Every year since I graduated from college, I've gone back to schools all over the country to talk about sex on campus. I learn a lot about what's going on in young people's sex lives -- the beginning of their adult sexual life -- and I compare it to my own experiences in the 1970s.
This year, I have met the most sexually naove, threatened and inhibited 18-year-olds I have ever spoken to. They may have liberal or laissez-faire attitudes about the public issue side of sex -- i.e., they're pro-gay rights, anti-censorship and pro-choice -- but in their personal attitudes about "doing it," they're squeamish and derisive.
More than half the students I surveyed are embarrassed about their bodies and cannot admit or justify sexual desire except in the most banal terms of monogamous teleology. The heterosexual women seem to have bonded puritanical feminist rhetoric with a retro search for the man who will bring the most status for their sacrificed virtue. The men are totally into guilt, self-flagellation and lying -- fodder for tomorrow's redemptive little Promise Keeper. The minority who have somehow managed to rebel, albeit largely under wraps, are living for the day they can fly to San Francisco.
Since full-time repression is such an uphill battle, alcoholic blowouts are everyone's perfect excuse for blind-sided screwing. Drinking is the new secret activity, because all the grown-ups are so concerned about "teenage alcohol abuse." There's really not a drinking problem on campus; there's a sex problem. There's no way to "do it" without an accompanying shame-a-thon, so at least liquor makes it quicker.
While at the last campus I visited, near Rochester, NY, I saw a local TV ad that shows a girl at a lab desk, piping up, "I'm gonna be an astronaut!" Cut to a sweet young thing doing her pliis at the barre: "I'm going to be a ballerina!" Both bright faces chime in together: "I'm not going to let sex screw up MY career goals."
Then the big finale, with the words splashed across the screen: "Not Me! Not Now!"
And "Not a Clue," in my book. Yes, of course I know this is supposed to "prevent teenage pregnancy," but the message comes out ignorant, bitter and way shortsighted.
I would like to take out an ad of my own, where one babe in a tutu comes out and says, "Look, most of us ballerinas are anorexic coke freaks and blow job queens!" Then we could have a veteran astronaut stumble out with a bottle of Jack Daniels and say, "My NASA comrades and I are bona fide alcoholics who frequent prostitutes -- when we can get it up." Yahoo, everyone! Don't let being a sexual ignoramus get in the way of your career goals.
In that vein, I would like to submit my own little dramatic guess as to what goes on in the dorm bedrooms of the students I leave behind. Call it "New School Revue of 1997: Campus Nights!"
GIRL: Don't you even think about turning the lights on. If you turn the lights on, I'm not going to do it. And by the way, if you tell one more person on this campus about us hooking up --
BOY: I haven't been the one talking. Shelley said you told the entire second floor you got drunk with me and don't remember anything.
GIRL: Well I don't. I mean, I didn't. Don't look at me! You have so been talking, or else I'd like to know why every time your asshole friend Kevin sees me he goes, "Hell, yes!" And don't even try to hold my hand again when you see me on the quad. People will think we're doing something.
BOY: We are doing something. No one has held hands on this campus since 1987. I thought it would be radical.
GIRL: Radical! Is that why we're doing this? I don't understand your motives at all -- Don't touch me there. Gross! I'm not going to do this if you're going to want to DO things like that. Why do you have to get totally naked, like we're at some '60s orgy? It makes me wonder if you have any respect for me at all.
BOY: I do respect you! Are all women psychotic?
GIRL: OH right, now I'm psycho-slut. I don't have to do this you know; I don't see what I'm supposed to get out of it.
BOY: God, is it that bad? What am I, ugly or something?
GIRL: Oh no, you're beautiful, you're so perfect everyone thinks I'm the one who's too fat to be with Mr. Perfect.
BOY: I'm not perfect and you are not fucking fat, would you get off of that. Do you ever do it when I'm not around?
GIRL: What do you mean? You mean: am I a slut? No, you bastard, I am NOT a slut! What is wrong with you?
BOY: I don't mean with other guys, I mean, do you ever get off yourself?
GIRL: You are so disgusting, I can't believe you're even asking me that. NO I DO NOT GET OFF, PERIOD.
BOY: Your roommate does it, I mean, a lot of girls do it.
GIRL: She told you that? I knew she was a whore, but that is too much. Excuse me, but the women I know have some goals in their lives. They are not sitting around wanking off.
BOY: That's exactly the opposite of what she said. She said she WASN'T a whore, that most women masturbate or whatever, that 's what that lecturer last night said, that Susie Bright chick.
GIRL: Oh great, you went to see that, too, right? I heard it was disgusting.
BOY: I had to go, it was for Men's Studies extra credit, we had to read one of her books, she's some kind of one-night-stand freak. I left when she started drawing a giant dick on the blackboard.
GIRL: Ha! It was a clitoris, not a dick.
BOY: How do you know -- you weren't there!
GIRL: My psych teacher said that she left the room when Susie Bright drew a giant clit on the blackboard and, talk about sick, then she picked some question out of a hat -- she collected all these anonymous questions -- about a guy who said his girlfriend was really closed about sex and hated her body and he wanted to know how to make her "have an orgasm." God, can you believe it? So anyway, this like RAPIST boyfriend wants to know how to make his girlfriend "open up" so he could do who knows what to her -- and Susie Slut is up there giving all these helpful tips to him, when like anyone else would be calling campus police? Then Shelly -- she was sitting right up front -- she yells out, "Well maybe she just doesn't want to have sex with him, maybe he's an asshole!"
BOY: What helpful tips?
GIRL: I don't know. Shelley said she thinks she knows who the guy is, you know that fat fag in biology who thinks he has a girlfriend?
BOY: Dennis IS a fag. He doesn't have a girlfriend.
GIRL: I don't give a shit what he is, but if he ever starts talking about his penis again in front of me I'm going to throw up, and --
BOY: What did Bright say though, after that guy's question?
GIRL: I don't know! I told you, I wasn't there, you were there!
BOY: Yeah, but I left after I turned in my question; my whole row left after she started drawing that dick/clit.
GIRL: YOUR question? You mean you filled out one of her little cards about do you masturbate or not?
BOY: Jesus, do you really think I'm a rapist?
GIRL: I don't what you're talking about! WHAT WAS YOUR QUESTION?
GIRL: Nothing? Omigod, if you said anything about us on one of those fucking index cards, I'm going to kill you.
BOY: Nothing, I didn't say anything. I don't give a shit.
GIRL: This is so boring. I don't even know why we're talking about this. I must look terrible.
BOY: Yeah, you might as well turn the lights on now. We're not doing anything.
GIRL: I can't find my hairbrush!
BOY: Just turn on the lights. You're probably sitting on it.