Editor’s Note: Students interviewed for this article have asked to go by different first names due to personal subject matter.
In a coffee shop Monday morning, when the fog blocked out much of the sunlight and misted the windows adjacent us, I asked Vic to tell me about his sex life. Vic, an engineering sophomore who seemed years older due to his collected, thoughtful way of speaking, told me about the loneliness he felt during his first few months in his freshman year. Glancing out at the grey sky blurred by our window, he remembered how friends and the people Vic knew from his high school were having sex, and he wasn’t.
Like many new freshman, Vic left his family, high school friends and neighbors behind him to enroll in a university where he barely knew anyone. Away from their parents for the first time, college students are free to engage in behavior they wouldn’t want their parents knowing about — such as having casual sex.
Being surrounded by thousands of completely new people while also being away from their parents for the first time can make college seem like the ideal place to have frequent, casual sex. But this is not the case for many University students; in fact, most students abstain or stay away from casual sex altogether.
The Michigan Daily conducted a survey asking students about various aspects of their sex life. The survey had a sample size of about 700 undergraduate students roughly evenly distributed between all four classes. Fifty-seven percent of respondents identified as women, 41 percent as men and the remaining as a non-binary gender identity.
Of the respondents, 28 percent said they considered themselves virgins.
About one-third reported they had not had sex this semester, and about the same proportion reported having regular sex — sex at least once a week.
Read more: See the full survey results
Though the Daily’s survey reflects just University students, this pattern is similar for many campuses in the nation. According to the Online College Social Life Survey, which surveyed the sex life of college students at 21 universities between 2005 and 2011, 20 percent of college students graduate without ever having sex.
Vic is among the University students who chose not to have sex while in college.
He said he had never dated anyone in high school and his town was relatively more conservative. After coming to college, Vic noticed more people engaging in casual sex and felt insecure that he still was not.
“This is the loneliest time any of us have ever encountered,” he said. “Most of us have grown up knowing the same people for a decent chunk of time, there’s never been a time you haven’t been forced into trying to find new people, for most of us. I just think that out of that loneliness and that lack of connection, hook up culture seems like it’s the easiest way to get into it.”
However, Vic realized after making good friends who did not feel the need to hook up with random people, the feeling he was missing out slowly decreased.
“I am the least lonely I have been in a long time; I am not having sex,” he said. “I have incredible friends that I can talk to about my feelings whenever, and it’s really, really powerful.”
Like Vic, Linda said she has never had sex. An LSA junior, she said though she was raised in a conservative home that didn’t value casual sex, over time she realized this was also the best decision for her own well-being. She realized waiting ensures she is more emotionally connected to her partner, which leads to a healthier relationship with the other person.
Taylor, an Engineering junior, also abstains from sex in college. He said he does not envy hearing other men discuss the girls they slept with, but rather feels bad they are selfishly going out to appease their own desires rather than establish a committed relationship. However, Taylor admits sometimes struggling to abstain in a college environment.
“I wouldn’t say that I am tempted by it or desire it, but that being said I do have my own struggles,” he said. “We are sexual beings, we want to have relationships. I do want to have sex.”
In the survey, the Daily asked virgins why they had chosen to abstain from sex. Though many people stated religion as their primary reason for not having sex, respondents also stated they were “waiting for the right person” or they “were not into hooking up,” among a variety of other answers.
Engineering sophomore Asher, too, abstains from sex in college. He said when he drinks and goes out to parties, he notices sex as sometimes being an “end goal” of the night. He said casual sex does not appeal to him because in the long term, he knows he would rather wait to build an emotional connection with a partner rather than have casual sex with them. He said he sees hooking up at parties as the opposite of thinking long-term — it is instant gratification for a moment in time.
“My intent in going out was never to really participate in ‘hook up culture,’” Asher said. “At least personally to me, those kinds of physical relationship hold a lot more importance to me than just that instant gratification.”
Of survey respondents who remained virgins, 67 percent of them say it has not impacted their college experience and 24 percent said it positively impacted it. Only 8 percent said it has negatively affected their time at college.
Linda said though she recognizes hooking up and casual sex is a large part of some students’ lives, she found close friends that have her values and beliefs when it comes to relationships. She said stereotyping can sometimes make outsiders think college students are more concerned about hooking up than they actually are.
“There are a lot of people that are here for school, they’re here to study and they are here to take things seriously,” Linda said.
While about a third of students are engaging in sex regularly, the survey indicated that perceptions of sex might be skewed. When asked what portion of campus was engaging in sex, about half of respondents answered “many” or “most.”
Seth, an Engineering sophomore who also chooses not to participate in casual sex for religious reasons, said hooking up in college could sometimes become glorified because students consider it an ideal. He said sex is enticing to people because the people they want to be like — popular, well-liked kids on campus — seemed like they were having sex.
“The athletes, the people who got it figured out, they just have the world wrapped around their finger — they’re just having sex all the time,” Seth said. It’s almost like high school all over again … It’s not so much everyone thinks everyone is doing it, it’s just that the people that we want to be are doing it.”
To Vic, he said engaging people on campus in a conversation about sex could vastly help the feelings of being “left out” for those who have not had sex or don’t wish to have sex in college. As we wrapped up our conversation, I told him the results of the Daily’s survey, and how many students are virgins and or do not have casual sex in college.
Glancing out the window again, but this time to the sun’s reflection on the sidewalk, he said many people may feel pressured to hook up just out of loneliness and insecurity, but knowing that other people aren’t having sex as much as we think they are will help them make informed decisions about whether or not they want to have sex.
“If people knew that it’s at half, sixty percent, a lot less than what people think … if people knew then people would feel less left out,” he said.