Brown students have as much sex as nationwide peers

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Despite what Bill O’Reilly viewers might think, Brown undergraduates actually have about as much sex as their peers nationwide, a recent Herald poll shows.

43.3 percent of students polled by The Herald from Nov. 5-7 reported having no sexual partners since the beginning of the semester, compared to 44.8 percent of students who reported having one to two partners. 3.7 percent of students reported 3-4 partners, 0.5 percent reported 5-6 partners and 0.8 percent reported 7 or more partners. 6.9 percent of students polled by The Herald marked “don’t know/no answer.”

Those numbers are not far off from national statistics. The fall 2006 American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment reported that 33 percent of college students nationwide had no sexual partners in the last year, while 51 percent had 1-2 partners, 9 percent had 3-4 partners, 3 percent had 5-6 partners and 4 percent had 7 or more partners.

The poll has a 3.9 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. A total of 621 Brown undergraduates completed the poll, which was administered as a written questionnaire to students in the University Post Office at Faunce House and in the Sciences Library.

“The numbers didn’t stand out as being that surprising,” said Naomi Ninneman, a health educator at Health Services. “I think (the poll) says Brown students are a lot like other people their age,” she said, though she noted that the poll does not say much about students’ sexual health practices.

Students generally agreed that the poll results matched their expectations. “It’s basically saying that people are monogamous or not having sex at Brown,” said Katie Evans ’10. “I would say about half the people I know are having sex, and that’s what it shows.”

“I wasn’t really surprised by the results,” said Rob Reinhardt ’08. “When (the results) first came out, I was expecting more of my friends to be surprised. They might (have thought) people were having more sex with more partners, but I wasn’t surprised at all,” he added.

The poll results sounded “about right,” said Tito Jankowski ’08. “There’s half of everyone who’s not doing anything – the pre-meds or whatever.”

Rizwan Huq ’11 said he also believes that only some students are sexually active. “I kind of got the impression that Brown students slept around a lot more,” he said. “But I guess you really only hear about the extreme cases. The kids who just sit in the library wouldn’t really get around that much.”

“It’s my mom’s impression that Brown students have a lot of sex,” said Stephanie Laing ’10. “To me, this seems about right. To the outside world, it might seem like we’re a little over-sexed.”

Upperclassmen reported having had more sexual partners than underclassmen in the Herald poll. According to the poll, 57.2 percent of first-years have had no sexual partners, compared with 43.4 percent of sophomores, 40.1 percent of juniors and 32.2 percent of seniors. 30.2 percent of first-years have had 1-2 partners, while 45.1 percent of sophomores, 47.6 percent of juniors and 56.4 percent of seniors have had as many.

Ninneman characterized underclassmen’s – and generally younger students’ – relative chastity as “a generally healthy approach.”

Sex comes naturally with age, students said. “When you’re a first-year, it’s probably more about getting a feel for the campus,” said Huq. “As you become older, you probably become more comfortable in these situations.”

Risa Burr ’11 concurred that first-years are less likely to be sexually active. “We don’t know each other,” she said.

“Your first year or two, you’re just figuring things out,” said Laing. “As you get older, you have more sex.”

More men reported having sex than women in the Herald poll. According to the poll, 38.6 percent of men had no partners this semester, compared with 47.8 percent of women. 45.9 percent of men reported having had 1-2 partners, while 43.7 percent of women had as many.

Ninneman suggested that men and women might have used different definitions of “sexual partner” when completing the survey, though every student interviewed by The Herald indicated that he or she would have counted any partner with whom he or she engaged in either oral sex or intercourse as a “sexual partner.”

Though students interviewed by The Herald indicated they would have answered the question honestly, Ninneman said people might have felt uncomfortable marking their answers in the public settings in which the poll was administered. “Self-reporting can be pretty reliable, but it’s a funny environment to be answering a personal question about your sexual behavior,” she said.

Ninneman said the 2006 ACHA survey found that 31.1 percent of Brown students had no sexual partners in the previous year, although the ACHA did not publicly release Brown-specific statistics. Since the ACHA survey asked respondents about their sexual activity over the course of one year and the Herald poll concerned only the semester so far, Ninneman said, the Herald poll seemed to be about “in line.”

“I was completely truthful,” said Jankowski of his survey answers. “I think people are used to taking polls and not caring too much.”

“There wasn’t really a reason to lie on an anonymous survey,” said Reinhardt. “It was just a relaxed setting. I don’t see why someone would want to lie on something like that. It’s not like they could show off to anyone,” he added.

“You’re only lying to yourself,” said Laing.

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