To get a feel for national trends in college sex, we partnered with SurveyMonkey to survey students from diverse backgrounds at a wide range of four-year colleges and universities all over the country — from Harvard to the University of Minnesota to San Diego State. A couple of caveats: The poll was designed by journalists, not social scientists. So on the controversial question of sexual assault, we rather bluntly asked respondents whether they’d been raped, while most public-health surveys instead describe the act of forced sex in a number of different ways and over a series of questions.
Far more people will say that they’ve experienced rape if you don’t actually ask them to identify as rape survivors, so fewer students said they’ve been raped in our survey than have in recent national campus studies. (However, a high percentage of people in our survey said they know other students who have been sexually assaulted.) Also, despite our best efforts to get an even gender split, more women responded to the poll — it turns out that the difficulty of getting young men to sit still for a survey is a well-known problem.
There were a lot of things that interested us about the findings: College women, as a group, have a significant fear of sexual coercion; men, by contrast, overwhelmingly fear rejection — and are approximately twice as afraid of poor performance in bed as women are. But the thing that intrigued us most was that for all the narrative dominance of “hookup culture,” the students who replied to our survey were surprisingly sexually conservative.
Analysis by Amelia Thomson-Deveaux
*This article appears in the October 19, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.