Relationships and Sexuality at College
Boy Meets Girl
The ways in which many college kids meet potential partners are changing, and this alone can be stressful for students. It would be nice if your son fell for his physics lab partner and spent his evenings at the library with her doing homework together, but that's not the way it usually happens in the college dating scene. Today many students are clubbing, taking drugs like Ecstasy, going on spontaneous "booty runs" (sex dates), and partying until dawn.
These students are very intelligent young people, but they often have unrealistic feelings about the potential impact of their behavior. Some think they're invulnerable or at least don't stop to consider the consequences of their actions. They have unprotected sex, don't worry about getting HIV/AIDS, and put themselves at risk for contracting more than twenty other sexually transmitted diseases that affect some 3 million teenagers in the United States every year.
Today's college kids have heard all the lectures about club drugs, date rape, and safer sex, but many do not think it applies to them until they face the fallout. When college students face date rape, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), pregnancy, abortion, or any of the other negative consequences of careless sex, they are unlikely to look to their parents for help. They had been warned about the dangers of these behaviors, and now they feel stupid and worried. Once their emotional or physical health is compromised by the consequences and disappointments of their sexuality, they find it extremely difficult to concentrate on schoolwork. Some flounder or drop out.
We are all bombarded by the media with the message that casual recreational sex is the norm. But many students come to college having limited experience with their sexuality and are surprised to hear their peers boasting of their latest sexual conquests. They often feel pressure to be sexually active as a way to find intimacy and a sense of connection in a new environment.
For students whose families have stressed abstinence, this contrast and pressure is even more severe. Because the number one goal of new college students is to establish connections, many find it hard to say no to sex without worrying that they will be isolated. Because they believe that "everybody is doing it," they are more likely to "do it" too, but then may feel terrible for betraying their own beliefs and their family's trust.
The striking data about perceived sexual behaviors versus actual sexual behaviors fuel the myth. A National College Health Association survey of 29,230 college students in 2002 points out how strongly the "everybody's doing it" mentality is entrenched in these young people. The survey found that the students' perception of peer sexual behavior was not on track with reality. The surveyed students assumed that only 2 percent of their peers were not sexually active, yet the reality was that 24 percent of their peer group who responded to the survey fit that classification as sexually inactive. They also assumed that 85 percent of their peers had had two or more sexual partners, but the reported data found the actual percentage to be a much smaller 28 percent.3 These distortions of fact push college kids to bend to peer pressure that in reality doesn't even exist"but they don't know that.
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