My friend called me a slut. “A hot slut! A classy slut!” she quickly qualified when she saw my death glare.
I had to wonder how exactly my behavior qualified me as a slut. I don’t have a boyfriend or anything remotely resembling one. I’ve had a handful of intimate encounters and two dates since September. But next to the average Harvard student, I may indeed look slut-like. We frequently bewail our unwilling celibacy and lament the non-existence of our dating culture. Next to the average Boston University, Georgetown, or University of Arizona student, however, this behavior may look positively prudish. Regardless of how I rank overall, the fact remains that we, the students of Harvard, seem to have forgotten that we create our own social and sexual culture, and have no one to blame for it but ourselves.
The complaint that Harvard is a barren wasteland of sexual destitution is not without merit. According to a Crimson survey of the class of 2009, in their four years at Harvard, 52 percent of the students had one or zero sexual partners, and only 28 percent had even one dating partner. Add these statistics to the blogs, studies, and numerous recent articles about how Harvard students can’t get any, and you can’t help but feel bad about your sex life. Harvardfml and d-hall gossip don’t help either.
Luckily, the illusion that everyone else is having more sex than you is not specific to Harvard, so if your neighbor’s all-too-audible Saturday morning romps have got you feeling blue, take heart. “Go Ask Alice!”—Columbia University’s Dear Abby-equivalent—reports that the majority of polled college students also had zero or one sexual partners in a given year, while believing that their peers were having three times as much sex as they were. Other revealing statistics include that 31 percent of U.S. college women are still virgins at graduation and that college male sexual activity is down from 2.1 partners in 2001 to 1.6 partners in 2006.
These stats are comforting until you realize that Harvard is still only at or below the mean. This perhaps indicates that Harvard is indeed a barren wasteland of sexual destitution. Why? “Because you all are so dang hard to get a hold of!” quipped my MIT friend. It’s true. He and I spent two weeks trying to find a time simply to get coffee. Every cancellation and re-schedule had been my fault, because of lab, section, rehearsal, or work. This type of social avoidance and excuse making is distressingly common in our college’s culture. As has been pointed out in all those “Harvard-doesn’t-have-sex” articles, every Harvard student is chronically over-scheduled. What they don’t point out is that we are over-scheduled of our own volition. Everyone puts their work first, believing that in the long run, an on-time Gov 20 paper will be more beneficial than a potentially-awkward date with last Saturday’s hook-up. This generates a society of isolated academia, and we lose sight of the fact that one year from now, that paper’s grade will mean nothing. And that date may have been the start of something really special.
Our social lives and our academic success don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but we have chosen to make it so. Eventually, we’re going to have to realize that it’s okay to postpone finishing that CS 50 problem set in favor of actually going on a date with our boy/girlfriends. That it’s actually normal to not stay in and study on a Saturday night. And how do you know that a date with Saturday’s hook-up will be awkward? You won’t until you give it a try.
Maya E. Shwayder ’10-’11, a Crimson editorial writer, is a psychology concentrator in Pforzheimer House.