Back to School, Back to Sex

College is the best four years of your life, right? That's what they say, anyway -- whoever "they" are. And for good reason: College, any college, is fornication central.

And why shouldn't it be? Take hordes of horny, inexperienced kids, thrust them onto some campus far removed from their parents, strip away all responsibility -- what do you think's going to go down? I'll tell you! Hordes of horny, inexperienced freshmen -- on each other.

It isn't just a time for young adults to expand their intellects, to break free from the protective shell of youth. It's a time for freedom and self-expression. Experts say one way college students express this newfound freedom 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 "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, these kids are coming into college with a lot more sexual experience than they did."

Yes, Virginia, sex is a naughty little cocktail college students have always shared. But now, more than ever, it seems a majority of college students are raging alcoholics, and the campus grounds, the old watering hole. Sex is easier than ever, so it seems, but if the testimony of students is accurate, it also seems to have lost some of its luster, mystery and joy.

Increasingly, sex is becoming less and less an intimate act experienced between two people who "like each other, a lot." Instead it's more of a recreational activity, engaged in freely by two -- sometimes more -- people as a way to remedy chronic boredom or alleviate 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, without condoms or any other form of protection.

"It's not as precious as it used to be," says 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."

"Some students see it as part of making friends and being part of the college life, instead of being like an emotional attachment to somebody," says Diane, who is entering her senior year. "It's more like a way to fit in and make friends and stuff."

Surprised? You shouldn't be. After all, this is a country where one in every five college students loses their virginity at or before age 13, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It's scary because it is the way it is," says Joanne, a junior with 10 notches on her belt since attending college. "Sex doesn't mean anything to anyone. 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. It's nothing. It comes right after a kiss. And that's what's scary."

"It's completely casual," says Heather, a junior. "You hang out, you hook up, and it's like, 'See you around.'"

The hand job has replaced the handshake, and the blow job the peck on the cheek as the most common forms of exploratory male and 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," laughs Heather. "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, it's believed about 83 percent of college students are getting laid on a regular basis. According to the most recent, wide-scale survey of college students, published by the CDC, which tracks and reports on health-related issues, 79.5 percent of college students aren't virgins, by the truest form of the definition. Of those, only 37.7 percent had used a condom during their last sexual encounter.

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

"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."

Right.

Females asked the same question -- "How easy is it to get laid on campus these days?" -- offer a variation on the theme. Jenna, a sophomore, is typical.

"Very. It depends on if you want it. As a girl, if you want it, you can go out and get it. Boom -- there it is. Right there. 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. It helps."

Alcohol. Yep, alcohol and sex make interesting bedfellows (no pun intended). Alcohol and college date rape go hand-in-hand as well. Hell, if there's more casual sex going on on campus, then one could assume that the incidences of date rape would increase proportionately, right? Of course.

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 residential and outpatient 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, is growing in popularity with the passing of each semester, the use of condoms is on the decline, even in this era of increased awareness to fatal, sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV and AIDS. Take James, a junior, for example.

"I never use condoms," he 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?"

James is the all-too-frightening norm. More than 85 percent of the students we spoke with -- both at local campuses and others not so local -- admitted they rarely, if ever, use protection. And less than half of those said they'd been tested for HIV within the last year. About half of those students told us they did so to satisfy the concerns of a fearful partner, who vowed to withhold sex until the test was administered.

Today, sexually transmitted diseases, particularly herpes and gonorrhea, are epidemic on campus. According to the most recent data, 60 percent of college women diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease were drunk at the time of infection. At least one out of five 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 each year, the highest infection rate in 40 years. About 1.3 million new gonorrhea cases are diagnosed annually, and 24 million new cases of human papilloma virus, which causes genital warts, are diagnosed annually, including a high percentage among teens and young adults.

"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 the diverse groups of "sex workers." "I don't think the fear of disease has ever really prohibited sexual activity. 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 less than 25 years of age.

AIDS is the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 25 and 44. According to the CDC, 1 in 1,500 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."

When it comes to college boot-knockin', it's not all shame, shame, I know your name, though. Positive shifts in campus sexual behaviors have been noted by scholars. For example, it seems there's more of a willingness to accept varying kinds of sexual behaviors and lifestyles on college campuses today. 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, more curiosity; more and more students are reporting sex toy use, bisexual dabblings, and anal play, than ever before. Plus, experts say women are now free to be sexual beings, a welcome change on campus, mostly attributed 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 course of the decade, is both lauded and blamed for the start of 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 often in agreement about the role of the pill in the revolution, may also take the position that there is no such degradation in our social mores.

Throughout the late '60s and early '70s, the combination of student protests, counter-culture movements, and medically prescribed contraceptives, ushered in a decisive break with the preceding values, which prescribed confinement of women's sexual pleasure within the suburban walls of 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. There is a distinct probability, though, that no clear-cut answer to the debate is possible without an accurate way to measure the societal changes that may have occurred without the birth control pill.

While there appears to have been a continually increasing casualness about sexual contact over the last 100 years, there are still rules, still mating codes, that have to be observed.

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. Wembridge wrote of the girls: "Whether or not they pet, they hesitate to have anyone believe that they do not. 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 found it acceptable, 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, and 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 would be expelled from college for premarital sex. In 1960, no campus physician was permitted to provide birth control for unmarried female students. Today, of course, undergraduates take access to the pill and other birth control methods for granted, and female students have to worry about an almost epidemic date rape rate.

"I'm more worried about getting a girl pregnant than anything," says a student we'll call 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 -- it's the 2001 equivalent of the kiss goodnight 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 cum. 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, because oral sex was viewed as "more intimate than, quote unquote, fucking." In fact, many college students don't think of oral sex as sex at all, and the "Bill and Monica" situation only added to that confusion.

"Most girls think guys will like them if they give them head," says Molly, who is going back to school this year. "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, an attitude that was never prevalent before. 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. After all, "if the president does it, it's OK if they do, is the thinking," says Britton.

Of course, there are students out there not having any sex at all. Not only that, but some of the undergrads who do fornicate like floppy-eared rabbits are getting sick 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," she 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.'"

"It gets old," agrees Joanne, "especially when you know you're done with the whole party, drinking, sex, drugs, hangin' out thing. 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. You're buggin' out. But you do get over it."

* All students' names have been changed to ensure anonymity if, perchance, their parents read this.

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