Sex and Relationships at Yale, Pt. II

First, a series of disclaimers:

Relationships are great, but not necessarily the best thing for everyone, especially busy college students who will soon be leaving for another city. And it is very difficult to determine who is going to be a “good breakup” before you’ve been dating them for a while. And it is nearly impossible to have a “good relationship” in college that ends in a breakup any person could consider “good”, unless by “good” we mean “good compared to being submerged in a bathtub full of tarantulas”. And some people just aren’t into the whole romance thing.

And I should really have put this at the end of my last self-important sociological treatise rather than at the beginning of this post. You live, you learn.


Anyway, some updates on the post before this one:

TIME jumped the college-hookup bandwagon after the Times (or is that shorthand only for the Times of London?), with a well-reasoned response written by a recent college graduate.

And she agreed with me! Then again, had she not agreed with me, would I have told you her response was “well-reasoned”? Perhaps not! Media bias is hard.

Anyway: There’s less hooking up going on than we might expect, a sizable minority of college students don’t have sex at all, nobody talks to men for these articles (plus, gay sex goes unmentioned–too controversial?), and the Ivy League enrolls a tiny, tiny fraction of this nation’s undergraduates. Dockterman is careful not to state any major non-statistical conclusions, which makes sense, because most of the “problems” inherent in “hook-up culture” are currently being dealt with. Condoms are free at Yale. The HPV vaccine exists. STD rates in the United States are holding steady or perhaps decreasing, depending on the disease.

Away from the physical side of college sex, I’d be curious to see whether rates of romance-related emotional turmoil are higher in my generation than my parents’. But this is the kind of data that doesn’t exist in a place I can easily find it, and any upward trend would be difficult to separate from the overall rise in depression among every American age group over the last few decades. (I have friends who might call both depression and hook-up culture symptoms of a sick society, but that’s a matter for another post, or a book, or a lifetime of writing that slowly comes to resemble an endless game of rhetorical wallball–good fun, but the wall never moves.)

In the wake of Part One, a few friends contacted me with comments on my long-winded rant about how relationships are great and love is totally within our grasp, if we just reach out and touch someone, etc. Thank you, friends! I will not name-check you for now, because I don’t know how you all feel about publicity, but the best part of writing things other people read is when other people talk to you about those things and wind up teaching you something.

In addition to inspiring the disclaimer that kicked off this post, one woman made the extraordinarily interesting observation that all the fuss about sex and romance leaves out an equally important variety of relationship–friendship. Best friends, she said, are rare, and most friendships form out of convenience and swiftly disappear when we grow apart or graduate.

“I had a friendship breakup this year, which totally sucked. I couldn’t treat it like a relationship breakup and talk about it, which made it suck more. And I have friends who are aromantic.” (Link is mine.)

When I think about it, I realize that I’ve seen friends as devastated at losing friends as I can imagine them being devastated by any breakup. Yale has counseling resources for problems of this kind, but socially, it’s much easier for a boy/girl to win the sympathy of male/female friends and acquaintances after any kind of romantic incident than after a “friend breakup”, which is enough of an underrecognized phenomenon that I felt an instinctive need to put quotation marks around the phrase. (Media bias is hard!)

In any case, the asexual-rights movement is interesting and worth reading about. And I would love to read a long, trendy Times (of New York) piece on friend-hookup culture in the Ivies. “She said she’d definitely see me around after we met for lunch that one time! But now she doesn’t even answer my texts!”

Sex and Relationships at Yale

Warning: The title of this piece is officially my first attempt at search-engine bait. I might actually catch one this time. But I’ll have to kill it quickly, before it chews off its own leg trying to escape. Anyway…


Now that I have your attention, I’m going to talk about sex. And relationships. Mostly relationships. You see, the New York Times decided to investigate, thoroughly and at great length, the sex lives of female students at the University of Pennsylvania.

They did their homework. 60 interviews, with as diverse a slice of the female student body as possible, is nothing to sneeze at. I believe that the quotes they used were more or less representative of the responses received. I believe that the sourcing of Susan Patton made sense and was helpful in putting that whole Princeton debacle in context.

Most of all, I believe that the shapely bare leg in the cover photo will certainly lead to more clicks. I’ll keep that strategy in my notes.

A shapely bear leg. I’m sorry.

I don’t have the time or inclination to comment on the entire piece. There are issues of sexual violence and the nature of college pre-professional life and whether it’s a good idea to marry in college at all that have been explored elsewhere to an extent well beyond what I could hope to achieve in this post.

But I did spend last night talking over the article with a good friend from Yale, and another good friend from the University of Delaware, and hearing their thoughts on hooking up — or not — in college got my gears turning, and a graduate from the time before Yale had women asked my opinion, so I wrote him a letter, which has been adapted below. Take it as one student’s opinion, based on two years of firsthand experience and a collection of secondhand and thirdhand stories.

Note: Strong opinions ahead. Please don’t get angry if you disagree, unless getting angry will make you feel better, in which case, go ahead. You can yell at me if you want, but I’d also love to hear the reasons you think I’m wrong. My mind is open.

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