Outlook: Going Home Alone
Monday, September 24, 2007; 12:00 PM
A transcript follows.
Nick Summers: Hi everyone, thanks for being here! A bit of background: Chris and I started IvyGate (http:/
By day, I'm a reporter at Newsweek. Earlier this month, Chris and I handed the keys to the site over to a new slate of editors, who are carrying on the IvyGate tradition of mixing actual reporting with prurient interests. Keep the tips coming to email@example.com, and let's get started with the chat here!
Washington: Dear Chris and Nick: If students really aren't getting it on the moment they hit the dorms, how come the bag of free condoms my freshmen counselors regularly filled was almost always emptied immediately?
I also went to an Ivy League school. Do you think Columbia students just aren't as attractive?
Nick Summers: Optimism.
Trust me -- glance in a trash can on dorm move-out day, and you'll find a pharmacy's worth of never-opened LifeStyles.
Christopher Beam: Hey everyone, thanks for joining. We're flattered you decided to come here instead of checking out Ahmadinejad's Columbia speech. A little more about us: Nick lives in New York these days, I live in Washington. Feel free to submit questions on anything -- anything! We'll give you a heads up on any posts that are Not Safe For Work.
Toronto: Do you think that there's a correlation between promiscuity and faculty? Engineering or physics students are likely to have a more difficult time of it because a large majority of these students are male.
Christopher Beam: Funny you mention that. There's a survey we came across that polled the virginity levels among different majors at Wellesley. The results are pretty much what you'd expect: Math majors were the purest, at 83 percent, tied with chemistry/biochemistry majors. Pseudo-scientific majors like economics and psychology were in the middle. And at the bottom, with zero percent virginity, was studio art majors.
Granted, Wellesley is hardly representative of other colleges, but I think you could extrapolate that curve.
Washington: Hey guys, as a recent graduate I read your article and was both delighted and humored. I had my share of fun in college but my experience mostly rings true with what you found. I understand your research proved that undergraduates are having less sex and going home alone more often. But as a college aged female who observed the perils of hookup culture all too often despite its apparent decline, I wonder if you came across any statistics or general opinions in regards to sexual assault. I completely agree that parents should worry less about their coeds having sex, but they shouldn't forget to separate the need to educate both their sons and daughters on consent and personal safety issues. Here remains the great disparity that I don't think warrants the "sigh of relief" generally encouraged by your article. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
Nick Summers: This is a really good point. Thanks for making it. There are lots of scary statistics about sexual assault, date rape, etc out there, but one problem is that it's hard to collect good data -- a lot of offenses go unreported. For example, back in August 2006 we compared crime reports at the eight Ivy League schools, and while there were 63 total forcible sex offenses, there were zero nonforcible -- and that just defies belief. Here's a link.
Arlington, Va.: What did your parents think of the article?
Nick Summers: I didn't really tell my dad until the last minute; he diplomatically said it was "the standard IvyGate fare." He was glad it got published, but I think bobsummers.com is more his speed.
Mom, on the other hand, was delighted and will be dining out on this for weeks. I think she prefers the rough draft, which had considerably more juvenile language.
From Maryland: Hi -- read your article with interest this weekend! As a mom of two college-age boys, what I have found interesting about this generation is not how often they have sex (not that I know much about that!), but how open they are about talking about sex. They, and the girls they are friends with, do not seem to have the hang-ups about talking about it like my generation does. Maybe that's why people think it is more prevalent than it actually is?
Nick Summers: I think that's definitely true. I believe the current generation of college girls is the first to have come of age while "Sex and the City" was on the air -- I have several friends who cite that show as their introduction to a host of sexual topics.
Natalie Krinsky, the former Yale sex columnist we quoted in the piece, made this point too: College students talk about sex a lot, but it doesn't mean they're actually having it.
Washington: Do you think you guys' experiences on an Ivy League campus are typical of most college kids, or are you perhaps nerdier than most? Not that that's a bad thing.
Nick Summers: Oh, we're definitely nerdier than most. I think there's more sex at larger schools -- but then again, when I said that to a friend while kicking around the premise of this piece, he said, "Well, it's not like every kid who goes to, like, Michigan is Rico Suave." There's just as many frustrated kids there!
Clifton, Va.: We discussed this article with our daughter, a 20 year old sophomore at Virginia Tech, last night and she seemed to agree that random hookups that end in actual intercourse are rare and long-term sexual relationships are rarer still. The girls who were "fast and easy" in high school continue to be that way in college and guys will be guys, but she and her friends feel that it is a lot harder than you would expect to get some privacy or to really want to be sexually active on a regular basis.
Nick Summers: Wow, that's a pretty frank discussion to have with your daughter! That's probably healthy. Any other parents out there who broached the subject over dinner? Or awkwardly taped it to the bathroom mirror?
Washington: Interesting piece. I'm a bit surprised at your "findings" and wonder what the stats are for state schools, or rather the "party schools". Perhaps people at Ivy League and top tier schools are just too busy to party.
Also, are you in school now, and if not, how long ago did you graduate? (I'm at work and can't double check in your article if you answered any of these questions!)
Christopher Beam: I think you're right that you wouldn't find the same numbers if you just looked at Big Ten schools. It's really the pressure-cooker institutions where students prioritize work over social activities (or, more likely, form their social circles based on their work) and they've been so busy all their lives -- the chess club/Model U.N./a cappella/monkey lab research examples -- that it sometimes comes at the cost of social skills.
Arlington, Va.: You guys pointed to various media as the sources of the college-sex myth. Why is there a tendency to sensationalize on the part of the media? Is it one of those excepted myths that no one bothers to question, or do they derive some other benefit from exaggerating?
Nick Summers: Hey, we're as guilty as this as the next media outlet. Make that much, much more guilty. (You might search the IvyGate archives for "Brown" and "kitchen." NSFW, obviously.) It's great copy!
San'a', Yemen: Hi guys. Love the blog!
I was considering applying to some of America's Ivy League universities (once my visa comes through, Insha'Allah!), but your column is causing me to reconsider. Basically, I'm looking for strong academics, and the opportunities for some new experiences.
My question: Among America's best academies, where is your column least true?
Nick Summers: Hi, thanks! Good luck with your visa. I would apply to Wellesley and major in anything other than studio arts.
Washington: You didn't really address the question of emotion in all this. Assuming you're right and sex isn't rampant on college campuses these days, could it be because kids have realized that wild sex without some kind of commitment just ain't all it's cracked up to be? (And no, I'm not Laura Sessions Stepp.)
Christopher Beam: I think if you talked to most students, you'd find that the vast majority of them are looking to hook up with the/possibility/of that becoming a relationship. I don't know many people who explicitly don't want the emotional commitment of a relationship -- it's just that it's a lot easier to shoot for something more superficial.
Washington: Who got more during college, Chris or Nick?
Christopher Beam: A gentleman never tells.
Nick Summers: Chris's number is 47.
Anonymous: I hope my college-age kids are having sex, I don't want them to grow up to be Republicans!
Nick Summers: That's quite a progressive attitude!
Bowie, Md.: If the average number of sex partners per career is 10.3, and if only about half of college students are having sex, then the sexually active students are having sex with about 20 people, or about one different person every six weeks. That's a lot.
More to the point, you don't address the issue of the broader sex culture at college. The problem is not so much the sex that people are having (or not having), but precisely the fact that so many students arrange their lives around sex: dress to have sex, shop to have sex, drink to have sex, party to have sex. And, as you note, everyone assumes everyone else is having lots of sex, so the sex-oriented part of college culture is foregrounded. That's very different from our grandparents' college life; they wanted to have sex, too, but the prevailing culture assumed that they would not get it. That's a huge difference and I'd like to know whether you see it as such.
Christopher Beam: Agreed. On the average college kid's list of priorities, I'd probably rank sex somewhere between water and oxygen. And it's mostly because they get the sense that college is a den of iniquity that they're totally missing out on. A good friend of mine said this to me on IM yesterday (I hope he doesn't mind me quoting): "the concept of premarital sex has caused me 90% agony, 10% pleasure in my life. i wish sex was illegal before marriage so i would have so much less to worry about."
Washington: I read your article on college sex, and I found the whole premise (of sex being somehow "undesirable" or "wrong") to be the most ludicrous thing I've ever come across.
I have to ask, who are you writing for? Do you really think the average American shares these Puritan views? College sex is the most natural and normal thing in the world. Try publishing this article in any other country, and see what reaction you get.
I realize that you are probably normal students, rather than religious nutjobs, but still, why did this piece even get published? Is America really so backward that this subject will generate heated discussion in a mainstream newspaper?
Nick Summers: Uh, did you really read our piece? We're not anti-sex, and we never called it undesirable or wrong.
(Please let us know if it would be okay to add "Puritan" to the list of left-handed blurbs we have on IvyGate.)
Media and the the college-sex myth: We see this really with movies, where it seems like every high school and college aged kid is getting laid weekly.
Christopher Beam: It's true, there's only a small handful of movies or TV shows that in my experience gets it right, "Freaks and Geeks" being the best.
Charlottesville, Va.: I don't think the piece really got to the heart of the problem. Its not just vaginal sex, if they asked about oral sex those numbers would skyrocket. And oral sex is expected, even if you just met that person. College age people these days don't know how to start a relationship. There is texting and e-mail, no dates, no building up to that kind of intimacy so it becomes empty and hollow. Kids are trying to find a connection and hurting themselves in the process. I think parents should be scared.
Nick Summers: Those numbers do include oral sex. "Hook-up" is an intentionally vague term, and it can mean anything from aggressive hand-holding to a make out session to Larry Craig's average Minneapolis layover.
Bethesda, Md.: What about the story some years back regarding prostitution at Brown? Yes, I'm a Brown alum and that seems so out of character
Nick Summers: Yes, I believe there was some kind of Brown escort service controversy. Before IvyGate's time, alas.
Silver Spring, Md.: Could we please have a link to the Outlook story?
Nick Summers: Here you go.
Detroit: I think one of the reasons people assume that sex is common on campus, is that the people who engage in it are also the people who want to justify their behavior by publicly talking about it and suggesting that everyone is doing it.
Nick Summers: That's true -- but sex IS common. Our point was only that not everyone is doing it constantly.
Washington: I went to Johns Hopkins. With the odds there it might as well have been a convent. But seriously, I did manage to lose my virginity. That has to be worth four years of work.
Nick Summers: Congratulations! Go Blue Jays!
New York: Hi guys, I'm a freshman at your alma mater, and your column is all-too true!
But I'm writing for some advice. I'm going out on a date tonight with this hot activist-type girl. Do you think the Ahmadinejad speech would make for good foreplay, or is that asking for a little more conversation and a little less action?
Nick Summers: There is no aphrodisiac like Ahmadinejad. Mazel tov!
Washington: Hi guys! Would you please expand more on the growing modesty wave? As a modest, under 25-year-old, I am encouraged to see this is a trend. Is this just among young women or are guys also showing signs of modesty?
Christopher Beam: I hate to say it, but I'm skeptical that a bunch of students deciding not to hook up constitutes any sort of "wave" or trend. Groups like True Love Revolution appear because of the/sense/that everyone else is rutting like pigs -- not because they actually are. Our point in the piece is that most chastity at college is, sad to say, unintentional.
"Oral sex is expected, even if you just met that person": What?? Wow, I must have disappointed a lot of people I met in college.
Nick Summers: Haha. We shouldn't have published that question; right now is heavy recruiting season on campus and a lot of undergrads may make critical mistakes during the first round of interviews.
Durham, N.C.: Nick, if you had to characterize Chris's attempts at to have sex in college within the framework of the film "Superbad," would he be Seth, Evan, or Fogell (McLovin)? And please elucidate with one example.
Nick Summers: Please, Chris was the Jules character. Everybody was trying to make it with him.
Nick Summers: I will say that junior year, Chris returned from a semester abroad in Nicaragua with a full beard. We're talking a Mufasa-style blond mane. All downhill for Beamer from there.
Florida State Alum: I am completely shocked at your stats. I graduated two years ago and I'd say 90 percent of the people I knew had sex. Fifty percent had sex regularly (once a week). You should check out the party schools.
Christopher Beam: We weren't able to find any numbers that isolated big schools like that, but the national surveys -- the 2000 Zogby poll saying that 40 percent of students nationwide reported that they were not "sexually active", for example -- suggest that the difference isn't massive. Nerds, you're not alone.
Christopher Beam: As for the question about our parents reading this, I haven't told either of them. Hi, Mom!
Washington: You guys have graduated now. Do you have any thing to say about sex after college? Are hook-ups easier or harder to come by in the working world? It seems to me like at this point (among 23-27 year olds) there's definitely a stigma associated with being a virgin.
Nick Summers: Eh, it's basically the same. The only real difference is that you have disposable income, so your date options aren't limited to places that accept swipey points.
Christopher Beam: Come on, I had plenty of great dates using swipey points.
Re: Ivies too busy to party: I would have thought Penn would balance that out ... at least if you listen to Penn students.
Nick Summers: Any Penn kids want to weigh in? Personally, I love that campus.
Palo Alto, Calif.: Hi Nick. I've stories about people running around dorms in towels looking for condoms. Do you think colleges have a responsibility to promote safe sex?
Nick Summers: I believe this query comes from a friend. How'd that work out, anyway?
Arlington, Va.: This story is one that has been in dire need of being written. There are way too many baby boomers analyzing the sex-crazed teens of this generation. Finally, a well-thought out and accurate depiction of college life from two guys who are actually immersed in the population they're reporting on. I'm curious to hear what kind of feedback Ivygate has been getting from your article..
Nick Summers: We've gotten some good response -- a lot of emails from kids along the lines of "amen, I thought it was just me." Also, I hear Hot Pocket stock is through the roof today.
Plus! My long-lost sophomore European history teacher and Model UN sponsor wrote in with this:
"While I realize that you were paraphrasing David Brooks, it was somewhat heartening that you did, after all, include mention of Model United Nations participation as a limit on uncontrolled sex. For years I suffered from the chronic fear that those far and away overnight Model U.N. trips at Yorktown were training grounds for a generation of wild maniacs under the guise of working on position papers."
Christopher Beam: To be fair, high school Model U.N. trips were hookup bonanzas. It's where students learned to rock out with their caucus out.
Reston, Va.: In the 1970s, the drinking age was 18. Now that it is 21, I have observed colleges are far less crazy. Is that view shared by students?
Nick Summers: I don't think so. You can have a pretty crazy time at most campuses any night of the week if you want to.
Christopher Beam: Agreed, they practically hand out fake IDs with the Orientation schedule.
Nick Summers: Looks like that's it for the nooner. Thanks to everyone who wrote in!
Christopher Beam: Thanks guys! Don't do anything we wouldn't do.
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