It’s that time of year again, Michigan Daily readers. The leaves are changing, holiday music is playing, snow is falling and you guessed it — The Statement Magazine is analyzing campus sex culture. Welcome to our annual sex edition, where we dive deep into the topic’s nuances and intricacies through narratives and investigative pieces. But first, in order to get quantitative data about what sex looks like for students at the University of Michigan, we created a survey with a wide-range of questions focused on sexual education, perceptions and activity. Here, we have shared the data collected, while also providing analysis and commentary from The Statement’s Editorial Staff. At the bottom of this article you will find additional data without analysis for viewing purposes.
Our survey was sent to all University of Michigan students, undergraduate and graduate students alike, totaling 47,902 recipients. Of those recipients, 3,761 people responded, consisting of a makeup of 17.1% freshman, 15% sophomores, 17% juniors, 18.3% seniors and a significant 32.6% graduate students. In regards to gender identity, 57.3% of respondents identified as female, 40.9% as male and 1.8% as non-binary. The respondents described sexual orientation was also 72.1% heterosexual, 13.9% bisexual, 5.8% lesbian/gay and 8.2% as other.
It should be noted the statistics resulting from this survey may be skewed, as many individuals may not have wished to disclose information detailed in the questionnaire, may have refrained from answering certain questions and/or may have answered questions dishonestly.
Here we see that while women are more likely to answer “agree” to enjoying having sex, they fall behind in the “strongly agree” category. We’re not sure if or what exactly this indicates, considering the subjective scale (i.e. what is the quantifiable difference between “agree” and “strongly agree”), but some reasons for the discrepancy could include the pleasure gap present in some heterosexual relationships or the societal double standards associated with gender and sex.
What most struck us about this data was the disparity between women and men, as well as women and non-binary people, in how often they masturbate. Women seem to masturbate less than both men and non-binary, with the majority of women masturbating once or twice per week or less. The majority of men and non-binary people masturbate once or twice per week or more.
While most students, across gender identities, seem to have conversations about contraception and who is responsible for it, more women are expected to take or use contraception compared to men. Men were more likely to answer that it is unclear who takes contraception or that their partner does. We recognize the limitations of this question, as not all people are in relationships that require contraceptive care.
Many responses concerning one’s preferred post-coital activity mentioned cuddling, “chilling” and napping. This was surprising given how college-hook up culture is often associated with a “hit-it-and-quit-it” mentality, which can normalize a sense of detachment from your sexual partner after sex, making it like a business transaction. Cuddling after sex, however, is a bonding activity that strengthens relationships. It is important to note that the majority of respondents indicated that they are in an exclusive relationship, so perhaps this is a correlation.
Two main themes that arose in response to the free-response question “What do you wish you had learned about sex when you were younger?” was 1) more information on same-sex sex and 2) more information on consent. Other responses detailed how the internet served as an educational tool to learn about other forms of sex besides heterosexual sex; additionally, responses that were common were learning what a healthy relationship is, how to communicate your sexual needs and the general normalization of sex.
In response to the question of generally, what reasons do survey-takers mastrubate, respondents were able to write in their own free response answers, aside from the checkbox options of “for pleasure,” “stress-relief,” “to find out what you like” and to “boost self-esteem.” The most common write-in answers for why one would masturbate included out of boredom, to help them fall asleep, to procrastinate or to achieve clarity of mind and focus. We found the frequency of these responses to be notable, indicating commonalities behind certain motivations to masturbate that we may have not considered obvious before, like clarity and sleep aid.
An overwhelming amount of people who answered the free-response question “If you answered that your sexual experiences in college have been mostly negative, why?” indicated that they have experienced sexual assault and/or sexual harassment during their time in college. Another glaring theme in these responses include a lack of communication. Those parties involved had interests that didn’t align with each other romantically, or did not know how to say what felt good during sex, which was especially distinguished by gender — many responses noted that men aren’t aware on how to provide female pleasure.
The most popular response we received for why our respondents have sex is for pleasure, with 59.7% of people selecting this option. Other popular responses included 40.1% of respondents saying they have sex out of love, and 24% answering that they have sex to feel wanted. What we found notable here was the 8.8% of people who answered that they have sex because they feel it is expected in a relationship. It should also be taken into consideration that this question was offered in a “check all that apply format,” meaning that it is likely certain options have significant overlap with one another.
This figure did not surprise us, as freshmen have had less time than upperclassmen to have multiple sexual experiences. Especially in the time of COVID-19, when enforced social distancing and quarantine have made sexual encounters limited, it would make sense for numbers of sexual partners to remain low.
Among the 286 Business student respondents, 688 Engineering student respondents, and 1,467 LSA student respondents, 92% of Business students indicated that they identify as heterosexual, compared to 78% in the College of Engineering and 67% in LSA. The second most-common sexual orientation, aside from heterosexuality, is bisexuality, with notable rates of 11.9% among Engineering respondents and 16.6% among LSA. Every listed sexual orientation aside from “heterosexual” is less represented in the Business School than in Engineering and LSA.
Across the Business School, LSA and the College of Engineering, Business student respondents reported having the highest number of sexual partners, with 13.9% of Business respondents selecting the option of 10+ sexual partners, compared to 7% of LSA respondents and 4% of Engineering respondents. On the contrary, Engineering respondents had the highest percentage of respondents who have not had any sexual partners in college at 34%, compared to the 25.9% of LSA respondents and 19.3% of Ross respondents.
The COVID-19 pandemic seemed to have either led to less opportunities for sexual partners, or no effect at all, with 27.8% of respondents detailing a decrease and 27.3% seeing no change. The latter may be due to living or quarantining with a sexual partner, as reflected by the free-response answers for the “other” category. In addition, free-response answers also frequently included people entering into an exclusive relationship that they otherwise would not have.
Most people seem to have extended visits with their sexual partners as a way to combat any sexual challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as opposed to technology-based options such as nude picture exchanges or phone/FaceTime sex.
The survey posed two questions to gauge how students’ perceptions of their peers’ sexual behavior differed from reality. Indeed, our findings show that while the majority of students think that students on campus are having sex once or twice a week or less, the reality involves less frequent sex. Of the respondents, 39.8% indicated not having sex at all this semester, while 25.1% indicated once or twice per month or less and 23.6% said once or twice per week.
Overall, for the 2020 fall semester, 60.2% of respondents indicated that they’ve had sex this semester. This is down by 5% from The Statement’s 2018 Sex Survey. While there is no exact way to know why this is, we presume that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult — and thus less likely — for students to engage in sex frequently. This is supported by the free response answers to the question, “How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your sexual activity?” wherein there were many responses indicating less sex due to stress from the pandemic, safety protocols or less opportunities to meet sexual partners.
In conclusion, this year’s sex survey was especially interesting given the unique context of our times. We’re curious to see how trends will change when the data is compared to next year’s survey, given the hopes that the circumstances regarding pandemic will have improved. Until then, folks.