As many of our parents told us, college is the age of experimentation. We are to play with drugs, travel, love and the ever-present and complicated SEX. With films like "Animal House" and even "Can't Hardly Wait" setting the norm for college life, the message is simple: sex is IT. Sexual experimentation is anticipated, encouraged and, in some circles, obligated.
Now, pair these expectations with the quasi-conservative, religious veneer of St. Olaf, and it is no wonder students are confused about their identities as friends, lovers and sexual beings. We experience contradictory messages: popular culture tells us we should embrace a freely sexual lifestyle and take sexual matters casually. The church tells us otherwise: many learn that sex (and sexual pleasure) is sinful. But more immediately, what does our college tell us?
To answer this question, we don't have to go much further than our dorms. An institution does not dictate behavior; its members do. There is no abstract "they" determining our social lives. We, the student body, are wholly responsible.
I've spent some time listening to some of the dialogue college students are having about sex, and heres what I'm hearing: I'm hearing that I'm supposed to be having sex, but I'm damned to hell if I do. I'm hearing that one-night stands are part of a healthy collegiate experience, but only desperate people indulge in them. I'm hearing that I'm an easy girl if I have sex and enjoy it, and an ice queen if I don't. What are you hearing?
I want a middle ground, and I don't think that's too much to ask. I like sex, and so far I've found that to be an essentially universal truth on the Hill. We like sex, but what is sex at St. Olaf? For some people, kisses are sex. For others, only heterosexual intercourse constitutes sex. I define sex pretty loosely. Sex is being sexual. Sex is a spectrum of expression and definition. No one can (or should) tell anyone else what constitutes sex and what does not. Part of the confusion we are experiencing stems from a narrow (and often exclusively heterosexual) definition of sex.
The confusion grows when we try to determine which social contexts are appropriate for sexual activity. Again, every person needs to find what they deem the "right" situation.
I have heard many students joyfully describe the freedom they feel after one-night stands, and while I have not found them especially rewarding, I cannot judge anyone elses stance because I do not know the context of their lives.
I have heard other students condemn any sort of sexual involvement outside an exclusive and long-term relationship. Again, not necessarily my style, but ultimately, we need to ask what is healthiest for our personal circumstances.
Many St. Olaf students treat sex as something removed from the rest of our lives, but this is the wrong direction to go. Sex and sexual identity saturate all elements of how we live: with whom we sit in the cafeteria, how we carry ourselves walking past the P.O. boxes, and even what we say in class. Until we get over our stigmas and let ourselves be sexual beings in the intricate contexts of our daily lives, sexual confusion and unhappiness will continue.
We can rid our campus of dangerous sexual stereotypes and contradictions, and it starts with a conversation. We need to listen and talk. Sex is undeniably personal, but we get nowhere cloaking the issue in silence. Sex talk should go beyond locker room bragging and dorm room secret-swapping.
It's time to talk about sex like the adults we are. If you're angry about the media's standards, the rigid confines of the church and misguided notions of sex by your peers, start with the peers and work your way out. Dialogue can change the world. What do you have to lose? And keep your ears open: it's amazing what you can pick up by just listening.
The Manitou Messengers sex columnist is available for dialogue and questioning at firstname.lastname@example.org.