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Students getting busy less often than their peers think

With Sex Power God approaching this weekend, many students' thoughts might turn to sex - but they still are not having much of it. Eighty percent of undergraduates said they had one or no sexual partners, according to a recent Herald poll.

About 37 percent of respondents reported one sexual partner and another 44.1 percent said they have not had sex this semester. Only 4.9 percent of respondents said they have had three or more partners so far this semester.

Brown students' sex lives are roughly comparable to college students nationwide. The spring 2007 American College Health Association's National College Health Assessment indicated that 74 percent of college students have had one partner or less over the last year ­­- though the Herald poll only asked about a period of approximately seven weeks.

Students were generally surprised by these results. Many students said they expected the average student to have around two sexual partners.

"Either my friends are lying or something's wrong," said Emre Ersolmaz '12, adding that he had the impression most students were "quite (sexually) active."

Upon reflection, Ersolmaz said he attributed the disparity between perception and reality to Brown's reputation. "Because we have a liberal student body, we're expected to be more sexually active." But, he added, perhaps that does not translate into high rates of sexual activity because "people are aware of the fact that we are here to study."

Robin Davis '10 said she was "shocked" by the results because "there's a stereotype of the partying college student who gets drunk and goes to bed with (whoever they find) that night."

However, Davis added, many of her friends do not fit that stereotype. "I hang out with people from the Brown Christian Fellowship and the substance-free floor."

It is understandable that students might believe that their peers are having more sex than they actually are, since "people are more apt to talk about things they have done than haven't," said Davis.

Students' impressions about sex at Brown are probably also skewed by behavior they see at parties, said Matt Grimes '10, even though that conduct is not standard.

The Herald poll showed a significant drop-off between the amount of students who had one partner and those who had two. Grimes said he hypothesized that many more students had one partner than two because some students are in monogamous relationships. About 37 percent of undergraduates reported having one sexual partner so far this semester, compared to 6 percent who reported two partners.

"It takes a long time to establish trust and respect with a partner," said Allie Wollner '10, a columnist for post-, The Herald's weekly arts and culture magazine. "There are not as many people who have found two long-term relationships (so far this semester)."

Davis said she did not think the difference could be attributed entirely to monogamy, however, because "the dating scene at Brown isn't very relationship-centered."

The poll also showed that sexual activity seems to increase with age. Sixty-one percent of first-years reported not having had a sexual partner yet this semester, compared to 36 percent of seniors.

"It's just a matter of time," Davis said. "People meet people while they're at Brown and get into serious relationships."

It is "pretty predictable" that first-years are less likely to have had sex, Wollner said.

In addition to differences across years, the number of sexual partners varied between genders. Just under 39 percent of men have not had a sexual partner this semester, compared to 48.2 percent of women, according to the poll.

"Given our American culture, (that gap) is not surprising," Grimes said.

Wollner also said that the poll results might be biased since responses depended on each student's interpretation of sex. Such interpretations vary widely, Wollner said.

"Plenty of people fool around casually, but they might not consider that (sexual activity)," Wollner said. "It looks like, oh man, nobody's getting any play at Brown."

But the reality on campus, Wollner said, is that "sex is a big topic here; people have dialogue about it a lot."

"We have SPG. That's going to be like one giant orgy on Saturday night," Wollner added.

Regardless, the University's approach to sexual education is healthy, Wollner said, in part due to the "very palpable presence" of organizations like FemSex, MSex, Health Services, the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, the Queer Alliance and others.

"Some people are starting to think about sex differently," Wollner said. "(They're) realizing that it's not black and white ... And the Brown community is committed to learning about sex, not just thoughtlessly having it."

The Herald poll was conducted Oct. 27 and Oct. 28 and has a 3.6 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. A total of 649 Brown undergraduates completed the poll, which was administered as a written questionnaire to students in the University Post Office at J. Walter Wilson, outside the Blue Room in Faunce House and in the Sciences Library.


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