After watching “American Pie” or “Van Wilder,” incoming freshmen could easily believe their next four years are destined to be filled with sex and booze.
But are these depictions accurate?
A study conducted through the Miriam Hospital Center for Behavioral and Preventative Medicine determined that sexual behavior in freshman women occurred most commonly in romantic relationships rather than casual hookups.
Robyn L. Fielder, Dr. Kate Carey and Dr. Michael Carey surveyed 483 first-year female college students about their sexual behavior, both oral and vaginal, in order to “assess the prevalence and frequency of sexual hookups across the first year of college and to compare rates of hookups and romantic relationship sex.”
The study determined that 40 percent of participants hooked up with sexual partners during their first year of college while 56 percent had sex with romantic partners instead. The study defined as a hook up as a sexual interaction “between partners who are not dating or in a romantic relationship and do not expect commitment.” Seven to 18 percent of participants had a sexual hookup each month while 25-38 percent had sex with a romantic partner each month.
“Hooking up varies in frequency over the first year in college, but remains less common than sex in the context of relationships,” the study concluded.
The study determined that first-year hook ups occurred most often in the months of October and May and least often in the month of June. Sex in a romantic context during the freshman year occurred least often in October and most often in the month of August before the start of sophomore year. In both casual and romantic sex, oral sex is more prevalent than vaginal sex.
“Hooking up was more common at the start of the academic year compared with the start of the summer, which suggests that the college environment may facilitate hookups through proximity to other youth and opportunities for socializing,” the study wrote.
Health Promotion Specialist Eric Garrison M.Ed. ’94 described some reasons these trends may occur.
“Many people come here and they don’t know other people so there may be a need for attachment,” Garrison said. “There’s also the chemical piece. … When people have an orgasm or have good sexual touch or even just positive touch — it doesn’t have to be even sexual — they’ll start to build of oxytocin. … If cupid had dipped his arrow in something before he shot you, I think it, in my mind, was probably a big vat of oxytocin.”
The study also concluded that the “average number of oral and vaginal sex hookups per month ranged from one to three, which suggests that these behaviors are likely experimental rather than a regular pattern.”
Garrison emphasized this first-year sexual exploration and described the factors that cause it to occur.
“We hear from students that your freshman year is a time to explore, and not just sexually,” Garrison said. “There’s a chance to explore sexually and that doesn’t always mean physically. It could just be exploring things in your mind. … This is a chance to do those things because of that opportunity here. Parents are not here. Even though our religion may be present here in some degree, our particular building and congregation are not here so we don’t necessarily feel like we have some of those stigma or stigmata that surround us with those areas. It does sort of give us permission to try some of those things.”
Justin Miller ’13 offered a student perspective on the trend and its application at the College.
“That [freshman] type of mentality: new year, flexibility, no rigidness, everything is not definite, people are starting to be more loose,” Miller said. “Your freshman year, you exploit all that. You get all that energy out. So after freshman year you’re more inclined to seek a more monogamous relationship with someone else.”
If these studies and comments are accurate, why do incoming students and the populous sometimes associate college with a hook-up culture mindset?
“[Media are] a pre-sell,” Garrison said. “My generation used to watch “Animal House” and that was what we thought college was like. Now, either people are watching shows on television like “Greek” or even “Dawson’s Creek” or some of those other shows that always talk about what college was like or what it was like to go to college. … Social proof is very important in that perception and the behavior that occurs at college. So, if you believe that everybody does these things it may make it easier for you to do these things as well.”
H.O.P.E. member Margot Lubowsky ’15 agreed.
“The media affects so much of how we think and how we act, so of course there’s a possibility that the media’s portrayal of sex in college is going to influence [who people think], especially incoming freshmen,” Lubowsky said.
The study’s findings conclude that the trends defined, specifically the prevalence of hookups in the beginning of freshman year, help schools and programs know that sex education should happen at the beginning of the college experience. Currently, H.O.P.E. sponsors programs during extended orientation to discuss sexual health and sexual assault.
Lubowsky emphasized that it is important to continue safe sex when in romantic relationships even if the dangers associated with hookups do not appear as pertinent.
“I think that there’s a higher possibility that you are to be less safe when you are going in a relationship than when you are just hooking up with someone who could be for one night, [or] could be for a couple nights,” Lubowsky said.
Garrison described the mindset of the individual as important in the practice of safe sex.
“There are people who are doing the same activities, yet some — because of their education, their attitude, their knowledge, their behavior — are at a much better place than others,” Garrison said. “But to say that everyone who hooks up is at the same risk pro- or con- is a very difficult statement to make. … Sex has always been easier to do than to talk about and it would be nice if it was equally as pleasurable and as simple to do as to talk about.”
Chris Beacham ’13, editor of Lips, the female sexuality magazine on campus, agreed.
“As long as they’re healthy about it, it doesn’t matter how much they’re doing it,” Beacham said.
Though the study is helpful in many ways, Garrison brought up its limited scope. The study was conducted on one campus with a limited perspective into the mindset of college students through its limited focus on freshmen women rather than college students as a whole. This, as well as its locational limitations, prohibits the study from being directly applied to sexual culture at the College. Students at the College described sexual culture in Williamsburg in a variety of ways, touching on a number of points that make the College’s sex life distinctive.
“From what I know, especially through things that we’ve been observing through H.O.P.E., it’s common for there to be, at this school, a lot of long distance relationships coming into school,” H.O.P.E.’s Healthy Relationships and Sexual Assault branch member Nicholas Gupta ’15 said. “It’s common to have very quick — quickly fleeting, unfortunately — relationships between freshmen, [or] freshmen and sophomores.”
Garrison agreed and offered a possible explanation on the aspect.
“Because we are smaller, it’s possible that you could wind up here and your partner wind up at another university,” Garrison said.
Garrison offered explanation on student organizations experience higher hookup percentages.
“If you’re within an organization that has a party with another organization then there is a greater likelihood that any type of physical interaction could occur,” Garrison said.
To encourage further discussion of sexual lifestyle at the College, Garrison is hosting An Open-Minded, Open-Ended Dinner Discussion on Hook-Up Culture at the College. The event will be in the private dining room in the Commons Thursday Dec. 6 at 6:00 p.m.