The Statement

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The state of the sexual union

Daily Sex and Relationships Columnist
Published September 20, 2008

Often when “sexuality” and “youth” come to mind, it’s children society focuses on first. Whether it’s child pornography, regulating the reintegration of sex offenders, sex education or teenage pregnancy, it is fair to say that many of the policy discussions and interventions that have to do with sexuality focus on folks younger than 18.
While this demographic deserves national attention and political strategy sessions, children eventually arrive at the first magic number that means something politically, legally and socially: 18. Unfortunately, the parameters of sexual advocacy imply that once one becomes an adult, regardless of whether earlier interventions were ineffective—or implemented at all—these former children are on their own.
While the age of 18 represents an end to sexual surveillance, for some this is also the beginning of a college career. And while these environments vary somewhat, there are dominant tropes about campus sexuality. Many arrive to co-educational habitats and find themselves unsupervised for the first time in their lives.
The growing pains have largely been overcome and managed. Acne is under control, our pubescent markers of maturity are in full bloom and some are in a position where they can overeat, drink routinely, sleep poorly, not exercise and remain relatively unscathed. In a culture that fetishizes youth, college students are the crème de la crème. And yet the sexual narratives of students are relegated to over-dramatized entertainment, with sitcoms and reality TV as the sole source of sexual representation.
One might then wonder, what is the sexual status of college students? What sexual behaviors do they engage in? What are the outcomes of these sexual behaviors? How does the University compare to the national demographic? What concerns should students have about their sex lives? And what campus resources exist that can help us better navigate our sexuality at such a crucial stage of decision-making and development? The Statement investigates the state of the sexual union, for college-aged youth here at the University and nationally.

In the age of the perceived “campus hook-up culture,” it’s not surprising that 99 percent of students surveyed in a 2006 University Health Service study believed that the typical student is having sexual intercourse.
But in actuality, the same study found that 43 percent of University students have never had sexual intercourse.
Statistics from the 2006 National College Health Assessment and University Health Service challenge several ideas about students’ sexual habits. Tracking the general health of college students nationwide, the survey stands as an important start when assessing the sexual behaviors of college students and the outcomes of those behaviors.
The study also shows how University students measure up to college students in general — to compare, 32 percent of whom had never had sexual intercourse. The University also fell a little behind the curve in how often its students get some — 39 percent of students had sexual intercourse within 30 days of taking the survey, compared to 49.4 percent nationally.
Nationally and locally, though, the number of sex partners college students have yearly proves that the idea that sexual intercourse prevails is an exaggeration.
Locally and nationally, 69 percent of men and women have participated in oral sex at least once, with 43 percent of students having had it once or more in the past 30 days.
In both pools, anal sex proved to be much less common. Eighteen percent of men and women have had anal sex at the University, while 25 percent of students have tried it nationally. Three percent of University students and 5 percent of students nationwide had done it within 30 days before taking the survey.
When it comes to “body count” — the number of partners one has over a period of time — students both at the University and nationwide challenge the myth of rampant sexual intercourse.
Only 8 to 9 percent of students at the University and nationally had more than 4 partners in the past year. On average, students at the University had about 1.3 partners with an overwhelming amount, 41 percent, having just 1 partner. And while the national average is about 2 partners a year, 45 percent of students nationally had only 1 partner a year.
Remember, though, you can’t infer much about someone’s sexual health from just knowing her or his body count — protection methods ultimately define STI status in most cases. More than 90 percent of students nationwide and locally claim to use some method of contraception, with preferences skewed towards oral contraception, condoms and withdrawal.
But the percentage of students who actually used a condom during their last sexual session is shocking.