The ins and outs of SEX

Jeremiah McHugh is a well-ad-justed UVM junior. He, like most college students, has a strong opinion on sex. “Sex is one of the best inventions ever,” he said when asked to elabo-rate on his views about sex. “But I’ve learned that it all comes down to how you feel about the other person. I mean, a vagina is a vagina! It all comes down to who it’s attached to.” While crude, this statement speaks volumes concerning the sex-ual climate amongst UVM students. The common stereotype that pre-vails among adults and labels college students as sex-crazed adolescents; co-eds who prefer one-night stands to real relationships, may no longer hold true. “I sort of had an expectation that more people would be having sex more often,” Kevin Anderson, an en-vironmental science major said. “I thought it would be more like [every-body having sex].” However, many students do view college as an environment that is no-ticeably more conducive to sex than previous living situations. “You’re on your own for the first time, and you’re just discovering what you want to do,” Erin Cain, a bi-ology major at UVM, agreed. “There are just so many young people doing the same thing.” Because students find themselves in their own space without the threat of parents watching their every step, “freshman year is a pivotal year in sexual development,” UVM junior Alea Tuttle said. “It’s definitely a ma-ture step towards having sex.” Gretchen Gross, professor of hu-man relationships and sexuality, has noticed a change in students’ views of sex and of themselves. “In my experience, UVM stu-dents’ level of thoughtfulness and insightfulness when they are given the opportunity to pause and ask themselves, ‘what do I want? What do I need? What am I comfortable with?’ It’s right there … there’s a lot of thought behind it,” Gross said. Gross has noticed that her stu-dents recognize and know about STDs and using contraception, but they don’t know as much about han-dling the emotional and mental as-pects of relationships and sex. “I think people see college as the last-ditch effort for freedom in the world; and that once you graduate, you will get ‘adultified’ in a way that prevents anything other than work-ing. There are a lot of things that col-lege students, in general, perceive they have to get done before they leave college,” she said. For Gross, the best way to help students confront choices surround-ing sexuality is to offer relationship classes. Unlike the high school health classes that promote abstinence and only help students avoid the conse-quences of sex, relationship classes can help students know what’s right for them, she said. Without exception, all of the stu-dents interviewed reported that sex was better in a relationship, and many voiced opinions similar to Tut-tle. “Sex is much more enjoyable if you’re in love with the person you’re having sex with,” she said. Even though no-strings-attached sex and experimentation are some-times considered integral parts of the college experience, for some stu-dents the differences between com-mitted and non-committed sex mean everything. “There’s having sex and making love – both have their benefits and de-tractions, but they’re completely dif-ferent things. There’s a physical part and a spiritual part,” UVM freshman Keith Brunner said. Casey Palmer, a UVM freshman, differentiates between sex in a hook-up and sex in a relationship based on the goals of the involved parties. “If you’re in a relationship and there’s love between the two of you, you’re looking more to please the other person, which in the end makes sure that both people are pleased. That’s a more satisfying sexual rela-tionship; it’s less selfish. “But when you hookup, you’re looking out for your own pleasure, and it’s this big selfish act based on lust. It’s not half as fulfilling as sex with love.” But while students may recog-nize the differences between these kinds of sex, many believe a sexual double standard between men and women persists, despite the sexual revolutions of the ’60s and ’70s, and the implementation of women’s and gender studies classes. “I still don’t think women have sexual equality,” Tuttle said. “In gen-eral, men expect to be the ones on the prowl and making all the moves, so men are very intimidated when they see women doing the same thing. “Sometimes [women] are sluts. Sometimes they’re girls who are looking for attention or seek approv-al from a man. But sometimes it’s a woman who just knows what she wants and is not afraid to go after it,” she said. “I don’t think people realize that girls like [sex] too,” Anderson said. This duality of the player versus the slut is a vestigial stereotype left over from out-of-date traditional views of women”, Helga Schreckenberger, the director of women’s and gender studies, said. “The preoccupation with women’s sexual abstinence … has fulfilled a need in society, and the double stan-dard that we have is still resulting from that,” she said. “What’s still alive and well is the double standard of men are players and women are sluts, both among men and women,” Gross said. “It is not just a perspective that men have. “Women are very harsh judgers of their peers who make their own sexual decisions that are different from either what is expected to be the norm or fits into the good girl cat-egory,” she said. The traditional definition of sex that is promulgated by our society and dominates our media is one re-garding heterosexual sex, Schreck-enberger said. She cites our culture as the main reason gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender students are isolated by society. “We [are] a very heteronorma-tive society, where it is okay that heterosexual couples show affection in public … but many people still feel offended by [same-sex couples],” she said. “As a result, same-sex couples and transgendered couples don’t feel safe displaying affections. “We are such an eroticized society – in terms of our advertisements, our movies – but what you see is mainly heterosexual sex. There is just no in-clusion of anything else. If you don’t see yourself reflected in your culture and your surroundings, that can be very isolating.” “What is sex?” is one of the first questions Gross asks her students, and every semester she finds a “num-ber of students who only identify sex as sexual intercourse between a male and a female, involving penetration,” she said. Therefore, according to this defi-nition, two lesbians who are in a sex-ual relationship aren’t having sex, and that can take away things like the validity or depth of the relation-ship, she said. “When anybody is afraid to even admit [their sexuality] to themselves or to their close peers it affects … wellbeing in a huge number of ways,” Gross said. “I think most UVM students are really okay with [same-sex relation-ships] … but you always have a few morons,” Brunner said. Indeed, although UVM has come a long way, there are still biased in-cidents, Schreckenberger said, and this hinges upon the fact that, as Palmer said, “It’s a different thing, and no matter what, straight people will always recognize it.” But one community that remains on the periphery are those students who choose to remain abstinent until marriage. “In our society, it’s almost ex-pected that people are going to sleep together right away,” Erica Gawrys, a UVM senior said. “So many people our age are willing to give it away to whoever, whenever. “Being abstinent is a huge stress relief; I don’t have to worry about being used, having a baby or get-ting diseases. It’s not right or wrong; it’s just a choice. Just be respectful of people’s choices and don’t try to change them.” So whether students choose ab-stinence or sex, one-night stands or long-term relationships, men or women (or both), it seems true that the sexual model thought to be found on college campuses is outdated. Whatever your choices, use your head and enjoy the ride!