A survey of 1,000 American university women has concluded that dating is all but dead on campuses - and that 39 per cent of the respondents are still virgins.
Nearly two-thirds of the women said they were unhappy with their social lives, which consisted of "hooking up" - having sex without necessarily progressing to a relationship - or becoming "joined at the hip", meaning they had formed a longstanding and intense bond with a man.
"There's a lot of confusion and unhappiness out there," said Elizabeth Marquardt, co-author of the report and a scholar at the Institute for American Values in New York. "The phenomenon of casual sex did not surprise me. But the way women talked about hook-ups and what they were about, that really surprised me."
Forty per cent of the women said they had hooked up at least once. One in ten - and 37 per cent of students from divorced families - had done so at least six times. Often both participants were drinking. Many said they regretted the encounters.
One, a Princeton graduate, said: "The whole thing is a very male-dominated scene. Hooking up lets men get physical pleasure without any emotional connection, but for women it's hard to separate the physical from the emotional. Women want the call the next day."
Researchers distinguished hooking up from traditional casual sex. "In the past if a woman slept with a man she barely knew, she might have expected that a relationship might result," Ms Marquardt said. "In hooking up, no relationship is expected."
Yet 83 per cent said marriage was a major goal for them, and two-thirds said they hoped to meet their future spouse at university. Nearly 40 per cent said they had never had even a fleeting physical relationship with a man, and that the concept of dating had become nearly non-existent.
"Today's college women are struggling with how to handle the sexual freedoms their mothers fought for and won," said Isabel Sawhill, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and president of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. "Whether women have benefited from these freedoms is not clear."