Before attending introductory psychology or chemistry, freshmen at Amherst College get briefed on campus sexual health. A booklet placed in all freshmen rooms reassures new students that being a virgin is "normal" and that drinking is not a party prerequisite. A "Safer Sex Menu" suggests massages and erotic videos as "light fares," to be followed by "entrees" of mutual masturbation.
After living at home, where sex is less likely to be discussed so fervidly, freshmen can find college to be somewhat of a shock -- and so can their parents. Activities that used to be private -- shaving one's legs or using the toilet, for example -- are done not only in front of new hallmates, but new hallmates with whom you'd rather be sharing dates than bathroom stalls.
Because of the popularity of coed floors at colleges, freshmen often run into a member of the opposite sex on their way to the bathroom, if not in the stall. Some freshmen adjust quickly. "I can use a urinal and talk to a girl at the same time," Peter Colarulli, originally from Alexandria, said confidently after the first week of school. But Colarulli has perhaps become a bit too comfortable: As a general rule, men are supposed to refrain from using the urinals in coed bathrooms.
Parents who grew up when bathrooms were reserved for one gender or the other find the arrangement a bit disconcerting. D.C. resident Dorothy Deng, mother of freshman Dennis, said, "It's very different from when I went to college. Then, you visited people in the living room. There are places of social interaction, and the bathroom isn't one of them."
Not all students are comfortable. In a crowded freshman hallway the Friday night before classes began, Arlington native Elizabeth Hawkins confessed that she has yet to take a shower unclothed. "It's weird when you shower next to a guy," she said. "I leave my underwear on. I'm not used to having a tiny little sheet between you and a butt-naked guy."
After a month of adjusting, however, Hawkins has graduated to naked showers. "I was modest before I came here but now it's a lot different. I can walk around in a towel with no problem," she said.
Her father, Rob, on the other hand, eagerly embraced the coed environment from the start. As a graduate of Amherst back before women attended the school, he finds "much less freneticism" among the males.
"It's much better," he said. "When I was there, the first thing you thought about was Smith and Mount Holyoke" -- two nearby all-women colleges.
Proponents of mixed stalls profess that a college dorm is just like a large family, where hallmates become like brothers and sisters. According to Rockville resident Freddi Karp, mother of freshman Matthew, "The (college) president told us that kids become like siblings instead of having romantic confusions."
Dean of Students Ben Lieber elaborated on the "sibling" theory. "We decided to mix it up because we noticed it created a healthier atmosphere. It breaks down stereotypes and students become brotherly and sisterly."
In fact, coed bathrooms may even "blunt" sexual anxieties, Lieber said, though sexual tension remains potent enough that Amherst dorm bathrooms are supplied with condoms.
But the administration's claim ignores the fact that romantic relationships between "siblings" is so common on campus that it has a name -- "hallcest." As for sexual tensions, while flossing next to a boyfriend may not result in uncontrollable blushing, walking to the shower wrapped in a towel may -- especially after the breakup.
After pressure from her parents, Maria Murguia, a Sidwell Friends graduate, requested the only freshman floor on campus reserved for women.
Her mother, Maria Concepcion, explained, "Initially, she was open to trying new things -- she said she didn't mind if there was smoking or drinking." But after reminding her that she valued her privacy, her mother convinced her to sign up for a single-sex floor.
Murguia is happy with her decision. "I can't imagine being in the bathroom next to a guy. They're close enough being on the next floor," she said. "I want to be able to come home to someplace where the party's not."
Even Colarulli, the urinal-user, has learned that sharing a bathroom with the opposite sex has some not-so-pleasant consequences. "Girls are so dirty!" he said. "They leave big, long hairs in the shower. Guys don't do that."
Murguia thought free condoms in the bathroom made sense, but was a bit puzzled when she also found them in the elevator. "Why are they also in the elevator? In case you forget them on the way out? It's too much. I feel like they're assuming everyone's going to be having sex."
If not sex, at least some form of sexual experimentation. As Amherst's booklet reminds freshmen, if we run into trouble, there are plenty of people and hot lines ready to offer counseling -- people more familiar with college life than parents.