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.

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