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Rajib Chanda found the social scene at Brown University so grim that he formed HUGS, a computer-dating service to match students based on answers to a questionnaire. The admittedly hokey notion of HUGS -- it stands for Helping Undergraduates Socialize -- drew an overwhelming response from campus sophisticates last Valentine's Day: nearly one-third of Brown's students, 1, in all, filled out questionnaires, including athletes and artists, fraternity brothers and rebels, heterosexuals and members of the gay and lesbian alliance.

Chanda, a senior fraternity president, attributed the success of HUGS to a yearning for old-fashioned courtship, a way for students to dip a toe into the pool of intimacy and sex rather than plunge headfirst.

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At colleges across the country, students voice a similar lament: there is no real dating scene here. Instead of pairing off, undergraduates socialize in unpartnered packs. They go out to dinner in groups, attend movies in groups and at parties dance in a circle of five or six. The packs give students a sense of self-assurance and identity,but keep them from deeper, more committed relationships -- which may be just the point.

None of this is to say that undergraduates of the mid's are chaste. To a generation grown jaded about warnings of AIDS and date rape, casual sex seems to be near an all-time high. Studies have documented a link between a boom in binge drinking on campuses and unplanned and unprotected sex.

Arthur Levine, the president of Teacher's College at Columbia University in New York, recently conducted a study of 9, students across the country, including focus groups on 30 campuses, and found that students prefer casual sexual liaisons to emotional intimacy and commitment.

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Levine, who is preparing a book-length study of undergraduate life. Sex does happen. One way you overcome the fear of a relationship is you get loaded first, and after getting loaded you go back to somebody's room and do it. Levine collected slang terms used to describe sexual relations: scamming, scrumping, mashing, shacking.

But the most popular term, in use almost everywhere for student relationships circais ''hooking up.

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He described a friend who'd hooked up with the same woman once a week for five weeks, ''but he won't call her. They congregate there, hang out and disappear off into the night together. They may run into each other on the path the next day and not mention the night's activities at all. There are exceptions.

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Students everywhere are able to point to campus couples, often partners who met freshman year -- maybe freshman week -- and have been cocooned together ever since. The norms of romance and sexuality also vary widely by campus.

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At academically elite private schools, students say that long-term relationships may be rare because young people arrive on campus with atrophied social skills after studying hard in high school. Looking ahead to ambitious post-college careers, often not expecting to marry until age 30, they do not want to be tied down.

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At big state schools, on the other hand, especially in the South and Midwest, old-style courtship and early marriage live. The casual hook-up can also be standard practice at state schools. A former sorority social director who graduated from Indiana University last year said that a typical fraternity-row encounter consists of a one-night liaison after a party, followed by the ''walk of shame'' back across campus in the same clothes worn the night before. No statistics are kept on the sexual practices of the nation's college students.

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Casual sex, a feature of campuses at least since the pill in the 's, may have once declined in the face of AIDS -- but no longer. Linell Juliet, a sexual health counselor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said, ''There was a lot less casual sex right around the mid's when AIDS first came out, but now it's back. Only one-third of college women in a recent survey by the American Social Health Association said they used a condom for vaginal sex.

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AIDS educators say students' sense of abandon is fueled by a belief that successful, middle-class college populations are not at risk, and by fatigue with the safe-sex message, which has been drummed into them since junior high school. But rates of other sexually transmitted diseases are soaring. Cases of venereal warts among to year-olds have risen percent since and around 7 percent of college women have chlamydia a gonorrhea-like venereal diseasewhich can lead to infertility and pregnancy complications.

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Also, it takes place when they are drinking. They use the phrase, 'All of a sudden I was in the bed and we were having sex. A study two years ago by the Harvard School of Public Health focused wide attention on binge drinking on campuses. It found that nearly half of the nation's undergraduates -- 44 percent -- binged at least once every two weeks defined as consuming five drinks at a sitting for men and four for women.

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Among bingers, 20 percent engaged in unplanned sex, and 10 percent had unprotected sex. Another study found that 60 percent of college women who have a sexually transmitted disease were drunk at the time of infection. Some experts suggest that pack dating is partly an attempt to deal with the risk of disease: If sex partners are drawn from a small circle of friends, whose histories and habits are known to all members of the group, the risk of exposure is theoretically lower.

At Rice University, a group of eight friends -- half men and half women -- regularly dines out together on weekends at a Tex-Mex or Vietnamese restaurant. Then they make the rounds of campus parties, where 10 kegs of beer might be flowing in adjacent dorm rooms.

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In their years at college, most members of the group have had romantic flings with one another, but none have paired off exclusively for very long. Although group socializing has long been popular with young people, for evidence of its place in the Zeitgiest of this generation, look no further than the television show ''Friends,'' a big hit on campuses.

The show is a testament to the propensity of young people to spend endless hours in coffee shops and one another's apartments, talking about practically nothing, while dancing around the possibility of romantic involvements.

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Bronaugh of Lehigh said that many students are cynical about the possibilities of lasting one-on-one relationships, based on family histories. Bronaugh said. In a poll of U. Mininni found, to her surprise, that 40 percent were virgins -- higher than on other campuses, she said. How do they have time for a life? Levine of Columbia, in his national survey of undergraduates, asked what students in the mid's did for fun.

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Twenty-one percent said ''study. View on timesmachine. TimesMachine is an exclusive benefit for home delivery and digital subscribers.

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