Along with the academic stress of college and all that goes with it, students also have to navigate the dangers of critical health issues, one of which being the coronavirus pandemic.
Hookups are a staple of college culture, with most college-aged students partaking in one previously or currently, but hookup culture has been shifting due to fear of contracting COVID-19 as well as sexually transmitted diseases.
College and the impact of COVID-19
Close contact with other people is an innate human need, but it’s also one of the most reckless acts to engage in right now. On top of the stress of academia and political unrest, ASU students have had to learn to navigate hookup culture while dealing with a highly contagious virus.
Arizona has had one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the country, with almost 350,000 total cases — 3,000 of which are from ASU community members during the fall semester.
With the pandemic taking center stage, for many, sexual health may have been put on the back burner for the time being, which could be problematic when it comes to the spread of STIs.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, Arizona’s STI rates increased 19% from 2017 to 2018. The ZIP code 85281, which partially includes ASU's Tempe campus, had the highest total count of STIs in 2016 and 2017. Furthermore, Phoenix is among the top five cities in the United States for most infections of HIV, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea at 34,973 according to this study by Innerbody Research.
STI rates have tripled since 2000 in Arizona and, according to the ADHS, there is currently a statewide outbreak of syphilis.
Hookup culture dominates the social scene of American college campuses, defined by its acceptance of casual sex encounters, including one-night stands, without necessarily encouraging bonding or long-term commitment.
In recent years, the prominence of hookup culture shot up with the help of apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge. According to a Pew Research Center report, 48% of the 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed have used a dating site or app.
Physical intimacy no longer necessitates emotional intimacy. An estimated 60% to 80% of college students in America have experienced a hookup, according to the American Psychological Foundation.
When hookup culture meets the pandemic
Hookup culture has shifted during the pandemic and produced split opinions among those who participate in it.
Karli Co, a senior studying marketing, expressed no fear in hooking up during a pandemic, citing a high COVID-19 recovery rate.
While 97% of people infected with COVID-19 globally eventually recover, according to WorldOMeter, around one in five people infected with COVID-19 develop difficulty breathing and require hospital care, and many who contract the virus have lasting health effects.
Ninety percent of people who recover from COVID-19 report experiencing side effects associated with the disease, such as fatigue, loss of sense of taste and smell and psychological effects, according to Reuters.
"I personally believe there is nothing to be afraid of," Co said.
Experts say that casual sex during the pandemic is possible, but only if it’s done safely.
"When I do decide to meet up with someone, it’s a miracle, but to be safe, I make sure the person I’ve been talking to has been tested for both STIs and COVID. That may seem like a lot of hassle, but if someone isn’t willing to do that then they aren’t worth my time,” said Kylee Gillespie, a senior studying journalism and mass communication.
Gillespie frequents the mobile dating app Bumble, but still has reservations about hookup culture generally.
“In my opinion, hookup culture is broken and this pandemic has been a blessing in disguise because it forces us to take the time to get to know someone virtually,” Gillespie said. “I don’t like the idea of a one-night stand; I much prefer a one-month stand, because you can hopefully trust that the person is being safe and socially distancing.”
Ryleeann Buss, a junior majoring in journalism, said most people can and should communicate about their health before meeting up in person.
"Hookup culture is tricky to navigate right now," Buss said. "The safest thing to do is just to not, but at the same time I think it can be done safely.”
Buss said that if both consenting parties agree to be tested beforehand or already have a negative result, there shouldn't be a problem in meeting up.
"After all, people still need human connections, now more than ever. It’s just a matter of going about it safely so that we don’t have to keep this distancing and caution forever," Buss said.
Addressing sexual health concerns
As of now, STI screening can be done at any ASU Health Services location on all four campuses for free with insurance, or for $20 without it. Many students have been reluctant to visit a Wellness Center on campus, citing concerns about rising coronavirus cases.
Juliette Clermont, a senior geography major, went to an off-campus OBGYN for her sexual health needs out of refusal to go to ASU Health Services.
She said she’s trying to stay as far away from campus as possible due to the high level of COVID-19 cases.
Others run into trouble accessing or affording the test without insurance.
“Overall, the reality of the pandemic means that in addition to our long-standing efforts to support safer sexual behavior, we must ensure that students attend to the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission as well," said Dr. Aaron Krasnow, associate vice president of ASU Counseling Services and Health Services. "That being said, we are not seeing meaningful changes in any indicators of student sexual health, but we are watching it closely."
Understanding the risks of sex and intimate contact in the time of COVID-19 is becoming increasingly important. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, so direct contact with saliva, through kissing or oral sex, can easily transmit the virus.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has said the safest ways to engage in sex during the pandemic is to have intimate contact with only a small circle of people, and has also suggested for those who usually meet sex partners online or make a living by having sex, to consider taking a break from in-person dates. Video dates, sexting or chat rooms may be safer options.
"I’d kill to have an orgasm but I’m not willing to die for one," Gillespie said.