Most people see college as the easiest time to have sex with friends, classmates, or strangers. It is probably the only period in life where thousands of young people live in the same community and have (for the most part) a similar goal in mind: sex. For this reason, I see college campuses as domes of sex, and this sexual vibe will not disappear anytime soon. In Chapter 5: The Campus as a Sexual Arena of “Hooking Up”, Kathleen A. Bogle analyses the prominence of sex in college and how it elicits misperceptions and certain behaviors among students.
College sex has a lot to do with people watching. There is no instruction manual for how to talk to an intimate partner or how to hook up; instead, students often analyze what everyone else is doing and consider that to be the norm. Bogle asserts that “during college, men and women are highly aware of what their peers are doing sexually” (Bogle 73). This often leads to misperceptions on what is normal in regards to sex, and it greatly affects many students’ sexual behavior. Guys believe that their male peers engage in more promiscuous forms of intimacy and girls believe that other females are the promiscuous ones engaging in this intimacy. These ideas lead to the misperceptions that “virginity is rare”, “everyone is doing it”, and other people have more hookup partners. Although these perceptions are usually untrue, they affect the sexual behavior of college students. Some students engage in more hookups with the mindset that it is not so bad because other people engage in more promiscuous behavior. Another aspect that motivates sexual behavior is the interest of the opposite sex. Women usually look for something more than a hookup, such as a relationship or a marriage partner, and males are often satisfied with simply hooking up. Bogle concludes that “students create their personal standards by drawing upon what they believe other students are doing” (Bogle 95). These standards and perceptions define the sexual normality on college campuses.
Bogle does not critique the hookup culture or college sexual standards in any way, but instead incorporates the perceptions of actual undergraduates to provide a detailed analysis. The incorporation of students’ opinions and experiences benefits the analysis because it provides insight into the sexual atmosphere of various colleges. However, Bogle fails to address the experiences of racial minorities or the LGBTQ community and does not mention sexual assault at all. Bogle may argue that she purposely chose to omit those aspects of college sexual life, but they are still an influential aspect of the dome of sex.
The concept of men and women seeing their peers as more sexually promiscuous than themselves relates to the idea of sexual morality introduced by Nancy L. Fischer in “Purity and Pollution: Sex as a Moral Discourse.” Fischer argues that people use sexual morality as a way to influence people’s sex lives. She mentions that the “implication of calling someone else immoral is the unsaid statement, ‘I would never do that’” (Fischer 40). This connects to the “he/she is doing immoral things, so what I am doing isn’t so bad” mentality that influences many college students. There is a disconnect in that Fischer claims morality is used to control the sex lives of other people (to make them seem immoral), but Bogle claims that morality and perception influence the sex lives of the perceiver. Clearly, morality is a very blurred and often misinterpreted area.
Bogle’s analysis on sexual perceptions in college relate to Kristin G. Esterberg’s “The Bisexual Menace Revisited.” Esterberg argues that bisexuals are discriminated against by many groups because they do not fit the “normal” sexual standards created by society. College campuses can be compared in the same way, just on a much smaller scale. A college society creates norms that may accept or reject certain actions or groups. Similarly to the normalities created by the larger American society, many sexual norms in college are based on misperception.
Personally, I have seen every aspect of Bogle’s analysis play out at Vanderbilt. I noticed that the amount of sex talk has risen dramatically since high school and people are more willing to talk about their own sexual experiences as well as each others. It is also clear that many perceptions of sexual normality on campus are falsely interpreted and applied. Before reading about the startling percent of virgins on campus, I believed that most people were having sex with a different person every weekend. I gained this perception from analyzing some fraternity guys at social events and parties. Hooking up with a different person every weekend may be a reality for some, but since these individuals stood out to me, I perceived their sex lives as the norm for everyone else.
These false perceptions remind me of the rule of three in the movie American Pie 2. Basically, according to the movie, girls sleep with 3 times as many guys as they claim to have slept with and guys sleep with 3 times less girls than they claim. Here is the clip:
Do you see college as a sexual dome that is distinct from any other place or time period in life? Have you falsely assumed a certain sexual normality based on misperception? How do you see morality and perception affect sexual behavior? Have these perceptions affected your behavior? Have you witnessed the stereotype that girls want a relationship and guys just want sex?