• U.S.

Students: Little Sex Without Love

3 minute read

College students talk brashly about sex; a commonplace crusade these days is for the sale of contraceptives in campus stores. But students practice sexual intercourse in about the same proportions as they have ever since the ’20s, insists a respected researcher at Stanford University. Nevitt Sanford, professor of education and psychology, thinks that the news about campus sex lies in the way today’s coed is groping for a more rational moral code and is less a pushover than her predecessors.

Sanford believes that somewhere between 20% and 30% of college women are not virgins by the time they graduate. Among these, only 2% or 3% engage in intercourse with no thought of committing themselves to a durable attachment to their partner and can thus be considered promiscuous.

A Love Relationship. For his statistics, Sanford accepts such questionnaire-based studies as Katherine B. Davis’ Factors in the Sex Life of 2,200 Women (1929) and Dorothy Bromley and Florence Britten’s Youth and Sex (1938) for the earlier periods, and Kinsey’s interview-based statistics on sexual practices through the late ’40s. As for the present, Sanford and a team of researchers from Stanford interviewed girls at an Eastern women’s college, a Western public university and a Western private university. At each, the team followed a random sample of women through their full four years, quizzed them four or five times a year. Insists Sanford: “We got to know them as well as our own daughters—or better. We are reasonably certain we have been told the truth.”

More interesting to Sanford than the relative stability of the rates was the contrast in attitudes. In the earlier period, says Sanford, “college girls who engaged in premarital intercourse were often submissive, somewhat masochistic people who could be seduced because they felt that they had little else to offer.” But today, he claims, “the great majority of college students are much concerned to make their sexual behavior an integrated part of a love relationship,” and they act “with their eyes open.” Restraint does not necessarily signify a conviction that sexual activity is wrong.

A Healthy Trend. Sanford considers the stress on love a healthy trend, not basically different from “the ancient Christian idea.” In modern terms, he suggests, the emerging ethic could well rest upon whether sexual activity develops or inhibits the individual personality—and that judgment must always take into consideration the generally accepted social attitudes toward sex. College girls, concludes Sanford, are increasingly conscious of this “and do not have as much difficulty in restraining themselves as is generally believed.”

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