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Sexual life at Stanford

A conversation about Stanford’s culture and sex-positivity

The word “hookup” is still fertile ground for some good old-fashioned parental disapproval. Casual hookups, however, have changed their perceived status from taboo to commonplace liberating behavior. Unfortunately, casual sexual interactions alone are often intertwined with the idea of sex-positivity. This promising, yet at times, narrow societal perception can make people feel restricted. More than simply codifying the hookup culture, Stanford’s atmosphere of sex-positivity, in this light, should aim to be one of increased self-empowerment, choice and inclusivity.

Given college campuses’ common portrayal as a sexual free-for-all, we might expect campus hookups to be at an all-time high in this era of encouragement. Stanford’s casual hookup culture, in contrast, is hardly flourishing. In a survey of Stanford students conducted by The Daily, about 67.2 percent said that when they engage in sexual acts, they are rarely or never casual hookups. Perhaps this reflects a quiet majority of Stanford students who are less than thrilled by the prospect of diving headfirst into the culture here.

While some students would like to be more active in this manner, others do not have the desire to engage. Our private values and reservations, as well as prior sexual education, play a large role in how we interpret these cultural sex-pectations. It can be hard to separate our individual conceptions from external expectation and confusion. As Ride Peer Health Educator (PHE) Sofia Poe ’19 said, “some people don’t know how to or whether they should be putting themselves out there.”

Sexual Health Peer Resource Center (SHPRC) Co-President Amanda Hayes ’19 recognizes the challenges of bringing together people from diverse backgrounds of sexual desire, experience and education. She says prior education is incredibly variable, but rarely cohesive; some people have had an abstinence-only education while others have been privy to a basic conversation of “what birth control is and … what STI’s are [without] a discussion of pleasure.” In this way, college students entering Stanford come with vastly different sexual knowledge and experience, and can feel uncertain about how to engage with certain sexual conventions.

In her time at SHPRC, Hayes asks the question: “How do we make a sex-positive environment for people who aren’t yet comfortable with sex?”

Experimentation, although seen in the light of liberation and excitement, can often include intensely vulnerable emotions and general awkwardness. This exploration, however, is a necessary part of building holistic sex lives that include honest conversations about our changing desires and emotions. Hayes explains that we can connect by asking ourselves a few key personal questions: “How do I establish trust? How do I establish intimacy? How do I know what I like?” This form of self-empowerment and introspection can provide better communication between sexual partners.

“Hookup” can act as an umbrella term for a range of sexual behaviors: 62.1 percent of Stanford students in one survey assessed that the term’s meaning depended on the context of the situation. In this light, it can be difficult to verbalize the range of our sexual behaviors. Kimball PHE Kyle Dixon ’21 suggests ridding your sexual life of the outdated baseball reference, instead advocating for Al Vernacchio’s pizza as sex model: Instead of reaching certain bases, you’re sharing a pizza. Dixon adds, “There are no goals. You’re not trying to win. You’re trying to share something together and you come to a consensus about what you want. If you don’t like anchovies, don’t put anchovies on the pizza.” This approach to sexual behavior removes the idea that there should be any timely milestones to reach.

There is little issue with discussing and even mocking sex on a surface level in a way that can turn our parents 50 shades of red. However, when it comes to the personal details of the intimate ways we want our pizza, we tend to take a verbal vacation.

The SHPRC general manager stresses the need for these conversations within peer networks that can act as support systems. This form of open and honest dialogue with yourself, potential partners and close friends is crucial, especially for those of LGBTQIA+ identities that are often underrepresented in discussions about sexual experience.

“When slowly exploring and talking to other people about it … have the courage to ask questions,” urges West Lagunita PHE Ribhav Gupta ’19.

In this complex sexual landscape, we must be willing to communicate in a way that is compassionate and honest as well as inclusive of varying backgrounds and desires.

As Poe says, “It takes one person to change the conversation [and say] this is actually how I feel about sex.” She adds, “Just be honest … and willing to put yourself out there.”

For more information about Sexual Health Resources visit SHPRC on the 2nd floor of the Vaden Health Center, see http://shprc.stanford.edu/  or https://vaden.stanford.edu/health-resources/sexual-health.

Contact Alanna Flores at alanna13 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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