From Oct. 17 to Oct. 28, the Voice conducted an online survey asking readers about their sexual practices and for their opinions on Georgetown’s Catholic identity and contraception policies.The poll generated 517 responses: 267 from women and 250 from men. It is not intended to be a scientific representation of Georgetown as a whole.
Although the sex lives of Georgetown students have received more national attention than anyone would have liked, the Voice wanted to know more. From Rush Limbaugh calling one of our own a “slut” on national radio to Playboy ranking Georgetown high in sexual satisfaction, onlookers react to Georgetown’s sex culture in highly disparate ways.
The Voice conducted a similar survey in April 2007, which found that 63 percent of respondents were sexually active. Five years later, Hoyas are getting down more often—today, 72 percent of Georgetown students are sexually active, which was defined in the survey as having had sexual intercourse within the past year.
For men, the percentage having sex increased by 10 percentage points—from 67 percent in 2007 to 77 percent now. Women did not see as large an increase; today, 65 percent of female respondents are having sex, up from 59 percent in 2007.
As for the frequency with which students have sex, the trend has been toward moderation. In 2007, 31 percent of respondents reported having sex more than 11 times per month. Now, only 21 percent of respondents report having sex that frequently.
At the same time, 13 percent of students in 2007 reported having sex less than once a month. That number fell to 8 percent in the latest survey. The frequency with which students engage in oral sex remained steady in the five intervening years, with 50 percent reporting having oral sex 1-5 times a month in 2007 and 56 percent in 2012.
A majority of Hoyas—52 percent—believe that Georgetown’s student culture encourages sex. A large portion, 33 percent, neither agreed nor disagreed.
Students also seem to have an uncannily good idea of how many students are sexually active. A plurality of 31 percent thought between 60 and 70 percent of Hoyas have sex, which is true for women, and 22 percent more guessed between 70 and 80 percent, which is true for men.
Across schools, the NHS is the most sexually active, according to the survey, with over 80 percent reporting that they are sexually active. Ranking lowest is the College at 70 percent.
The survey also took a look at Georgetown’s hookup culture. A full 64 percent of Georgetown students report that they are either “often” or “always” in a committed relationship with their sexual partners. Only 11 percent report engaging in exclusively random hookups, although this is a more common phenomenon among men than women. 32 percent of women report “seldom” or “never” having sex with people with whom they are in committed relationships; the figure for men is 40 percent.
Those Hoyas who are in relationships tend to engage in sex more frequently. Of respondents who said they have sex more than 15 times a month, 52 percent reported “always” being in a committed relationship with their partners, as did 60 percent of respondents having sex between 11 and 15 times a month.
Of students who are “never” in relationships, a group which comprised only 11 percent of respondents, 66 percent are having sex one to five times a month, and only 13 percent are having sex more than 15 times a month.
Across the board, 70 percent of respondents said Georgetown’s Catholic and Jesuit identity should not affect its policy on contraception, an increase from 65 percent five years ago. The groups most supportive of Georgetown’s current policy are self-identified Christians. Among Catholics, a lesser number, 57 percent, said the University’s identity should not affect its policy, as did 50 percent of Protestants.
84 percent of respondents said that the Student Health Center should be allowed to prescribe birth control pills for contraception, a figure which is unchanged since 2007. Again, a majority of Catholics and Protestants agreed, but in fewer numbers. 71 percent of Catholics and 75 percent of Protestants said the Student Health Center should be able to prescribe birth control.
At Georgetown, condoms are the most preferred method of contraception, favored by 52 percent of students. The next most popular method was the pill, which 51 percent of female respondents report using. All other methods were far behind in popularity.
More women than men wanted easier access to birth control: 75 percent of women thought Georgetown should offer free condoms, compared to 65 percent of men. The same gap persists on the question of the sale of contraceptives on campus, with 78 percent of men and 89 percent of women responding affirmatively.
Sexually active women were asked where they get hormonal or prescription contraception. By far, the most common response (at 81 percent) was from an off-campus doctor. Planned Parenthood came in second with 7 percent, and only 5 percent used the Student Health Center to prescribe birth control for other reasons.
On the issue of birth control and its Catholic identity, Georgetown has been a target of heavy criticism, both in 1989, for recognizing a pro-Choice group, and in 2012 for Sandra Fluke’s (LAW ‘12) testimony before Congress.
According to the Student Health Center’s website, SHC staff follows the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Ethical and Religious Directives explain the Church’s positions in the increasingly complex and sophisticated field of medicine. According to those directives, “The Catholic health care ministry is rooted in a commitment to promote and defend human dignity; this is the foundation of its concern to respect the sacredness of every human life from the moment of conception until death.”
The ban on contraceptives is made clear later in the document. “The Church cannot approve contraceptive interventions that … have the purpose whether as an end or a means to render procreation impossible.” This is because such interventions violate “the inseparable connection willed by God… between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive and procreative meaning.”
This is the doctrine which guides the University in its decision to ban birth control from the student insurance policy. However, University Assistant Vice President for Communications Stacy Kerr pointed out that students do not have to use the student insurance policy.
“We require all students to provide insurance. We do not require them to have Georgetown’s insurance.” Kerr said in an interview. “To meet the policy requirement, we offer a plan to our students that does not provide contraceptive coverage, which is consistent with our Jesuit and Catholic identity.”
Consistency with that Catholic and Jesuit identity is the reason why H*yas for Choice cannot call itself as “Hoyas for Choice.” In 1989 the group was formed and approved by then-Dean of Student Affairs John DeGioia to have access to the same resources as other student organizations. In an open letter to the community, President Leo O’Donovan, S.J. wrote “I do not believe that this student group poses a threat to Georgetown’s identity as a Catholic institution.”
Although H*yas for Choice was originally permitted to organize officially under grounds of free speech, in April of 1992 the club lost its recognition. “I judge it no longer appropriate to continue to provide access to benefits for the club,” Dean DeGioia wrote.
Today’s H*yas for Choice offers a range of programs aimed at “keeping H*yas safe.” Many students have seen envelopes stuffed with condoms on doors or seen members tabling in Red Square offering prophylactics.
“We also promote petitions, such as one we had last semester, asking President DeGioia to begin covering contraception this fall, as opposed to January. We also hold events almost monthly,” wrote Kelsey Warrick (COL ‘14), president of H*yas for Choice, in an email to the Voice. “Last year, we held an information session about the Affordable Care Act and what it means for students; on Nov. 12, we’re holding an adult sexual education event.”
From the Voice’s survey, 82 percent of respondents said H*yas for Choice should be granted institutional legitimacy. The groups least supportive of HFC were self-identified Christians: Of Catholic respondents, fewer (68 percent) said it should be granted legitimacy, which Protestants matched with 70 percent.
“I’m clearly ecstatic that so many students support H*yas for Choice,” Warrick wrote. “The student body’s approval shows that we’re moving towards a time when people are more open to sex. Being open about sex only promotes safety.”
Not all groups on campus, however, are in favor of abandoning Georgetown’s position on H*yas for Choice and the role of the University’s Catholic identity. The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic service fraternal organization which exists to engage college men to actively live out their faith.
“We believe that Georgetown’s policy should be formed primarily through a Catholic lens. That means Catholic teaching and discipline influence all university activities, while freedom of conscience is respected fully,” wrote Christian Verghese (COL ‘15), the chapter’s Outside Guard, in an email to the Voice. “In essence, everything that goes on in Georgetown’s name should be in accord with its Catholic identity.”
Verghese points to Pope Paul VI’s “Humanae Vitae”, which says every sexual act ought to involve an exclusive bonding and the openness to possibility of generating new human life.
“Hence, given Georgetown’s priority to maintain its Catholic identity and the Church’s teaching on sexuality, we fully agree with Georgetown’s stance for health insurance that does not cover prescription contraceptives for birth control,” Verghese wrote. “Any University affiliate that is allowed to prescribe birth control would be rejecting the Catholic ideals on human sexuality.”
Verghese acknowledges that the views of the Knights are not widely held. But “while the stats clearly show we are in a great minority with these beliefs, we as Knights—defenders of the Catholic faith—believe Georgetown has a clear-cut path for these issues in order to adhere to its mission as a Catholic university.”
Warrick is skeptical that H*yas for Choice will ever become an officially sanctioned group. “The Catholic Church’s views on choice will never change. Without said change, HFC will never be able to function at full capacity as an officially recognized group.” Warrick wrote.
In fact, she worries that any recognized manifestation of H*yas for Choice would be institutionally restrained. Where, now, H*yas for Choice is permitted to distribute condoms, this capacity could be restricted if the University recognized their group. “Becoming a sanctioned group would severely limit our impact on campus,” Warrick wrote.
Although most respondents to the survey support giving H*yas for Choice institutional legitimacy, most students oppose ending the university’s formal ties to the Catholic Church, even though that majority is fairly slim. 53 percent oppose dropping Georgetown’s Catholic identity, 19 percent support the change, and the rest report being unsure.
While Georgetown students recognize the value in attending a Catholic school, few students view that as the overriding feature of Georgetown’s identity. The vast majority—70 percent—say they value the institution’s Jesuit identity, but only 26 percent said that this aspect of Georgetown’s identity was important to their decision to attend.
Georgetown students on the whole respect the Catholic Church, but they do not necessarily agree with its more traditional teachings on marriage, contraception, and sex. The proportion of students who reported engaging in sex equals the percentage that reported valuing Georgetown’s Catholic identity. As the Voice’s survey shows, students are more committed to having sex than to upholding strict Catholic doctrine.