Bewley: Behind the casual hookup

When I saw the results of Monday’s poll examining Yalies’ sex lives, I was shocked. Not because, as the author of the article analyzing the poll claimed, Yale’s “sexscape” is nothing but one casual “carnal interaction” after another, but because Yalies are much less promiscuous than I expected. According to the poll, we’re a bunch of prudes.

Anyone who reads newspapers or watches television news has heard the lament that American youth — especially those on college campuses — have too much casual sex. We start having sex at a young age, we have dozens of partners and we don’t cultivate meaningful relationships. Delirious on jungle juice and hormones, risking sexually transmitted diseases and emotional distress, we’ll hop into bed with any passably attractive acquaintance who looks our way at a fraternity party.

Not so at Yale, says the News’s poll. Here, fewer than 16 percent of undergraduates have had sex with more than three partners. The median senior has had just two sexual partners since coming to Yale. That same senior has had one serious relationship, meaning that he or she has had sex with only one person outside a relationship since freshman year — not exactly racking up notches on the bedpost. What’s more, according to the poll 35 percent of undergraduates have never had sex at alll, compared to 30 percent of 19-year-olds nationwide according to the Centers for Disease Control. We may believe — as did the author of Monday’s article — that casual hookups are ubiquitous, but these results suggest otherwise.

So what accounts for the discrepancy between this perception and reality? Has the national outcry about youthful promiscuity brainwashed us into believing that we are a bunch of free-love hedonists? Do we boast about our numerous conquests at brunch on Sunday, still trying to compensate for our nerdy high school images, when in reality we spent our Saturday nights elbow-deep in problem sets and papers? Do we bemoan the “hookup culture” to make ourselves feel better about our own difficulties in finding meaningful relationships? Or have we simply over-generalized, assuming that the sexual practices of a small but visible minority apply to everyone?

I don’t know the answer. And I don’t deny that plenty of Yalies have casual sex, either because they enjoy it or because they’re biding time until they meet that special someone. But as a senior, I’m struck by how many of my classmates have found meaningful relationships — not because they are perfect or lucky, but because they have higher expectations of their love lives. They challenge themselves to find something deeper, and they challenge their romantic interests to treat them as more than just a one-night stand. And because they expect more, they get more.

Monday’s poll tells us that plenty of Yalies are looking for something beyond casual hookups — which means those in search of relationships might have more company than they thought. If we can stop accepting the myth that all college students want meaningless sex, maybe we’ll start looking for something deeper. And who knows? Maybe we’ll be pleased with what we find.

Elizabeth Bewley is a senior in Berkeley College.


  • Brava!

    Surprised there aren’t more comments on this piece–perhaps in face of its combination of common sense and analysis unlaced with righteousness, the usual provocateurs couldn’t find an inroad to make inane retorts (No words from conservatives lamenting “kids these days have run amok”; on the other end of the spectrum, no piping up from those who think moral objections to casual hookups can only stem from repression and prudery) . If only more people in our society would value themselves enough to make wise choices that fit them for the long run–instead of decisions that satisfied momentary horniness or transitory loneliness–there would be fewer STDS, broken homes, and more satisfaction in general. Am looking forward to more work from Bewley.

  • conservative

    The only reason you are not getting “more comments on this piece” is because no one believes it!!!! Not even libs.

    And by that I mean….no one believes Monday’s polls.

  • saybrook997

    You nailed the YDN survey. How can there be a hookup “culture” if even the most active critters have 0, 1 or 2 relationships?

    Of course, the only thing that would panic parents more than their children having too much sex, is their children not wanting or having any sex. It’s odd. And the only thing more embarassing than parents’ thoughts of their children having sexual activity is children’s thoughts of their parents having sexual activity. Just try not to think about it.

    I’ll clean up my earlier comment that YDN rejected. The Sex Trafickking/Child Prostitution article reported: “I would just cry,” said one girl in the video. “You are sold to a man you do not know, he beats you and rapes you and your name is replaced with a number.” That is horrible and true. Change it to the YDN reports on hookup experiences: “I would just cry. You go home with a man you don’t know, he has sex with you and your name is replaced with a number. The DKE brother in Friday’s survey article called it the “kill count” or number of girls “taken down.” Guys have a way to hookup with girls they don’t know or even like or find very attractive in almost any way–get drunk (and testosterone). What reason do girls have for a kind of slutty thing (outside of a relationship) especially when they must know that males are humilated by prostitution and don’t like the woman. Hookups are much less humiliating, but that’s why they don’t call back
    (unless they plan to get drunk).

  • hookups suck


    mass culture has sold us a myth of easy sex. we want to believe that its not problem to walk around having sex with people like its no big deal. this is a huge lie.

    Elizabeth i loved your column. Kids our age need to wake up and realize that if they choose to have meaningless sex, then they shouldn’t be surprised by their meaningless lives.

  • Interested

    Not a bad post. Yale should not advertise sex as a method of boosting enrollment. You can’t convince potential students that Yale is a party school because it is not and can never compete with well known party schools. A party school reputation is not necesarily good either. Furthermore it may make concerned parents and serious students reconsider attending yale.

  • AngryConservative

    Most Yale Women are lowly Sluts with drinking and drug problems, who’s only redeeeming feature is that they can do calculus (most of them) That is the message I get from reading the various polls and sex articles in YDN.

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