Just 48 hours have passed since we were all underwhelmed by puncture wounds and hickeys from Cupid’s commercialized arrow. As I curse that naked little Roman, looking towards my trash can at a box of now-eaten chocolates and feeling the cellulite pool on my thighs, I can’t wait for romance to die again. Valentine’s Day comes at a most inopportune time of year. It is cold, it is midterm, and I haven’t shaved my legs since MLK Day. Furthermore, if I’m going out to a nice dinner this time of year, I would so much rather it were with a potential employer than with my boyfriend (sorry, babe). But despite my objection to all things Valentine, love is in the air at Yale.
This year though, it turns out that love at Yale has been in the air — and on the air waves — for the past two and a half weeks.
At this point, I assume that every undergrad has seen, or at least heard about, the infamous “shower sex” e-mail from the Calhoun master. However (silly me!), I wasn’t quite prepared for the e-mail I received from my father a few days ago:
“I keep forgetting to tell you that I saw Mrs. Smith at Scout Sunday yesterday (imagine the fun of listening to a Korean Methodist minister give a sermon on children and their dreams) & she was telling me about some article in the NYT about the strange things that go on in the showers at Yale. Huh? Love, Dad.”
Let’s ignore for the time being the problematic image of my Jewish father at a Korean Methodist sermon with Troop 24 and concentrate on what’s really wrong with this picture.
The “strange things” that happened in Calhoun College have made their way into a Sunday morning conversation between two middle-aged parents in the Chicago suburbs. Master Holloway’s masterful e-mail, “Showers Stalls are for Showering,” which was circulated to Hounies after a couple did the naughty while lathering up, asks students to keep their private business out of public places. In the weeks since the e-mail went out, though, the private lives of this couple — and subsequently the sex lives of Yale students in general — have been brought to the eyes and minds of the mass media-consuming public. Its mention at Scout Sunday was, to me, proof of how ridiculously far the story had traveled.
The journey from a flooded bathroom in Calhoun to my dad’s “Huh?” began on ivygateblog.com, which reported the shower story as “obvs our favorite reader tip in a long, long time.” A couple of days later, the New Haven Register picked it up, adding information about a response posted on a blog for “collegiate conservatives,” which lamented the “moral vacuum that has been created by Yale intellectuals.” Finally, “Shower Stalls are for Showering” was brought to the attention of the entire frigging world when the Associated Press distributed a release to over 100 newspapers and TV stations.
My personal problem is not with Shower Stalls’s ubiquity, but in understanding why people care so much. IvyGate, which focuses on stories about Ivy League life, picked it up because both the incident itself and the ensuing e-mail are hilariously awkward. Criticalmassblog.com, a conservative collegiate blog with several Yale-based writers, can similarly argue that the story is relevant to its particular readership. But what is it about Shower Stalls that is so fascinating to the American public?
Is it because we’re future leaders of this country? Is it because we’re supposed to be socially retarded geeklings? Because we’re all purportedly too Type-A for anybody to leave the library and bone lest our GPAs would drop like our trousers? Ivygateblog.com, responding to the story’s national attention, asked, “What IS it with the media’s fascination with hot students at an elite university having steamy shower sex?” It was here that I noticed one thing that might have piqued the public’s curiosity.
“Hot students at an elite university?” Dubious. I myself confidently fall mid-spectrum on the Yale Scale, evidently not “50 Most” material but attractive enough that I could get somebody around here to shower with me. But I, like everybody else around here, know that a “6” on the Yale Scale isn’t worth a lot in the real world. But would America really be interested in the shower sex story because they think Yalies are too ugly to be getting some? Again, dubious.
I also don’t think the story runs on shock value. The Times already ran a piece about a naked party, so how outrageous does it seem for just two naked Elis to soap up behind a locked stall door in a bathroom that was most likely coed to begin with?
Really, I think it’s like the naked party exposes: another case of the Yale bubble turning into the Yale fishbowl. We’re immersed in this environment where condoms are available in every stairway and professors use the f-word in lectures, but most of the world still puts on pants to answer the door. The divide between public and private is blurred on our campus, and this is what fascinates the rest of America. What’s it like in a place where, for $40,000 a year, smart people think it’s okay to have sex in the showers with reckless abandon? Apparently the bathrooms flood.
I am also intrigued by how we on campus will look back on the story. The 17 moral conservatives among us will certainly balk at Shower Stalls. I began to wonder whether my lack of objection to people having sex in the shower might signify a dangerous erosion of my own values. I don’t think so. If the couple in question wanted to brave the dangers of a slippery stall floor and unflattering fluorescent lighting at some discreet, low-traffic time in the bathroom, that’s their business. If our bathrooms are coed and our environment is open about sex, we, too, must proceed at our own risk.
It was the bathroom’s closing due to flooding (supposedly related to the sex going on in the shower) that actually inspired Master Holloway’s e-mail. Frankly, I can’t think of anything involved in normal sex besides condoms or a large baby that could actually have clogged the shower drain. Shouldn’t we excuse the lovers, then? Or at least warn the irresponsibly hairy along with the irresponsibly horny?
Popular sentiment among most of those I’ve spoken to on campus is that the uproar about shower sex is overblown. Maybe we’re coming off as dirty hippies (or in this case, clean hippies), but sex in the showers does not prove that we live in a moral vacuum. We’re just on a socially liberal college campus populated by 18-22 year olds who are too unattractive by real-world standards to have had the opportunity for much sex in the past. And, hey — if you can’t stand the steam, get out of the Shower Stalls.
Sarah Minkus is Yale’s 51st Most Beautiful Girl in Shower Stalls.