January 17, 2016

Hostels And Hookups: How Common Is It, And Why?

Research shows that tourist destinations are frequent places for casual sex. Guest blogger Allison Yates discusses key factors for hostel hookups.

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Cala Benirras

Cala Benirras

Hostel Sex: A Practical Guide For BackpackersHow to Have Sex in HostelsHooking up in a Hostel: Tips and TricksWanderlust: How to Hookup in a Hostel, and The Importance of Hooking Up Abroad: these are just some of the articles that come up when one googles “hostels” and “sex.”

Judging by the volume of discussion surrounding backpacking and hooking up, it appears to be a very common practice. There is advice, do’s and don’ts, and encouragement – some even argue it adds an extra element of depth to your international experience. Upon arrival at one hostel in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand, employees inform guests that while sex is not permitted in the dorms, the shared showers are always available.

If you’ve studied abroad or backpacked, chances are you’ve heard of someone discussing their latest hookup with a foreigner. Or, you’ve seen it happen. Maybe you were so unlucky  to stumble upon frisky bunk-mates you had to leave the dorm room. On a recent backpacking trip to Southeast Asia, I overheard someone say, “I do so many things here I would never do at home!” What is it about travel, a multi-cultural setting, and the inclination to engage in behavior one might not normally do? And, how common is it, really? 

How Common are Hostel Hookups?

If casual sex is already a frequent behavior on college campuses, where emerging adults are exposed to new people and a party atmosphere, then a new setting with the same qualities and even lower salience of social disapproval – such as a hostel- is likely to be a context similarly ripe for such encounters. While there is litte research on hostel hookups specifically, research on vacation behavior suggests that people are likely to engage in sexual encounters with strangers while away and indeed may even set off on their journeys with the intent to do so.  A 1998 Canadian study with two samples of college-aged students on spring break in Daytona Beach Florida reports that 15% of males and 13% of females had casual sex during their trip. In a 2006 study of 128 single female tourists on vacation in Costa Rica by Ragsdale, Difranceisco and Pinkerton, 50% reported having “vacation sex” or a “vacation relationship.” Both studies found that intention to engage in casual sex accounted for a large percentage of the tourists’ odds of actually hooking up.

Why Might Hookups Be Common at Hostels?

One reason hookups might be common in hostels is that the same circumstances that encourage hooking up at home, including alcohol consumption, seem to be amplified on vacation. Researchers Liza Berdychevsky of the University of Illinois and Heather Gibson of the University of Florida have focused on pleasure travel across several studies and in their research have found that tourist destinations “promote an altered sense of reality that condones sexual experimentation and exploration while minimizing perceptions of risk and long-term consequences.” Out of the constraints of daily life and away from the judgement of their social circles, men and women find a permissible atmosphere to go out of their realm of typical behavior.

A hostel is a low-budget vacation accommodation geared towards young adults. Guests usually sleep in shared dorm rooms with up to 20 beds per room. There is typically a shared kitchen and living space, where guests are encouraged to meet new people. Thus hostels provide an opportunity for young people to travel alone with access to a group of travel companions. Another reason hookups might be common in hostels is this aspect of solo travel. The aforementioned 2006 study of women traveling to Costa Rica found that the women were more likely to have casual sex when traveling alone or with a single other female companion (e.g., girlfriend getaways) than when they were traveling with a group.

A third reason hookups might be common in hostels is that many hostels will also host social events, including cheap bar crawls with unlimited alcohol and free entrance to clubs. In their most recent survey study of 853 U.S. women, Berdychevsky and Gibson noted that high alcohol consumption was the primary facilitator of risky sex and translates into “liquid courage,” giving women the gusto to be more sexually adventurous than they might at home. With most people in the same age range and in similar circumstances, barriers crumble and trust seems to be earned quickly. Friends, and apparently romantic interests, from all over the world are easily and rapidly made, sometimes within only hours of meeting.

Lastly, hostels are transitory places with relatively small chances of running into the same people again, unlike your floor mate at college freshman year. This transitory nature and anonymity of travel allows men and women to escape any devaluation of social status by their social group that might have occurred after hooking up at home.

Is Hooking Up While Traveling A Bad Thing?

There are positive outcomes to hooking up abroad. A notable one is a more empowered outlook on one’s sexuality. Unfortunately, Berdychevsky and Gibson’s recent research shows that women are less safe during casual vacation sex. The altered sense of reality that tourist destinations provide seem to correlate with more risky behavior. Many women engaged in unprotected sex with either a regular partner or a stranger. Ragsdale, Difranceisco and Pinkerton also reported that women who did not anticipate casual sex in their trip were unprepared and did not procure condoms or negotiate condom use.

Hooking up during a backpacking trip or your semester abroad might be a great opportunity to experiment away from the constraints and shame of your U.S. college campus. Alcohol, warm weather, minimal clothing and an altered reality may create the perfect atmosphere for an out-of-the-ordinary hookup, but this doesn’t mean concerns about your sexual health should go out the window. Unprotected sex increases the chances of contracting an STI and/or becoming pregnant, regardless of geography.

Know before you go: Make sure to be aware of the contraception laws in the country you’re visiting. Here are laws for the top ten study abroad destinations, and do your research on norms in other countries. Chances are, your foreign hookup might have different expectations and assumptions. Language barriers are no excuse for not getting consent.

Allison Yates received a B.A. from Indiana University in International Studies. She is interested in researching cross-cultural relationships, sexual education, and violence prevention. 

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