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.