Undergraduates’ perceptions of sexual behavior on campus often differ from reality, according to the results of a campus-wide survey released Thursday by the Yale Sexual Literacy Coalition.
The research findings were presented at an event jointly held by the Coalition and the Communication and Consent Educators, a group of 40 students trained to address issues of sexual misconduct. Allie Bauer ’12, a member of the four-person survey team, said she hopes the survey results will help students and administrators develop a better understanding of Yale’s sexual culture that is “grounded in research and analysis.”
“I think ‘sexual culture’ was kind of the buzz word in light of everything that happened last year,” she said, referring to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ ongoing Title IX investigation into Yale’s sexual climate. “So we wanted to do the survey to actually garner statistical findings on what sexual culture at Yale was like — not only what people’s sexual behavior was, but also what their perceptions were.”
The 61-question survey, which was sent in a Dec. 2 email to all undergraduates, garnered responses from 2,342 students — roughly 44 percent of the undergraduate population — though Bauer said 24 percent of respondents did not complete the entire survey. The survey addressed topics ranging from students’ relationships and the “hookup culture” to sexual expectations and sexual health, and gave students the option to provide additional qualitative comments.
According to the survey findings, 69 percent of all respondents reported they were sexually active, which was defined as engaging in “manual, oral, vaginal or anal sex in the past six months.”
The findings indicated that students tend to “overestimate” the desire of their partner for sexual contact and “underestimate” others’ desire for non-physical intimacy, Bauer said. While 79 percent of students said they expected non-physical intimacy after going home with somebody after a party, only 63 percent of students said they thought their partner would expect the same.
There was also a discrepancy in how men and women perceive their partners’ expectations. Five percent of female respondents said they expect to have oral sex when they go home with somebody, but 42 percent said they felt their partners expected oral sex. On the other hand, male respondents said they believed their own and their partner’s expectations were relatively similar: 26 percent said they expected oral sex, and 27 percent said they thought their partners expected it. This overall trend applied to expectations of vaginal sex as well.
“I hope that if people look at this information they can reevaluate assumptions about what the correct way to act at Yale is and put more emphasis on seeking what they want,” said Hannah Slater ‘13, who was one of about seven attendees at the event.
Bauer said the survey also revealed that discussions about sexual practices on campus can make students feel less “isolated” and understand that their sexual practices and concerns are shared by other students on campus. Though 43 percent of respondents at least “somewhat agreed” that they were “representative of Yale’s sexual culture” at the beginning of the survey, 66 percent at least “somewhat agreed” with the same question when it was posed again at the end of the survey.
“I think people feel ostracized from all of the definitions and categorizations that are happening [on campus], but after taking the survey …[they] can have an immediate change of heart,” she said. “Honestly, everybody is part of Yale’s sexual culture because sexuality can implicate the choice to have sex regardless of who you have sex with and how many times you have sex.”
In response to the short answer question about what constitutes “hooking up,” Bauer said students offered a variety of responses ranging from “making out” to sexual encounters.
As the members of the Coalition developed the survey, Bauer said the group received approval from the Institutional Review Board — a committee that formally approves, monitors and reviews human behavioral and biomedical research. Bauer added that she received $400 from the Social Justice Network, a campus organization that promotes social change, to create posters to display the results in Woolsey Rotunda after spring break.
Charlotte McDonald ’14, a communication and consent educator who also attended the event, said she thought the CCE program could incorporate the information into their presentations for incoming freshmen. Last January, CCEs held mandatory workshops for freshmen in their freshmen counselor groups that focused on the importance of communication in sexual interactions, and administrators interviewed last month said they expected the workshops to become a part of freshman orientation.
Survey response rates were similar among the four classes, with 26 percent of respondents identifying as freshmen, 24 percent as sophomores, 27 percent as juniors and 22 percent as seniors. While slightly more than half of the respondents at 55 percent were female, 45 percent were male.