Suggestive figures, Grading on curves, Georgetown gets down

April 26, 2007

Everybody’s doin’ it! Or are they? Last Monday, the Voice wrapped up an anonymous web-based survey of more than 300 students, designed with the advice of the Mathematics Department’s Statistics Consulting Clinic, and the results show that more often than not, they are. 62.8 percent of the 269 undergrads who fully completed the survey described themselves as sexually active, and 91.7 percent of those sexually active have had intercourse in the past year.

58.9 percent of women (who made up just over half of the entire survey) called themselves sexually active, as compared to 67.2 percent of men. 13.7 percent of all sexually active students reported that they have had a sexual experience with a person of the same gender in the past year.

Men reported engaging in any sexual activity with an average of 3.5 partners in the past year, while women reported 2.6 partners on average. Those numbers pull Georgetown slightly but significantly ahead of the national average, as calculated by the National College Health Assessment, an annual survey taken at over 100 colleges and universities, whether two-year or four-year, public or private.


The April 2006 update of the NCHA put the average self-reported number of sexual partners in the past year at 2.3 for men and 1.7 for women. The comparison is imperfect, though, since the wording of their question specifically highlighted oral, vaginal and anal sex instead of “self-defined” sexual activity. Additionally, the NHCA does not limit itself to undergraduate students.

Hoyas aren’t necessarily getting down like girls (or guys) gone wild, though: half of all the sexually active respondents reported having oral sex one to five times a month, and about one third reported the same frequency for intercourse and all other types of sexual activity, a plurality for each.

In fact, they’re rarely even playing the field. In the past year, 69.8 percent of the sexually active men have had between one and four partners, while 24.4 percent had five to nine partners and 4.7 percent had 10 or more. The women were comparatively more restrained, with 89.2 percent of those sexually active reporting one to four partners, 8.4 percent five to nine, and 2.4 percent 10 or more.


When they do bring a special someone home, though, students are a little warier of keeping them there. The final question of the Voice survey divided students most evenly, on whether Georgetown’s Catholic identity should have any bearing on its cohabitation policy. Students are only allowed to live with others of the same gender in University-owned housing. In a slight turn around in favor of Catholic identity, 50.6 percent of all respondents said that Catholic identity should affect the policy.

The University also has a mostly-overlooked entry in the Student Code of Conduct, however, that actually prohibits sexual sleepovers in University housing as well, marking them as Class A Violations subject to the same type of sanctions as noise and minor alcohol violations. The code reads, “Cohabitation, which is defined as overnight visits with a sexual partner, is incompatible both with the Catholic character of the University and with the rights of the roommates.” This definition of cohabitation was not used in the survey, and all of the students interviewed were surprised to discover the policy, chiefly because of its impracticality.

“I do think they have the right to put that on their policy, but I don’t think that there’s any real enforcement mechanism,” Anthony Bonna (MSB ‘09), a Roman Catholic and member of the Knights of Columbus, said. Even if there were, the system would be invasive, Meg Wilson (COL ’08), a board member of H*yas for Choice, said.

“No one wants to go in and talk to the Judicial Committee about their sexual activities,” she said.

“It should be between you, your partner and your roommate,” Adam Briscoe (SFS ‘07) said, precisely because the University can’t realistically enforce such a policy. As a gay man, though, he said, “I’m pretty sure they’ve got my sex marked off in the book six ways from Sunday anyway.”

Georgetown spokesperson Julie Green Bataille said that there was no available data maintained by the University on student sexual activity (although Georgetown has participated in the NCHA in the past few years), but similar studies and surveys taken at other schools shed some light on where Georgetown stands in the higher educational spectrum of heavy breathing. Georgetown students aren’t nearly as frisky as their counterparts at elite, liberal, artsy Swarthmore, where campus newspaper The Phoenix reported earlier this semester that only 20 percent of students were not sexually active, compared to Georgetown’s 37.2 percent. With less than a quarter of Georgetown’s undergrad enrollment, their 1,484 student dating pool is a lot smaller, too.

Hoyas can’t hold a romantically-scented candle to their significantly larger hoops rival the University of Pittsburgh, either, where 79 percent of the student body reported sexual activity in a Student Health Service survey from the Spring of 2001. Sexually inactive students at big state schools like the University of Maryland and Penn State hovered around 29 percent, according to the 2007 NCHA results and a 2003 survey, respectively.

But they’re still doing better than staid Harvard, whose students apparently prefer to be wrapped in ivy than in their classmates’ arms. An article on abstinence in last Tuesday’s Harvard Crimson stated that on average, students had less than one sexual partner per year, and nearly 40 percent had zero. The University of San Francisco, the only other Jesuit institution with readily available comparative data, had numbers closer to Penn State and U-Md., with 29 percent of students sexually inactive, according to their NCHA data from 2001.

Surveyed students came out strongly in favor of H*yas for Choice’s work to get contraception on campus and into student hands, with 90.7 percent of respondents supporting their distribution of condoms in Red Square and 84 percent supporting their right to distribute them elsewhere on campus. Additionally, 84.4 percent thought the Student Health Center should be allowed to prescribe birth control pills as contraception. It can currently prescribe the pill as a remedy for menstrual cramps or for acne trouble, but is barred from prescribing the medication for its intended purpose as an oral contraceptive.

Georgetown’s doctrinally-determined policy barring the sale or official distribution of contraception on campus has not proved to serve as a moral or practical barrier to student sexual activity, as 83.3 percent of all respondents said the University should allow sale of contraception on campus and 82.5 percent said the policy has no effect on their willingness to engage in sexual activity. The policy may even increase the risk of students engaging in unsafe sex.

“There will be times when students aren’t thinking clearly, and won’t rush to CVS to spend $12 on a box of condoms,” Wilson said.

Briscoe, a self-described agnostic, said he actually thinks the policy runs counter to the Jesuit tradition of bringing together people of different faiths, and that if Georgetown doesn’t impose a religious test upon admissions, it shouldn’t impose its religious beliefs on its students.

“I didn’t see anyone coming around to see what I gave up for Lent,” he said.

But supporters of the University’s policy say that’s not the issue.

“Georgetown is not the sex police,” Bonna said. He believes that just as the University cannot and should not force any individual to act in a certain way, nor should students of other faiths be able to tell Georgetown to forfeit its Catholic identity, especially on an issue of doctrine which he called “unambiguous.” As far as contraception is concerned, Bonna said, “Georgetown is saying, we’re not going to prohibit it, but we’re not going to condone it.”

Some Catholics believe, though, that Church doctrine on contraception should be unambiguous in the opposite manner.

“As the president of Planned Parenthood and a Catholic, I believe it is immoral for the University to withhold access to birth control to students,” President and CEO of the Planned Parenthood affiliate of Metropolitan Washington Jatrice Martel Gaiter said. “It’s not just immoral; it’s immoral and cruel.” She said that Georgetown’s contraception policy is based in an outdated ideology rather than the reality of human life, and that if the Church is truly opposed to abortion, it should work in tandem with groups like Planned Parenthood to make it as rare as possible.

Those who agree with the University don’t necessarily think that it’s Georgetown’s responsibility to provide students access to birth control so much as the students’ responsibility themselves. Jennifer Keuler (SFS ‘09) echoed Bonna’s opinion, adding that she is sick of hearing people claim that the University thinks none of its students are having sex.

“They know what’s going on, but that doesn’t mean they have to support that decision,” she said. Keuler is the President of GU Right to Life, but she said that her opinions were exclusively hers as an individual student, and were in no way affiliated with the organization, which takes no stance on contraception.

Bataille said that as a Catholic, Jesuit university, Georgetown complies with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Practice, which includes not providing contraceptives or reproductive services on campus. Fellow Jesuit schools determine their sexual health and contraception policies similarly: USF follows the same directives, and Boston College has a long-standing policy to the same effect codified in their student guide. In contrast, the University of Maryland, a public school, offers every method of contraception readily available and popular for sale at the campus health center, including the emergency contraception pill Plan B, according to Coordinator of Sexual Health Education Programs Alli Matson.

Georgetown’s Catholic identity seems to have had at least some effect on its students’ sex lives, though, as only 66 percent thought the University should offer contraception to students free of charge, and only 68 percent of students said that religious views had no effect on their sexual activity.

That hardly means that the majority of students aren’t religious, though; 32.7 percent of the respondents were Roman Catholic, and only 25.7 percent described themselves as agnostic or atheist. Wilson described herself as both a Southern Baptist and sexually active, saying that she is conscious of her religious views in a way that does not affect her sexuality.

While Bataille said that the University takes the needs of students seriously in determining the range of sexual health services it provides, it is unlikely that Georgetown will change its contraception policy any time soon, despite what the majority of students are asking for. The University does offer various sexual health services that pose no concern to Catholic identity, such as STD testing and the emergency pregnancy hotline advertised in bathroom stalls across campus. Such services only help those who have already found themselves in trouble, however, and for many students that is not enough.

“The University is great about STD tests, but a retroactive approach is not the healthy way to do it,” Briscoe said. He emphasized that there are many reasons to use a condom beyond preventing pregnancy, singling out HIV in particular as “a problem that can’t be aborted.”

“There’s not any greater meaning in a life with HIV,” he said. “It’s not like bringing another life into the world.”

Bonna said that when looking at condoms from the standpoint of sexual health, “they have proven to be quite effective, health-wise, and if you have no moral problems with using them, then that’s what you ought to do.”

Even if the University’s policy might inconvenience students and even potentially increase the risk of unprotected sexual activity by restricting the availability of condoms and other forms of contraception on campus, it is still by no means difficult for students to obtain them locally and easily. From H*yas for Choice to Planned Parenthood’s local bureau on 16th St. NW to the gas station at the foot of the “Exorcist Stairs,” options for obtaining contraception abound. Some states will even provide it free of charge to their residents; Keuler said that a former roommate of hers received free birth control from her home state of West Virginia.

When asked if he thought Georgetown’s Catholic identity or its commitment to its students’ sexual health was more important, Bonna said he didn’t necessarily see the two in conflict. Like Keuler, he emphasized personal responsibility.

“I think if someone on this campus wants a condom, they’re going to get one,” he said. “The question, I guess, is whether Georgetown should be responsible for this activity.”

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