Yalies, under the covers

Inside Yale’s Sex Scene

It’s Monday morning. You are in a seminar with 20 classmates, half men, half women. In the past week, about six of them have had sexual intercourse. The same goes for oral sex.

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Half of them have made out with someone.

All but one or two of the men have masturbated. By comparison, only about four of the women masturbated in the past week.

Roughly eight people in the class used their hands to sexually stimulate someone else.

How students found time to do the reading for class is anyone’s guess.

This scenario was an estimate of Yale’s sexscape based on the results of a Yale Daily News poll, sent last week to 5,186 undergraduates, of which 1,770 students responded. The poll reveals a tendency toward regular sexual activity, part of a hookup culture that many students interviewed said defines Yale’s sex scene.


Yalies don’t like to fail, and that goes for their sex lives, too.

The quest for sexual gratification leads many — but not all — students to seek casual hookups, in an environment that most Elis interviewed said promotes carnal interaction over cultivated relationships. According to the News’s poll, the median Yale senior has had sexual intercourse with two people but only one relationship since the beginning of his or her freshman year. The poll and separate interviews with students showed that many Yale students liberally engage in behaviors such as making out, giving or receiving oral sex, and having intercourse.

“The interactions between guys and girls [at Yale] are now more often hookups than dates,” Robby Wyper ’13 said. “I don’t really know anything different.”

Over the course of their Yale career, the median Yale senior has made out with eight different people.

Ninety percent of all Yale students have made out with someone at some point, while 75.3 percent have engaged in oral sex with someone, and 64.3 percent have had sexual intercourse.

A poll by The Harvard Crimson in May 2009 showed that the median Harvard senior has had one sexual partner by the end of his or her senior year. By comparison, the median Yale student has had sexual intercourse with two partners, and oral sex with three partners, the News’s poll results showed.

Lori Santos, a psychology professor who studies evolutionary biology by comparing the cognitive abilities of human and non-human primates and teaches the popular “Psychology of Sex” course, said random hookups are an unnatural phenomenon, given that humans naturally tend toward forming relationship pairs.

Humans are genetically wired to crave sex so as to pass on their genes, she said, which explains their ability to derive physical pleasure from sex. But with the rise of contraceptives, she said, this evolutionary explanation gets complicated because sex no longer always leads to procreation, allowing females to be less choosy when finding sexual partners.

“Historically, there was always a link between having sex and bearing children,” she said, but now things have changed. “You can engage in these behaviors without having the consequence of having a baby.”


The pervasive hookup culture at Yale is promoted by the ease with which casual encounters fit into the academic rigor of Yale, students said.

“Hookups, by virtue of the academic environment that we are in, are much easier and much more sustainable,” Michael Jones ’12 said. “I guess by extension of the environments we are in, when you’re interacting at a party, it’s very difficult to develop a meaningful, emotional relationship with someone immediately.”

As explained by Sarah Matthes ’13, a large portion of this pattern can potentially be attributed to what is commonly referred to as “DFMO,” short for dance-floor makeout. Citing Safety Dance, fraternity parties and Modern Love as common hookup venues, she described kissing as “trivial” in the light of questions pertaining to intercourse and oral sex. Even at Toad’s Place or a campus party, kissing someone is considered a dance move.

“Here I think making out is something that can happen and people can wake up the next morning and laugh about it and go about their day,” she said, while admitting that there is a separate contingency of Yale students who did not participate in frivolous makeout sessions at all. About nine percent of students polled reported to have never made out with anyone.

“From a single guy’s point of view, I find few things more fun than going out at night and seeing what I can come home with,” Wyper said. “It’s fun. It’s exciting. I’m not looking to fill my empty heart. Wednesday through Saturday you have a pretty decent shot at hooking up with somebody.”

He added that many men hope a hookup will lead to intercourse, but many women may feel differently.

According to the poll, 19.5 percent of Yale men have never engaged in oral sex, compared to 29.1 percent of women. Similarly, the poll showed that 30.5 percent of Yale men have never had intercourse, compared to 40.2 percent of women.

Jaqueline Erickson ’10 said Yale’s hookup culture frequently allows men to set the tone for sexual relationships, and in turn, women often sacrifice their desire for an emotional attachment.

“As much as I feel like the sexual culture at Yale is disrespectful to women, I feel like females don’t live by higher expectations,” she said. “They’re going back to guys who treat them awful.”

Josh Ruck ’13 said a hookup crescendoes when a random makeout leads to casual sex. The signal for this transition is often the girl inviting the guy back to her room, or visa versa, he said.

“Most of the girls know why they’re taking a boy back,” Ruck said.

According to the poll, 31.2 percent of students have performed or received oral sex within the last week, and 28.5 percent of students have had intercourse within the last week. This surprised Matthes and several other students interviewed; Matthes said she believed many girls often refused to participate in oral sex but would consent to intercourse.

“I think that’s also a tricky situation because oral sex can be seen as degrading,” Matthes said. “I think that makes people a little less inclined to engage in it. It’s also just difficult for people. It’s not something that comes naturally or easily. It’s intimidating.”


Though many students participate in Yale’s pervasive hookup culture, many Yalies are frustrated by it, students interviewed said, adding that they only settle for it begrudgingly.

“I think that very few people are actually legitimately happy with the way things are. I sincerely think that,” Ann Chou ’10 said. “I don’t think very many people are satisfied.”

She said much of this dissatisfaction stems from the fact that many Yalies have not thought through what they want to gain from their Yale weekends. Jones said it is ironic that Yale students presumably have impressive academic intelligence, yet fail to analyze their own feelings when it comes to relationships.

While some sexual activity at Yale is purely carnal, some occurs with the underlying hope held by one or both partners that it will eventually evolve into a relationship in the more traditional sense of the term, Jones said.

“There are a lot of people who are together in that they hook up all the time,” Jones said “But there’s very little emotional investment. It’s a wonder that we’ve passed that off as a relationship, but that is as close as most of us get.”

While Ruck said both parties often entertain the possibility of a relationship, he also said he knows of several guys who had led girls to believe they were more interested in a real relationship than they actually were in order to prolong the hookup. On the flipside, he said girls have also been known to have sex with guys with the sole hope that it will help keep them around. But he said many hookups end the moment the girl says “I want to be exclusive.”

Chou also addressed how many Yale students begin to value themselves based on their grades or their number of leadership positions, and they have a hard time entering into relationships because the time they require, especially in college, takes away from these other activities. Because Yalies are often strapped for time, Chou said, they fear the potential burden of a relationship, as well as the repercussions of a break-up.

Still, for those students unconcerned with relationships, Yale’s hookup culture can offer the physical satisfaction students seek — both consciously and subconsciously.

Ruck maintained that, when it comes to sex at Yale, “If you want it, it’s there. At the end of the day, you can get laid. … You’re not forced to see them on a daily basis so you can get away with it. People don’t care about the consequences and don’t think about it.”

About the Poll: The News e-mailed a survey to 5,186 undergraduates on the evening of Feb. 1 and received 1,850 responses in the 24 hours that followed. Identical responses sent from the same IP address in quick succession were filtered out, as were responses containing unrealistically extreme outliers, leaving a sample of 1,770. The data presented reflect only those students who replied and may be subject to selection bias.


  • Andrew

    This survey screams selection bias. These numbers are hyper-inflated.

  • YC09

    As a recent Yale College graduate who was looking for and had a meaningful relationship for at least a part of my time in college, I find these statistics truly disgusting and pretty discouraging for those people out there like me.

  • ’10

    Did the person who wrote this article look at the statistics? Hookup culture? When fewer than ten percent of male undergraduates and only 3.2 percent of female undergraduates have had more than one sexual partner and significant minorities of both sexes have never had sex at all? Some hook up culture. If anything, the numbers show that we are much more prudish than most people would like to believe.

  • 2010

    “Pervasive hookup culture”? There’s a significant discrepancy between the numbers you use and the narrative you’re selling. “Over the course of their Yale career, the median Yale senior has made out with eight different people.” WOW. That’s ONE WHOLE PERSON PER SEMESTER. If kissing someone is considered a dance move, we must not dance very much.

    This would be a much better article if you tried to address the inconsistency between the common perception of sex at Yale and your poll results, rather than harping on the notion of a “pervasive hookup culture” when your data shows that the average Yalie is pretty far from the picture of sexual promiscuity.

  • anon

    “may be subject to selection bias.” Oh really?!?! I don’t know whether the YDN should just not try altogether… maybe a Stats major can explain whether or not this is complete hogwash.

  • Curious…

    When you used the poll results to describe Yale’s hookup culture, why did you fail to cite the percentage of Yalies in relationships? For all we know the bulk of that sexual activity may be coming from those who are actually attached.

  • Curious

    what percentage of the survey participants claimed to be gay?

  • y11

    I agree with the above posters that the analysis of these numbers is poor.

    Numbers on anal sex, kinks, various “arrangements” etc would have been more entertaining at least, if not informative….

  • 2010

    Not only does the data contradict your narrative, but the narrative is also strongly based in a variety of outdated gender stereotypes. Guys only want ass, women want relationships, guys flee as soon as women propose exclusivity, etc. There are women out there who engage in casual sex because they WANT to, not because they’re trying to deceive a guy into sticking around, and men who are hoping for a relationship post-hookup. Don’t forget about them.

    Additionally, presenting oral sex as something degrading and unnatural rather than a sexual act that can be enjoyable for both individuals, if engaged in consensually and safely, is ludicrous. (the discrepancy between men who have received oral sex and women who have is a whole ‘nother issue. c’mon people, you get some you give some!) I respect that some people will choose to not engage in oral sex, but where’s the soundbite from the people who love it?!

    In the middle of a sex week that includes a variety of lectures on sex-positive topics and relationships, this article and its perpetuation of the false panic surrounding “hookup culture” as well as traditional sexual stereotypes is disappointing.

  • 2012

    talk about heteronormative writing…disgraceful

  • Y09

    Uninformative at best, misleading at worst? What is this about???

  • Loose Morality

    “Pervasive hookup culture”. That is what we have in many parts of Africa where HIV has been running rampant. We need to get back to higher moral standards and commitments.

  • 2011

    “All but one or two of the men have masturbated.”

    I’d just like to make the obvious remark that those 1-2 guys didn’t respond truthfully.

  • Thomas König

    If there ever was any doubt about the quality, integrity or relevance of journalism on this campus, make sure to point the doubters to this “story”.

    Because, hey, we have a cool graph to back it up!

  • agreed

    i was quite surprised by how chaste yalies seem according to this poll.

  • dc

    Um, do you mean “vice versa”?

  • @ all

    This data is TOTALLY irrelevant as there is HUGE selection bias. This article may as well be retracted.

  • Don

    This article has a lot of normative assumptions behind it about what is “good” for guys and girls sexually. I especially like the “unnatural” line by the biologist. Let me understand: Unless a sexual activity supports the evolution of our species, then it is unnatural? Also, couldn’t women just want sex? Do they not have carnal desires too, or are they always trying to “trick” a man into a relationship by dangling sex in front of him (because, after all, they can only think according to their evolutionary instincts)?

  • 2009

    The same articles with the same ‘revelations’ are written every year about yale ‘hook up culture’ an interesting spread might be charting the recurring thoughts and assumptions about this issue accross the last decade

  • Shoddy work

    Why try to fool a bunch of Yale students with a terrible interpretation of bad statistics?

    Bad choice, YDN.

  • @8 and 10

    Yeah… next time the YDN does a sex survey, it would be very good if they could include a few simple questions like… have you ever had sex with someone of the same sex? Do you exclusively have sex with people of the same sex? This campus is eternally curious about how many gay people there really are (particularly women), and it would be good if the YDN could use its surveying capabilities to answer those questions.

  • y10

    “‘I find few things more fun than going out at night and seeing what I can come home with.'”

    WOW. Disgusting.

  • Andrey Kolmogorov

    This abuse of statistics and probability makes me cry.

  • ’10

    In agreement with virtually every above comment, and ignoring the unexplored selection bias, let’s look at a few choice statistics:

    ~11% “made out” with more than 20 people
    ~75% had only had 2 or fewer different sexual partners
    40% never had intercourse

    If you look at the numbers on sexual activity and numbers of partners it looks like many people are probably in monogamous relationships, a small community are more promiscuous, and a pretty large group are not sexually active.

    Clearly, this article was written before the data came in, probably copy and pasted from last year’s “hookup culture” article, or maybe the year before that. First, this claim is clearly overstated. Second, before you can make any claims at all, you need to compare this to a more general (no, Harvard doesn’t count) data set.

  • Yale 2010

    I resent that they threw out my data point of a bisexual female who’s had sex with 203 people at Yale.

  • Reader

    Poor work. The writer’s goal seems to be to shock value rather than an assessment based upon data. Probably just talked to her friends and twisted quotations. She should have looked at how views on sex/sex itself change over time at Yale and age. Retract.

  • amused

    Does anyone else find it funny that a large portion of the quotes in this piece are from freshman boys bragging about how they go out every weekend and get laid? Riiight…

  • LetsGetPhysical

    y10: “WOW. Disgusting.” Hey, don’t knock it til you’ve tried it, buddy! We’re only young once – it will be a lot harder to have such casual fun once we’re in the real world!

    Sample bias or not, I do think it is interesting that the reported male rate of masturbation remains constant throughout all 4 years, whereas females reportedly increase their habits steadily as they progress through Yale. Thoughts?

    I feel so bad for those 10ish % of Yalies who’ve never made out with anyone… what a lonely life.

  • a junior

    I refuse to believe that 87% of the males in my class had made out with someone in the week before they filled out this poll. That number is clearly so highly inflated that it casts suspicion on the whole survey.

  • Tanner

    Like many polls these types of things should not be funded nor given a scholastic credit. It’s nothig more then a weekend hobby for a frustrated yalie.

  • Marie

    Does anyone know the percentage of students who contract HIV or other venereal diseases during their years at Yale? How about abortions? This article may lead one to think that contraceptive methods are 100% effective.

  • Relationships

    I thought the story could have used more voices from students in relationships. Ann has a point that many students aren’t happy with hook-ups alone. Yale students are sexual, but they’re also emotional. As a senior guy, I know a lot of single friends who wish they had a steady boy/girlfriend. A lot of people act on that and find those relationships fulfilling. I think the novelty of “hook-ups” ends with freshman year and storms back at the end of senior year. But there’s a long while in there when people want something more serious. To miss that whole side of dating — and I mean dating — at Yale was, I think, a significant omission.

    Also, critique the story all you want but keep the ad hominems out of it. I used to know a kid at YDN and those guys bust their balls.

  • Chad bro chill

    “‘I find few things more fun than going out at night and seeing what I can come home with.'”


  • Omar Effron

    This is a fantastic article. It is well-written and synthesized, brilliantly articulated and has some really interesting insights on what is an essential topic in so many of our lives.

  • Retract

    It appears that the author just interviewed a bunch of freshmen who are only looking for a good time. I would not be surprised if these quotes were taken out of context or misused. This is in no way an accurate depiction of Sex at Yale and needs to be retracted.

  • Single 2010er

    The frustration with the “hookup culture” or at least the general lack of dating culture at Yale seems pretty much unanimous. What I don’t understand is why, if everyone is so dissatisfied, we haven’t decided to try to change it. If girls were a little more discriminating in choosing whether or not to go home with their boy toys of the night and if guys were a little more willing to ask girls out on actual dates, there could be a real dating culture on this campus. It doesn’t really affect me now that I’ll be leaving in a few months, but for those underclassmen out there, a collective effort could make a big difference!

  • Branford ’10

    I have to echo everyone else and say that the author obviously formed their opinion without really analyzing the data. If anything, looking at the data makes me think yale is way more prudish than I expected.

    Also, the survey questions don’t allow you to discriminate between sexual activity within relationships as opposed to within a hookup.

  • just pointing out…

    but the name is Laurie Santos, not “Lori”.

  • skeptic

    As my stats teacher said, “figures don’t lie, but liars figure”… where was the editor on this one? And clearly, Professor Santos must have given a more nuanced response than the flat-footed comments quoted in this article.

  • @ #12

    I’m endlessly surprised by the extent to which people choose anonymous internet forums to display their ignorance. It makes me think that it’s not ignorance — it’s just prejudice.
    “Africans” (since you choose to describe them as an entire group) do not have a “pervasive hookup culture.” And that is not the primary reason for the spread of HIV. Labeling an entire continent as morally loose is both unhelpful and uninformed. Get your facts right. And find an appropriate forum in which to post your ideas.

  • Hm…

    It seems the author was slightly Silliman centric in her choice of interviewees. While not really a surprise, it doesn’t make for good journalism.

  • Disgruntled YDN ’04

    “MAY be subject to selection bias”? Have you people learned anything at Yale? Go take a stats class.

  • Older Eli

    Interesting. According to the data you posted, it looks as though Yalies have become more chaste than when I was an undergrad in the early ’80s.

  • whoadude

    I wouldn’t exactly say that a hook-up culture is what the data suggests…
    I agree with some of the earlier posts that say that much of this activity comes from folks in steady relationships.

  • An Alum

    Sigh…I thought Yalies knew how to have fun, but I guess the campus can’t escape from its Puritan, chaste, celibate roots.

  • FailBoat

    I’m just amused by the assumption of some people here that respondents MUST have lied if they say they’ve never masturbated.

    The reason? “All men masturbate.” The proof?

    There is none. Every poll on the subject shows a small percentage of males have not masturbated and every time this happens, some idiots say “lol liar”.

    Circular logic fail.

  • knickerbocker

    Is this blatant distortion of facts an attempt to boost the applicant pool? Surely Yalies don’t get laid as often as this article would lead you to believe.

  • Old Blue ’73

    I hope they’re getting laid more often than the numbers suggest.

    Hookup culture?? A median of two sexual intercourse partners by mid-year Seniors is shockingly low. The headline should be, “Despite Blaring Criticism of Hookup Culture, Actual Behavior of Yale Students Modest.”

  • kww

    Right on to #40s response to #12. Sheesh. These troll provocateurs love leaving their droppings around the net.