The Sex Lives of College Students, by Sandra L. Caron, Ph.D., presents the results of a human sexuality survey administered over the past two decades to thousands of college students ages 18-80. Responses by 4,683 college students between the ages of 18-22 are compiled in the book. The more than 100-question survey has been administered during the first week of every human sexuality class at the University of Maine since 1990. The undergraduate class has a capacity enrollment of 350 students and regular waiting lists. In 2010, several new questions were added and refined to address the latest issues and trends, including the use of social media to facilitate relationships and use of morning-after pills.
The book is not the be-all and end-all survey on the sex lives of college students. It is not representative of a cross-section of all college students across the country, but it does give us a glimpse of a student sample from a mid-size public research university. Indeed, it is a unique perspective informed by a 20-year data set. The data facilitate the tracking of trends and comparison of changes in attitudes and behaviors. Because of its longevity, the survey includes not only the views of today’s college students, but also those of their parents, including some who may have sat in the same lecture hall taking the course in human sexuality.
The goal is to survey college students’ attitudes and behaviors at the start of the course. And while many of the students enrolled in the course are majoring in the social sciences, the students represent every college and major at the university. This book presents results over the past two decades from 1990 to today. It highlights findings on college students’ sexual behaviors, sexual attitudes, parental influence, safer sex/HIV, the difficult side of sex, and newer data. Below are 10 things that have changed sexually over the last two decade for college students:
1. HOOKING UP: It may come as a surprise to learn that over the 20-year span of this study, the incidence of having five or more partners has remained largely unchanged. That’s right. While today’s college students may think having multiple partners is unique to their generation with their use of terms like “hooking up” and “friends with benefits,” just as many college students 20 years ago were having multiple partners, but back then it was called “casual sex.”
2. BIRTH CONTROL: It is encouraging to see that the number of students using the Pill, condoms and Double Dutch (i.e., using both) increased over the two decades. Specifically, Pill use increased from 75% in the early 1990s to 85% today. Condom use increased from approximately 45%in the 1990s to about 55% beginning in 2000 through today. Double Dutch increased from 25% in the early 1990s to 40% today.
3. FAKING ORGASM: Faking an orgasm is extremely common, especially for women. Many more college women (69%) say they have faked an orgasm. However, 28% of college men report they have faked an orgasm. Faking orgasm increased from about a third of college students saying they have done this in the early 1990s to more than half of the college sample today.
4. FEMALE MASTURBATION: There has been an increase across the two decades in the percentage of women who say they pleasure themselves — from about 60% in the early 1990s to nearly 80% today. Acknowledgement of this increase in women’s masturbation can be seen in the popularity of such factors as sex toy parties on college campuses.
5. ANAL SEX: Anal sex has become more acceptable, especially to men. While only one-third felt anal sex was totally acceptable in the early 1990s, today over two-thirds of men feel this way.
6. PARENTS ACCEPTANCE: There has been an increase over time in the proportion of students who think their parents are okay with them having sex, especially if they are in love. There has also been an increase in college students believing that their parents would be in favor of them having sex – especially if you are a college male and you are looking at dad’s attitude.
7. ACCEPTING A FRIEND WHO IS GAY: Looking across the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the proportion of students who report that they are accepting of a gay friend, increasing from 60% in the early 1990s to 85% today. College women have always been accepting than college men.
8. CONCERN ABOUT HIV: Over the past two decades, the level of concern surrounding HIV/AIDS has decreased dramatically. While more than three-quarters of college students were very concerned in the 1990s, less than one-third of students today indicate they are very concerned. In addition, very few (less than 1%) were unconcerned in the 1990s, whereas today 10% of college students say they are not concerned at all about HIV/AIDS. The further we have moved from the time when HIV first became an issue in the 1980s and was seen by many as a death sentence, the less concern there is. This change began in the later 1990s, perhaps with the introduction of better treatment that changed the face of AIDS to a long-term, manageable illness.
9. LOVE AND SEX: In the past two decades, being in love as an important component of sex has fallen sharply from about 70% in the early 1990s to now less than half of college students seeing it as important. Over time, love has taken a backseat in the sexual relationships of college students. Sex has become detached from love.
10. SAME-SEX BEHAVIOR: Looking over the two decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of college women who have had a same-sex experience. In the early 1990s, only 3% of women said they had a same-sex experience. However, since the time of the kiss between Madonna and Brittany Spears at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2003, there’s been a significant increase in women who report same-sex behavior; in recent years as many as 30% of college women say they have had such an experience. Whether it is making out with a girlfriend for their boyfriend’s pleasure, or simply same-sex experimentation as part of normal sexual development, it is interesting to see that most of these women do not consider themselves bisexual or lesbian.
For more information, see here: sexlivesofcollegestudents.com.