to engage in sexual activity that is safe” even before the pandemic.

This has left schools “running a race that they already lost,” she says.

Boston College
Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

The University of Maryland warns students that "the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is more contagious than any STD because it is spread by droplets in the air" and that "your risk goes up significantly with close contact."

Jonas Swartz, an OB/GYN at Duke University, agrees the guidelines are “helpful” but he thinks some students will be engaging in sex despite the risk of coronavirus transmission.

“I think it's reasonable to expect that with a return to in-person classes on some campuses that students also are going to return to other normal activities, and that includes sex,” says Swartz, who is working on a team at Duke that is studying sex and contraception among college and graduate students during the pandemic.

Wade adds that regardless of how colleges are addressing the issue of sex on campus, the culture around dating and hooking up will inevitably change due to the current health crisis.

“The traditional way in which college students have engaged with one another socially and sexually is violently incompatible with maintaining control of the spread of the virus,” she says.

Students may turn more to dating apps or engage with a “dating culture that involves sitting outside 6 feet apart with masks on for at least the first two meetings,” she adds.

“I think we're going to see all those innovations, alongside students who are resolutely going to be participating in a hookup culture that is similar to what preceded the pandemic.”

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