Maybe it takes more than two to tango
Jane goes to a party with you on a Saturday night. As the evening wears on, Jane meets up with a guy she’s had her eye on for quite some time. The two of them have a couple drinks together and things are getting pretty hot. The new acquaintance invites Jane over to his place. As her friend, what would you do?
When it comes to sexuality on college campuses, there’s perhaps nothing more controversial than what’s known as the “hook-up culture.” Sexual experiences outside of romantic relationships, casual encounters facilitated by alcohol and the blurred line around consent all inspire a range of attitudes and opinions. However, the very nature of the controversy means that we definitely shouldn’t stop talking about it.
Casual hook-ups — whether drunk or sober — are a very real aspect of many college students’ sexual experiences, and the conversation about them needs to be ongoing. Although this column isn’t enough space to address all of the issues surrounding college hook-ups, we’re interested in continuing to explore what is most relevant to the AU student body.
Studying “high-risk” sexual behavior in college
When you think of the hook-up culture, you might picture students gathering at an off-campus party, drinking and potentially going home with casual acquaintances at the end of the night. However, a study recently published in the National Communication Association Journal finds this scenario is less prevalent than people may think. According to the study, college students often aren’t given enough credit for taking care of their friends in high-risk sexual situations.
The study focused on a simulation program called “Let’s Talk About It,” in which a facilitator presented students with different alcohol-related scenarios and asked them to select the way they would respond from a list of options. The options included choices that the researchers classified as low-risk, medium-risk and high-risk.
Just to be clear — a “high-risk” option is an individual choice to engage in sexual behavior that may lead to adverse health consequences. This could include actions under the influence of alcohol that have a greater risk for pregnancy, physical harm, contracting STIs or feeling any kind of regret in the morning. Alcohol creates a gray area regarding our decision-making ability, but we’re talking about choices made while you still feel in control of your own body. However, we want to emphasize that high-risk choices do not refer to rape; obviously, being a victim of sexual assault is never a choice, whether or not alcohol is involved.
Friends don’t let friends hook up drunk
In order to better understand college students’ decision-making process in situations involving both alcohol and sex, the LTAI facilitator asked students what they would do in a situation involving a friend’s hypothetical hook-up — the same question we posed at the beginning of this column.
The high-risk option in this scenario is simply to “wish Jane a fun time.” However, over three-quarters of participants chose the low-risk or moderate-risk options to “make sure Jane gets home safely” or “try to persuade her not to go by reminding her she may regret it.” This suggests that, despite the potential perceptions of the “dangerous” and “widespread” hook-up culture on college campuses, students are actually likely to encourage their friends to make safer sexual choices.
So before this hypothetical situation possibly becomes your reality next weekend, have a conversation with your friends and set some boundaries. Everyone on AU’s campus should take steps to ensure safer sex — even if it’s not your own sex.
Before you get to the party and before a drop of alcohol touches your lips, make sure you and your friends are all on the same page. What is your plan for the night? Are you intending to hook up with someone? Do you have specific people in mind, or are you open to experiences with a stranger? And are you allowed to change your mind about any of these things throughout the night, after you’ve started drinking? Hold each other accountable for the lines you’ve drawn while sober.
As always, e-mail questions/comments/concerns to Tara and Ryan and make empowered, sexy choices!