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Sextracurricular Activities: A blow-by-blow report on campus promiscuity 

click to enlarge MICHAEL TONN
  • Michael Tonn

College is the best four years of your life, they say. And for good reason: College is fornication central. Take hordes of horny, inexperienced kids, thrust them onto some campus far removed from their parents, strip away all responsibility, and what’s going to go down? Hordes of horny, inexperienced freshmen — on each other.

College provides more than just an opportunity for young adults to expand their intellects and break away from the protective shell of home. It’s also a time for freedom and self-expression, and one way students express their newfound liberty is through sex.

“College is the time when we find out who we are, so there’s a lot of experimentation going on,” says Dr. Patti Britton, a clinical sexologist and ivillage. com’s so-called sex coach. “We find out who we are as a person, but probably most significantly, [we] find out who we are as a sexual being. Nowadays, though, kids are coming into college with a lot more sexual experience than they [once] did.”

Sure, sex is a naughty little cocktail college students have always shared. But now it seems a majority of them are raging “alcoholics,” and the campus grounds, a watering hole. Sex may be easier than ever, but, according to student testimony, it has also lost some of its luster, mystery and joy.

Sex has become less an intimate act experienced between two people who “like each other a lot” than a recreational activity engaged in freely by two — or more — people as a way to remedy boredom or the tensions that come with college life. And, more often than not, that sex is being had by naïve, uninhibited, freedom-abusing freshmen, under the influence of either drugs or alcohol, and without any form of protection.

“It’s not as precious as it used to be,” affirms Cynthia, a sophomore who last year slept with five of her fellow students. “It’s more of a social thing than an emotional thing, and I think that’s bad, really.”

Diane, who is entering her senior year, adds, “It’s more like a way to fit in and make friends and stuff.”

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. After all, one in every five American college students has lost his or her virginity by age 13, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks and reports on health-related issues.

“Sex doesn’t mean anything to anyone,” claims Joanne, a junior with 10 notches on her belt since starting college. “It’s not a special thing like it was back in the day of our parents. They used to wait around forever for it, and you finally got it, and it was like WHEEEEE! Sex is like nothing anymore.”

The hand job has apparently replaced the handshake as the most common form of introductory male-female contact. No more windy walks, moonlit picnics on the beach, or handwritten letters scrawled with sweet nothings slipped under dorm-room doors. No more romance, essentially.

“It’s part of hooking up. Now, there’s hooking up hooking up, and then there’s getting freak nasty hooking up,” says Heather, a junior. “It’s expected now. It’s seen more as a noncommittal type of activity.”

Nailing down hard statistics on the actual number of students “getting any” is as tough as tracking down monogamous long-term relationships on campus. On average, however, the CDC estimates that about 83 percent of college students are getting laid on a regular basis. According to the center’s most recent, widescale survey of college students, 79.5 percent of college students aren’t virgins, by the strictest definition of the word. And of those, fewer than half had used a condom during their last sexual encounter.

Information based on sex survey responses, however, is notoriously problematic. Experts say that data is unreliable because respondents are more likely to lie to make themselves look good. Tyler, a junior, is living proof of sexual embellishment:

“How easy is it to get laid? As easy as one, two, three, man,” he says matter-of-factly. “If you want it, you can get it. Just go to the bars where all the freshman chicks hang out, and it’s cake, bro. These girls wanna fit in, so they give that shit up quick. You just gotta know the right things to say.”

Such as?

“You know, ‘I really like you,’ or ‘I’ve seen you around campus and I’ve wanted to talk to you for so long.’ ‘You’re so pretty.’ ‘I wanna take you out sometime.’ Invite ’em to parties, like frat parties and shit, and they’re yours.”

Ask females how easy it is to get laid on campus these days and you’ll hear a variation on the theme. Jenna, a sophomore, is typical:

“Very. As a girl, if you want it, you can go out and get it. Boom — there it is. Basically, it’s just a matter of going up to someone,” she says. “But it has to be in the right setting, like if you’re out at a bar. You can’t go up to someone on campus and expect to get laid. If you’re out at a party situation, a bar situation, something where you’ve got a bunch of college kids partying, you’re going to get laid if you want to. Alcohol helps.”

Ah, yes. Alcohol and sex make interesting bedfellows. Alcohol and college date rape go hand-in-hand as well. If there’s more casual sex on campus, you might assume the incidence of date rape is up proportionately.

And it is. One in 12 college males admits to having committed acts that meet the legal definition of rape or acquaintance rape, according to recent data provided by Phoenix House, a substance-abuse program based in the Midwest. And 55 percent of female students and 75 percent of male students involved in date rape admit to having been drinking or using drugs when the incident occurred. Female college freshmen are at the highest risk for sexual assault, especially between the first day of classes and Thanksgiving break.

But while casual sex, according to sexologists and students, has grown more popular, the use of condoms is on the decline — even in this era of increased awareness of potentially fatal sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV and AIDS.

“I never use condoms,” James, a junior, says with pride. “I know I don’t have anything, and these girls, they’re clean. Half the time I’m so fucked up, a condom’s the last thing on my mind, you know what I’m saying? It’s like, once you fuck without one, it’s hard to go back to that. I want to feel it, you know?”

Alarmingly, James is the norm. More than 85 percent of the students in this study admitted they rarely, if ever, use protection. Fewer than half of those said they’d been tested for HIV within the last year — and half of those students did so to satisfy the concerns of a fearful partner who vowed to withhold sex until the test was administered.

Sexually transmitted diseases, particularly herpes and gonorrhea, are epidemic on campus today. According to the most recent data, 60 percent of college women diagnosed with an STD were drunk at the time of infection. At least one fifth of drunk college students abandon safe-sex practices that they ordinarily use when sober, putting them at greater risk for unplanned pregnancies and AIDS.

More than 134,000 new cases of syphilis are occurring in the U.S. each year, the highest infection rate in 40 years. About 1.3 million new gonorrhea cases are diagnosed annually, along with 24 million new cases of human papilloma virus, which causes genital warts.

“No one’s using condoms these days. I think everybody’s aware of AIDS — they can’t help but be aware of it,” says Dr. Vern Bullough, a medical historian who lives in California and specializes in the history of sex, sexual practices and taboos, and diverse groups of sex workers. “I don’t think the fear of disease has ever really prohibited sexual activity,” he adds. “It’s been a fear factor in which many people try to frighten people into not having sex. But it hasn’t worked very well.”

About 63 percent of all STD cases occur among people younger than 25. AIDS is the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 25 and 44. According to the CDC, one in 1500 college students is HIV-positive, and the fastest-growing populations of Americans infected with HIV are teen-agers and young adults.

“People don’t even think about safety anymore,” says Joanne. “Nobody’s being safe.”

Despite these disturbing statistics, scholars have noted some positive shifts in campus sexual behaviors. For example, it seems there’s more willingness to accept varying kinds of sexual behaviors and lifestyles. Practically every college in this country offers a course in gay and lesbian studies; that wasn’t the case in the 1970s.

And there’s more experimentation and curiosity; more students are reporting sex-toy use, bisexual dabblings and anal play. Plus, women are now free to be sexual beings, a welcome change attributed primarily to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the advent of the birth-control pill.

“Girls were supposed to be virgins before they were married, to tantalize the men into marrying them. That’s not so true anymore,” says Bullough.

The introduction of the birth-control pill in 1960 by G.D. Searle and Company, and its subsequent growth in popularity over the next decade, is both lauded and blamed for the modern sexual revolution. The detractors maintain, among other arguments, that the greatly reduced chance of pregnancy led to a decline in the moral values of society. Supporters, while generally in agreement about the role of the pill in the revolution, refute the decline of social mores.

Throughout the late ’60s and early ’70s, the combination of student protests, counterculture movements and medically prescribed contraceptives ushered in a decisive break with the previous values, which prescribed confinement of women’s sexual pleasure within heterosexual marriage and the regulation of man’s sexuality in public.

There is no denying that the pill profoundly affected the lifestyles of young women and, logically, those of young men as well. Whether this change was detrimental or not will be the subject of ongoing debate in the sexology world for years to come. No clear-cut answer to the debate is possible, though, without an accurate way to measure the societal changes that may have occurred without the pill.

Evidence suggests that sexual behavior grew increasingly more casual over the past century. But there have still been mandatory rules and mating codes.

Certainly, being perceived as a prude has never been popular. Eleanor Rowland Wembridge, in a survey conducted in 1925, spoke with female college students about sex. “Whether or not they pet, they hesitate to have anyone believe that they do not,” she wrote. “It is distinctly the mores of the time to be considered as ardently sought after, and as not too priggish to respond. As one girl said, ‘I don’t particularly care to be kissed by some of the fellows I know, but I’d let them do it any time rather than think I wouldn’t dare.’”

During the Roaring ’20s, the number of young women engaging in premarital sex jumped sharply, to about 50 percent. In the 1950s, less than 25 percent of Americans thought premarital sex was acceptable; by the ’70s, more than 75 percent did, say experts.

“That’s really the big change in sexual mores, in the sexual willingness to participate by the females,” says Bullough. “Women have accepted sex, say sex is enjoyable and like to do it as much as men — although they’re not quite as promiscuous.”

There was a time when students could be expelled from college for premarital sex. In 1960, no campus physician was permitted to provide birth control for unmarried female students. Today, undergraduates take for granted access to the pill and other birth-control methods.

“I’m more worried about getting a girl pregnant than anything,” says Bill. “So if she’s on the pill, that’s great. Sometimes, I just pull out, to be extra-safe. I can’t have a kid now or it would ruin my life.”

On today’s college campus, oral sex is the common ground, the no-threat area, the equivalent of the goodnight kiss of the 1950s. It’s viewed as safer than penetration, and some students think of it as a “fun” form of birth control.

“I actually prefer it,” says Tony, a student entering his senior year. “I don’t have to do much and, usually, I’m not expected to do much after I come. And there’s no way she’ll ever get pregnant. It’s a win-win for me!”

Oral sex very often precedes sexual intercourse. The reverse was true 40 years ago, says Britton, the clinical sexologist, because oral sex was viewed as “more intimate than fucking.” In fact, many college students don’t think of oral sex as sex at all — the “Bill and Monica” situation only added to that confusion.

“Most girls think guys will like them if they give them head,” says Molly. “Instead of having sex, they’ll just do that. They think it’s OK, because, ‘I’m not having sex, I’m just sucking his cock. People can’t call me a slut if I’m not having sex.’ Girls do that all the time, before they ever fuck a guy.”

Is it always OK to go down on someone? Is there at least a dinner involved, somewhere along the line? No way, José. Heather says that if a guy takes her out for dinner, he’s not getting his helmet polished for dessert. Why? “Dinner means dating; dating means respect. No. It’s going to be a little while before you give it up. Blow jobs happen during random hookups. They’re dirty, so you do dirty things.”

Britton says there’s more of an “OK-ness” with oral sex today. Technically, she says, “you can still be a virgin.” You’re not regarded as a prude or inexperienced, yet you’re not thought of as easy or slutty.

Of course, some students out there are not having any sex at all. Furthermore, some of the undergrads who do fornicate like rabbits are getting tired of the highly sexual scene.

“Now that I’m getting older, it’s not like that,” says Holly. “I want something more. Back in the day, it didn’t matter. As a freshman, nobody cares. You’re not looking for a relationship, because you know it won’t last. You’ll hang out with one dude, and things will be cheesy, and you’ll move on to the next. Why? Because there’s a million dudes out there. You’re all living around each other, and you’re all the same age, and you’re all looking for the same thing.

“When you get over the novelty of college, you want someone to hang out with who’s more than just that kid you’re seen around with,” Holly continues. “Sometimes, I want something more meaningful than, ‘Let’s hang out in my room, and we’ll have sex and then hit the bars.’”

Joanne agrees: “It gets old, especially when you know you’re done with the whole party, drinking, sex, drugs, hangin’ out thing,” she says. “Some people never get over it. Some people never go through it. Your first year or two of college, it’s new. A whole new world. But you do get over it.” m

This story originally appeared in the Hartford Advocate.

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