College Sex Myth: Going Home Alone


One year, shortly before graduation, the mother of a friend came to visit him at college. As they walked across campus after dinner, a young woman he knew stopped to say hello and ask where he was going. “He’s going home,” his mother snapped. “Alone.”
Has it really come to this? Has adult obsession with college sex reached such a pitch that a parent assumes that every cordial conversation will, without his or her intervention, end in frantic intercourse?
Actually, we understand parents’ alarm. College today is portrayed almost exclusively as a sexual free-for-all, where undergrad action is effortless and frequent, where randy young things not so much leap into the sack as never leave it in the first place.
Rolling Stone calls it “the booze-fueled culture of the never-ending hookup.” In her book “Unhooked,” The Washington Post‘s Laura Sessions Stepp sniffs that hookups are as “common as a cold.” Bill O’Reilly airs furtive footage on Fox News of “pure debauchery” at Brown University’s annual SexPowerGod party. And of course, in Tom Wolfe’s impossible-not-to-cite novel “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” set on a campus where sex is in the air — sorry, where the air is “humid with it! Tumid with it! Lubricated with it! Gorged with it!” — students practically major in “herky-jerky . . . bang bang bang.” One envisions RU-486 available at the dining hall salad bar, next to the croutons.
But as the Class of 2011 settles in on campus this month, we’re betting that the students are discovering the cold-shower truth: The type of action they’re likely to get is more hanky than panky.
We say this at our own peril. As the editors of IvyGate, a blog that dines out on all that is base and scandalous about the Ivy League, we have written about students and sex once or twice. It’s hard not to, when even the smallest incidents get hyped to the max.
This year, two weeks before Valentine’s Day, we posted an e-mail that the beleaguered master of a Yale residential college had sent to his charges — subject line: “Shower Stalls are for Showering” — asking an unnamed intimate couple to please stop clogging the bathroom drain. Hilarious? Absolutely. (The man has a PhD!) Did we give it a second thought? Nah. Not, that is, until a New Haven newspaper got wind of the professor’s plea. And then the Associated Press. And then about 130 news outlets worldwide, including the “Today” show.
It wasn’t the first time, obviously, that a campus sex story had been blown out of proportion. Last fall, the New York Daily News ran a thoughtful, nuanced article with the headline “WILD SEX 101: S&M Clubs, Nude Parties, Porn, X-Rated Romps Rule at Columbia.” Having gone to Columbia, where we had experience with only the third item on that list, we read eagerly. Had the school really become a “playpen for sexual hijinks” in the months since we’d graduated? By e-mail and instant message, we canvassed some friends for our blog: Forget the kinky part; how often are you having sex at all? Here are some of the responses:
“Once every six months. Columbia is a rough world for single people.”
“The average in the engineering school is probably like once a semester.”
“Either I missed out or everyone else in college isn’t having sex at all.”
“Random hookups do happen, but it is probably rare for most students. At night people just go back to their rooms and finish their homework, or maybe heat up a Hot Pocket.”

Tantalizing! Having eaten a Hot Pocket or two ourselves, we will vouch that there’s a lot more truth to these kids’ answers than what you see on Statistics bear this out. In a 2000 Zogby poll, 40 percent of students nationwide reported that they were not “sexually active” — a term left vague enough to include everything from kissing to soliciting strangers in a Minneapolis airport men’s room. At the country’s top schools, the dry spells approach levels not seen since 1930s Dust Bowl Oklahoma. Harvard‘s health department reported last year that 47 percent of students there said they had not yet had vaginal intercourse. (Numbers not adjusted for homosexuality, apparently.) At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a 2001 survey found that only 51 percent of undergrads had lost their virginity; at Princeton the same year, the student body was 44 percent pure.
Parents and other interested parties often confuse having had sex with having sex regularly. One landmark 2000 study found that kids have an average of 10.8 hookups in college. That seems like a lot. But the math works out to only 1.35 hookups per semester — and remember, some of these incidents are merely make-out sessions. This is what we’re getting so worked up about?
More devastating to the idea that everyone is constantly hooking up is the evidence that students hugely overestimate the notches on their classmates’ mortarboards. In 2005, a survey of four universities found that while 80 percent of students had had one sex partner or fewer in the previous year, only 22 percent thought that the average number of partners was that low. In a similar survey in 2002, most guessed that three or more was the norm.
Even the MD/PhDs of college nookie — sex columnists at student newspapers — often talk the talk rather than walk the walk (of shame). At Yale, prototypical sex-scribe Natalie Krinsky parlayed her “Sex and the (Elm) City” column into a prominent profile in the New York Times and a book deal. “Chloe Does Yale,” a peek into “what goes on behind these proper ivy-covered walls,” was published in 2005.
Funny thing about that sex column, though: It contained very little sex. Krinsky’s topics included first dates, shopping for vibrators and even a saucy question about oral sex, but never explicit material from her own life. Her skills were playing reporter and confidante, not exhibitionist. Krinsky knew that her scandalous material was mostly talk. “You are young, you are hip, you are beautiful, and you are smart,” she wrote in one column, a letter to incoming Elis, “and if you’re anything like any one of your classmates, you are ready to bonk. You are ready to bonk a lot. Well freshmen, you have come to the wrong place. At Yale, it seems we discuss sex far more than (admittedly) we actually have it. This is essentially the reason for my job. I talk about sex. A lot.”
Some people will no doubt be thrilled to hear that college chastity levels remain high. A new book by Wendy Shalit, “Girls Gone Mild,” follows up on her 1999 tract, “A Return to Modesty,” which argued that the sexual revolution of the 1960s has overshot its original goals of liberation and turned into its own kind of oppression. Instead of feeling empowered, Shalit now writes, young women feel pressured to act “bad” and sexy at increasingly early ages. The solution: good old feminine purity. Not the repressed, Victorian kind but a new, deliberate sort. A student group at Harvard called True Love Revolution has a similar goal: premarital sexual abstinence. The group made headlines earlier this year for merely existing, and commentators — mostly conservatives — greeted it as evidence of a backlash against college “hookup culture.”
Indeed, chastity is as rampant as ever — at least at the more privileged schools, where for the most part, it’s not intentional. In 2001, David Brooks profiled “The Organization Kid” — the happy young workaholic who, between hockey practice, a cappella rehearsal, problem sets, SAT tutoring, Model U.N., AIDS research, human genome mapping, clerking for appeals court justices and cutting a debut solo album, has little time for the “character building” that used to occupy university life.
Brooks touches on the social repercussions of this omnivorous lifestyle, such as friends penciling in appointments with one another. But what he doesn’t mention is how the hyper-commitment of college life means that kids end up doing everything but “it.” For one thing, there’s the time factor. As one male friend told us, in response to our query about the Daily News expos¿, “I’ve kind of got a girl right now, but we’re both too busy to actually have sex. I think a lot of people are in my boat, and they deal with it by commoditizing and scheduling time for sexual pleasure as they would a meeting with their adviser.”
Improbably, it’s a recent comedy — a movie whose plot turns on vomit, penis art and a fake ID issued to one Mr. McLovin — that gets it right. Next to “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” “Superbad” is nothing less than a documentary of our time. The story of two best friends on the eve of college, it nails how our generation’s culture really is based on drinking and hookups — but also how at the end of the night, even with girls who are eager and boys who score booze, sex remains elusive.
Sometimes it doesn’t happen because the guy is uncomfortable; sometimes it’s because the girl doesn’t like the guy. And sometimes sex does happen for dweebs who’ve just ridden in a police car, fired a Glock and been punched in the face by a robber. (Okay, that last one may be unique to the movie.) If there’s a sequel — “Superworse”? — all of these characters will hook up in short order at college, and then every now and then until they graduate.
In other words, they’ll be gettin’ some. Literally — some. As in, a medium amount.
By Christopher Beam and Nick Summers
Christopher Beam and Nick Summers co-founded the blog IvyGate.


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20 Responses to “College Sex Myth: Going Home Alone”

  1. tammy Says:

    jeez and I thought I was the only one not getting screwed hehe:) Seriously folks, who are we kidding here huh? Here’s the plain truth. Fact is, you look good, you get laid. You look like a dog, lots of lonely nights getting friendly with your good hand, and we ain’t talking about poker here lol!!

  2. halsey Says:

    Good to hear that you young kids are doing more than fornicating you way through college! It did sound a little too wild & giddy to be true but hey times change, its kinda good to hear that ‘wallflower’ syndrome still exist. Somethings don’t change.

  3. lauren Says:

    And what, may I ask, is wrong with using our good hand??

  4. geeta Says:

    Whats a wallflower syndrome?

  5. amit Says:

    We are all playing the ultimate sport, the RELATIONSHIP game whenever wherever we are. I find it largely irrelevant whether the setting is high school, college, workplace, meat market; beautiful people fat people ugly people smart people take your pick you will find same equivalent ‘talents’ on the football field. LaDainian Tomlinson and Paris Hilton has exact same genetic advantages, just in different ‘fields’ haha. Nice article guys, makes all youse college chicks sound very very intellectual wink wink;)

  6. leila Says:

    Paris Hilton has GENETIC advantages??? haha

  7. chris Says:

    I love the quote in the article from “a male friend”.. “I’ve kind of got a girl right now, but we’re both too busy to actually have sex…” much for all the talk about wild college sex!

  8. gomez Says:

    Why is anyone surprised? What is more surprising is that anyone cares. Who cares about any of this shit..we are in University to study and go get a decent job. Some of us anyways.

  9. beasley Says:

    I have one word for you dude, BEER SEX AND FUCK THE REST!!!!

  10. mel Says:

    uh..that would actually be 6 words. I would call you a moron but since you may be just drunk, I think ‘loudmouth’ will suffice just fine. Its really sad and upsetting that a few loud drunk sophomoric bozos would propagate the myth of college years as one long Party time spent indulging beer & sex.

  11. mitchell Says:

    Yo there Mel, ya really need to get out more, before you turn into a tight ass/bitch. aND what kind of friggin name is Mel anyho, is it Mel as in Mel Lastman a total tightwad definitely a dick, also mayor of my hometown Toronto or Mel as in Melanie in which case ‘bitch’ may totally apply UNLESS YOU CHILL out and have a cold one every now and then.

  12. pilar Says:

    Please, let’s no confuse talent with looks. Thierry Henry on his worst day will kick Paris Hilton’s ass.

  13. gail Says:

    Do you not find that looks and talent are so…personal and subjective for everyone? I really feel each person has much attractiveness for someone than other levels than just outer layer of skin or being famous, although I have never heard of Thierry Henry and never met Paris Hilton, but maybe they will meet, decide that they are perfect for each other and reproduce a generation of empire builders!

  14. fanny Says:


  15. luc Says:

    It is almost an impossibility to separate anecdotal myths from empirical facts, particularly when so much of the university environment with its inherent built-in peer pressure is geared towards equating popularity with success. Sometimes it can a long four year ‘purgatory’ for those students looking to simply excel academically.

  16. simple guy Says:


  17. catherine Says:

    I for one find your ‘magazine’ extremely offensive to Women, and Women of McGill in particular. Porn really has no place in a learning environment and demeans Women in the worst way possible, just when we are trying to gain respectability and equal rights to compete with MEN

  18. simple guy Says:


  19. michaela Says:

    Many people seem to need to differentiate “erotica” from porn, and “art” from porn. These arguments mostly center on the conceptual idea that porn is ‘offensive’ and erotica has ‘artistic’ merit. Just to disprove any notion that we become more enlightened on this issue with the passage of time, a well intentioned self professed feminist journalist with leftist political leanings recently argued against proposed anti-porn legislation in Britain on the grounds that “not all sexually explicit material is bad” and that she liked “looking at naked pictures.” A common fallacious argument that I hear a lot is that “erotica” is sexually explicit material that isn’t demeaning to women. But seriously folks, back in the day I had my brushes with books like Herotica and The Anthology of Lesbian Erotica; as far as I could tell, the stories that were sexy could have been in “Penthouse Forum,” and ‘respectful’ stories involving women loving and respecting each other weren’t very scintillating, to say the least. It’s not just my opinion that predominant driving force in our culture is sex— and that for something to be sexy in mainstream terms, it must involve an inherent built in indifference as to neat compartmentalization. If a censored gendered differentiated versions of ‘sex’ were prevalent, as in lesbian “erotica,” it will be created in various ways that readers of “erotica” know all about. So I don’t find the “not demeaning to women” arguments particularly compelling; I think anthologies put in a few stories that pass hardly anybody’s “wet test” (to use porn-apologist Susie Bright’s terminology) so they can get their politically correct designation of “erotica” and then everyone who reads the book folds down the other pages, the ones that describe the kind of sexual activity that make our brain’s neural circuits buzz, metaphysically speaking of course.

  20. complex guy Says:


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