Sex Enlightenment at Princeton
Months before I arrived on campus as a freshman I was apprehensive about attending the mandatory “Sex on a Saturday Night”. People and paper had warned me of its less-than-subtle message that hooking-up is a prevalent and accepted part of campus culture. As the lights dimmed I steeled myself for the performance. When the lights came back on I sat in my seat, surprised. I had prepared myself for acknowledgment and acceptance of hooking up but instead had been given a large dose of crude humor and, as far as I could see, no demonstration of such a trend on campus. One of the characters constantly talked about his weekly sexual conquests, but in the end it turned out his escapades were largely fabricated.
Several freshman students were disgusted with the play, complaining that it showed no positive sexual relationships, and they felt that in every scenario abstinence was portrayed as the right choice. Of course, the play is continually under revision and what I saw this year is not an accurate portrayal of past or future performances. While I still do not think the event should be mandatory, I do appreciate the adjustments that have been made which help mitigate the idea that hooking up is a given on campus.
Another event created for freshman is the strongly recommended “(Safer) Sex Jeopardy” study break. Past participants tell stories of sado-masochism, dental dams, and in depth discussions of condoms. I decided to investigate.
The study break started out with an introduction from the SHAs (Sexual Health Adviser) reminding us that they were there for us whatever our sexuality might be, whether abstinent or promiscuous. They were not there to judge or pressure. In fact the presenters seemed to stress that students who weren’t having sex could still come to them for support. If we felt uncomfortable or offended at any point during the game we were encouraged to leave if we so desired. On the large white question board there were four categories, “Protection,” “Sexual Health and Wellness,” “Orientation and Identity,” and “Relationships.” One of the questions that came up was, “How many students have had no sexual partner for one school year?” About forty three percent. The presenters admitted, however, that people have different ideas of what constitutes a sexual partner. Some may say only penetration counts as sex, while others may include oral and anal (oh, let’s not forget digital sex, and I’m not talking about electronics), and perhaps there are even some who consider people they’ve kissed as sexual partners. I’m strongly inclined to doubt that many think in terms of the last option, as the word sexual pertains to actual types of sex. The study was used as an example that the pervasive rumors of the campus hook-up culture are not true.
Unfortunately, regardless of the numbers the SHAs gave or could have given, statistics do not necessarily match up with perception. It is easy for the truth to become distorted, whether from people lying (like the character in “SoSN”), media (now be honest, how many of us have seen college shown on TV as an “anything goes” place for freedom and experimentation without severe consequences?), or just the general impression students receive from the existence of University events such as “Sex Jeopardy.” If sex isn’t prevalent on campus, then why should we attend an event geared towards making that activity safer? Unless it happens so frequently that the University expects us to be doing it, and thus continually worries about infections and pregnancies. As if an indicator of the University’s concern, most of the questions in “Sex Jeopardy” involved birth control and maintaining and checking your sexual health. The SHAs did point out that the only foolproof way to not become infected or pregnant was abstinence. And then moments later informed us that the University Health Services will give someone up to ten condoms a day.
Overall, “Sex Jeopardy” has made some changes, seeming to pluck most of its questions from a high school health class (makes you wonder what high schools think teenagers are doing), and leaving sado-masochism and dental dams out of the discussion. The only question that really stood out was the “Final Jeopardy” one on sex toys. None of the students seemed too interested in the fact that the best way to clean them is simply throw them in the dishwasher. I just don’t know if I can look at dishwashers the same way ever again.
As jeopardy drew to a close and we stood up to leave, the SHAs tossed out helpful reminders as a sort of bonus about flavored condoms, reminding us to “BE SAFE.” It’s enlightening to know what they presume we will be doing our freshman year. Despite the “since you can’t fight sex, make it safe” attitude I feel no pressure to adhere to such expectations.