Is Dartmouth Undersexed?

by John Strayer | 11/21/95 6:00am

There seems to be a general unhappiness among students about the relations between men and women on the campus. Many liberals, myself among them, are quick to criticize the warped culture which condones or encourages sex through "hook-ups" and assault.

Perhaps we are missing the point. What percentage of students actually engage in these sorts of activities? Could the real problem be a general lack of sex?

Let us attempt to responsibly answer the question: "How many Dartmouth students are getting it?" On first intuition the number appears great, too great, in fact.

Liberals note that far too many people are having unhealthy sex. This is true. By unhealthy sex, I mean two things -- sex where one partner is less than willing or "hook-up" sex, the Dartmouth version of the one night stand.

Little need be said here to demonstrate the unhealthy nature of sexual assault. However, the "hook-up" culture represents a less clear cut area of the discussion. Even the most devoted liberal ideologues among us have felt the pull of hormones, especially under the influence of a few beers. Personally, I would be guilty of hypocrisy if I portrayed myself as above human weakness.

But my intent here is to analyze rather than criticize. We return to the question -- just how much sex is going on?

Looking at hook-ups there can be no doubting that a certain percentage of these involve actual sexual intercourse. But in normal circumstances this event has but two witnesses. As a result all of our information comes from word of mouth.

Is this word to be trusted? I suggest the following rule of thumb: Doubt every story that involves genuine sex and believe every story where no one gets laid. This is especially true for stories that originate with the male half of the encounter. I suspect that most of the hook-ups that involve actual sex are the same ones that no one talks about. There is enormous pressure, especially (but not exclusively) on a man to lie and say that he went "all the way."

Even if we believe every hook-up tale, there still seems to be a general lack of sex. There is a flurry of such stories Freshman Fall, followed by a precipitous decline, moderated by a small bubble of hook-up activity during Sophomore Summer.

This pattern creates the myth that everyone is hooking up. Even as seniors, we believe that everyone but ourselves is "getting some." Each of us thinks that we are largely alone at the end of Friday night. Sure, there are those married couples who turn singles into love shacks, but everyone else must resort to self-stimulation or total frustration.

Besides stained sheets, what are the results of this situation? The most obvious is the "bros before 'ho's" phenomenon. Pervasive in the Greek culture, and wide spread in general, is the notion that it is far cooler to hang out with one's same sex friends rather than to spend time with a member of the opposite sex. To ditch the brothers or sisters in favor of a possible romantic interest is viewed as the height of blasphemy.

Who in the world came up with this crap?

Back in high school the term "sausage fest" had an entirely negative connotation. When someone ditched the guys in favor of a significant other we weren't angry, we were jealous. Passing up an evening with a member of the opposite sex in order to hang out with the boys wasn't cool, it was stupid.

But on this campus it provides the perfect rationalization. Given the fact that no one is getting any, it sure makes life a lot more pleasant if we consider it cool to hang with the brothers or sisters.

Once the "bros before 'ho's" phenomenon gets going, the results are widespread. Social space is divided into male and female turf, while each side takes pains to paint as negative a picture of the opposite sex as possible. The lower the opposite sex becomes, the easier it is to justify a night with the boys or girls. The path to the devaluation of intercourse is clear and from there it is a small step to sexual assault.

So maybe the problem with this campus isn't the way sex happens, it is the fact that generally, it doesn't.