In this issue of The Statement Magazine, we’re talking about sex. But to get a comprehensive view of the campus sexual landscape, we can’t simply rely on anecdotes and personal experiences. In an effort to get some quantitative information about student sexual activity, The Daily anonymously surveyed 11,000 randomly-selected students about their experiences and perceptions of sex.
The survey received 1,409 responses, with respondents spread evenly across undergraduate grade levels. The respondents were 55.4 percent female, 43.1 percent male and 1.5 percent identifying as nonbinary or “other.” They were also 83.3 percent heterosexual, 4.5 percent homosexual and 9.3 percent bisexual. It should be noted the statistics resulting from this survey may be biased, as many individuals may not wish to disclose such information.
The survey questions covered several areas, including perceptions of sex (both in general and on campus), sex education and personal experience. Some notable statistics and trends emerged from the responses.
To begin broadly, students shared differing perceptions of what “sex” is. While there was broad (97.3 percent) agreement that penetrative sex qualifies as sex, 47.8 percent of students also considered oral sex to be sex, and 33.7 percent considered any kind of genital contact to be sex.
Students also reported differing definitions of “hooking up.” In total, 75 percent of students included oral sex and penetrative sex in their definitions, and 67.8 percent included other genital contact. Notably, 58 percent included making out in their definitions.
By these personal definitions, a total of 65.2 percent of students reported having sex during this semester, with 28.5 percent reporting that they had sex once or twice per month or less and 21.5 percent reporting that they had sex an average of once or twice per week. Students also proved to be relatively prescient about their peers’ sexual habits, as 50.7 percent of respondents estimated that between 60 and 80 percent of students had sex this semester.
A total of 61.9 percent of students said they had had mostly positive sexual experiences in college, and a total of 77.8 percent of respondents agreed that they felt comfortable discussing sexual topics with friends.
Students also reported using dating apps at significant rates. The most commonly used dating app was Tinder, with 47.8 percent of respondents saying they use it. The next highest was Bumble, with 20.6 percent reporting they use it. However, most students using these apps reported they don’t use them to actively look for partners. A majority of 57.7 percent of students who use dating apps use them primarily for casual browsing — that is, without the primary intention of finding a partner. Most students had used the internet for sexual activity, and a total of 57.3 percent of students reported they had sent a nude photo or received one from someone they knew.
Responding to a question about contraception, 73.8 percent of students named condoms as a preferred method of contraception, and 51.3 percent named birth control pills. Intrauterine devices were chosen by 16.4 percent, and withdrawal (also known as “pulling out”) and abstinence were each chosen by 15.8 percent of students.
The data also revealed some subtle differences in sexual attitudes by gender. For example, women were 13.8 percentage points more likely than men to say they were comfortable openly discussing sexual topics with friends. And when it comes to using dating apps, women were 21.2 percentage points more likely to be using the apps primarily for casual browsing. Men were 6.8 percentage points more likely to be looking for a relationship on these apps and 16.2 percentage points more likely to be looking to hook up.
Men were also less likely to consider most sexual activity to be “hooking up,” with the exception of penetrative sex, which had similar perceptions among men and women.
There were also notable differences in experience by sexual orientation. For instance, gay and lesbian students were about twice as likely as other students to have had five or more sexual partners in college. The data also revealed some troubling differences between students of different sexual orientations. Straight students were 10.4 percent more likely than bisexual students to say that they had mostly positive sexual experiences in college. Gay and lesbian students fell in the middle of these groups. (It should be noted that majorities of all three groups reported mostly positive experiences).
In the free response section, which asked several general questions about sex and relationships, responses varied widely but followed some general trends. In response to the question “What is the worst thing to hear from your partner after sex?”, the most common response by a significant margin was a comment that the experience was negative or underwhelming for the partner. Other frequent responses included rude, dismissive or uncaring comments. Asked about their favorite post-sex activity, responses consistently included activities such as cuddling, talking, sleeping, eating and showering.
For the question “What suggestions would you like to give to your current sexual partner?”, respondents frequently expressed a desire for better communication from their partner. Other frequent answers included requests for more sexual attention and a desire to be more adventurous in sexual relationships.
Students also expressed a general dissatisfaction with the sex education they received. Asked about what they wished they knew about sex when they were younger, most students said they wished they had a more comprehensive view of sexual activity. Many students said they had abstinence-only sex education in school and that it left them unprepared for sexual situations, as well as uninformed about consent and safe sex. Many also said that their sexual education mostly just covered basic anatomical information about sex. These students generally wished that they learned more about healthy sexual relationships, emotional aspects of sex, gender dynamics and unhealthy societal perceptions about sex.