A disturbing college phenomenon: Sex with a roommate in the room

Before coming to college, I’d heard stories of people who had woken up in the middle of the night to their roommate having sex with their partner just a measly few feet away. 

I did not expect to encounter as many people as I did who have either been the offenders or who have been forced to bear witness to this horrifying act. 

I believe most of the college population would agree that no, having sex while your roommate is asleep in the bed across from you is not an ethical decision. However, this does not seem to be a deterrent for some horny young adults running rampant on campus. 

So, why are enough people making the decision to have sex with their roommate present for it to be an issue of college culture? 

I reached out to some anonymous sources who had experience in this topic on both sides of the issue. 

Both sources who partook in sexual activity despite a roommate’s presence noted that alcohol played a key role in their decisions, admitting they were inebriated ones. 

“The roommate was dead asleep […] and also alcohol, plus a little flirtation, makes everything sound like a great idea,” one anonymous student said. 

In the stories I’ve heard about these situations, there was always the assumption the roommate was asleep. Though still disturbing, I can understand the drunken train of thought that would lead people to have sex, thinking that what a roommate doesn’t know won’t hurt them. 

I talked to Jenna Emerson, a health and sexuality educator at UVM, to get her professional point of view on this topic. 

“If you feel really horny at the moment, maybe your inhibitions might be a little clouded,” Emerson said.

In addition, alcohol and other drugs also affect one’s thoughts and decision making process, Emerson said. 

A combination of hormones and substances can certainly influence one’s moral compass, making bad decisions seem like good decisions. However, the influence of hormones and substances does not excuse having sex with a sleeping roommate four feet away. 

“We can have compassion for people, we can have an understanding, but when you look at consent and a boundary, it has to be informed consent and the clearest way to say it is that your roommate is not consenting,” Emerson said. 

If your roommate is asleep, they are not able to give consent. The golden rule about consent is as follows: consent is never assumed and must be actively obtained. 

I think many people often only consider consent when applied to parties actively participating in a sexual act. However, Emerson used the excellent example of the illegality of public sex to demonstrate the way that consent applies to observers as well. 

The public is not consenting to see people engaging in sexual activity, just as your roommate is not consenting to possibly wake up to the sounds of you getting it on. Though your roommate is not actively participating, they might be hearing the sexual act, which they did not consent to. 

The issue of consent is tied into the even larger issue of communication, especially between roommates. 

Mike Hill Jr., an educator of alcohol and other drugs at UVM through Living Well, provided another good perspective on why these incidents might be occurring. 

“Students are in a stage of development in navigating tension or conflict,” Hill said. 

I think an essential aspect of people having sex with their roommate in the room is a lack of communication. As a first-year, I have watched many people struggle with setting boundaries around sexiling their roommate and establishing time alone in the room. 

“Every relationship requires accommodation and compromise for a healthy relationship,” Emerson said. “The hope is that you are building a healthy relationship with your roommate.” 

If lines of communication were more open between roommates, I believe this phenomenon would occur less. People might feel more comfortable sexiling their roommate rather than potentially creating a gruesome experience for them. 

An interesting angle that arose in my conversations with Emerson and Hill was that some roommates might actually be comfortable with their roommate having sex in the room so long as they are asleep during it. 

“I can see some students pushing back on this saying, ‘I wouldn’t mind,’” Hill said.

Still, both Emerson and Hill emphasized that communication is essential in this case. You cannot assume your roommate would be okay with it. 

Interestingly enough, I stumbled across a pair of roommates who have undergone this event, who wished to remain anonymous in this article. Despite the horror many of us would feel at the knowledge of such a situation, they view it as funny. 

I asked Roommate One, who was asleep at the time of this particular incident, whether he felt like this situation negatively impacted the trust in his relationship with his roommate. 

“No, I don’t think trust was broken because I get over things easily,” Roommate One said. “He’s my bro and it doesn’t matter how he gets laid as long as he’s getting laid.”

This fact was lucky for the offending roommate—Roommate Two, who when asked why he felt comfortable having sex with his roommate in the room, said that he thought it would not affect their relationship. 

Assumptions are the enemy of communication and consent, Emerson said. But, fortunately for these two roommates, the situation resolved itself with little to no tension. 

My interview with the roommates also brought me back to Emerson’s point about the influence of hormones. 

“There is also something about the act of doing it while also possible getting caught that brings a certain thrill,” Roommate Two said. 

For the readers’ relaxation, Roommate One was in the room at the time of this comment and vehemently voiced his agreement. 

Though I urge everyone to not follow the example of these two roommates—at least in the contexts of assuming consent is implied—they represent a niche population of the UVM student body that is somewhat unbothered by the idea of people having sex while they are asleep. 

Emerson’s blanket statement as a sexuality educator is to not have sex while your roommate is asleep in the room, and I heartily agree. Never assume consent and do not slack on your communication. 

If you’re in a situation similar to that of the roommates who I interviewed, remember to continue an open dialogue about the topic, since consent can always be taken away. 

As for my final words, please just find another private place to have sex and don’t traumatize your poor roommate. It’s basic human decency.