Sex in College: More Than Friends with Benefits

Hooking up rather than having feelings of love and connection.

Posted May 15, 2019

Source: Shutterstock

Humans are hard-wired and programmed to feel intense love during sexual intercourse. Yet, in my work with adolescents and college coeds, I have seen firsthand how young people are disconnecting from the intimate and sensitive feeling they have while having sex by getting drunk and therefore numbing all of their emotions that might engender feelings of love and connection.

Young men are especially encouraged to hook up and not show their feelings by not seeing women when they are sober or not having sex when sober. It also seems many college women are allowing men to dictate the terms of how the relationship will proceed, caving into “Toxic Masculinity.”

Below is a case study of a client named “Gracey” whose experience details the sexual culture we see operating today.

Gracey’s Experience

Gracey is a 19-year-old college co-ed attending a liberal arts school. Gracey was raised in a very sex-positive parenting structure. Her mother, father and brothers always supported her and encouraged that she have relationships based on love and trust. She went to college feeling very good about her body and her sexual needs. When she started college, she found the culture to be different than she expected. No one dated and most sexual encounters occurred while drunk, where there was no texting each other the next day. Even though she wanted to have sex and it was consensual, she rarely had an orgasm or experienced real pleasure.

On her birthday, she ran into a guy she thought very attractive. They were drinking that night, had sex and because of their “good chemistry,” she had an orgasm. She woke up happy and wanting to spend time with him in bed but felt the pressure to leave the room and avoid being needy. When he didn’t text her the next day, she was upset but not surprised. She wondered how she lost control, and why she was afraid to reach out to him for fear of feeling crazy or overbearing in this hook up culture.

Gracey felt sad. It was so rare for anyone in her college to have a boyfriend or to feel that the sexual encounters they were having were sexually pleasurable and fulfilling.

We spoke about how even if she can’t change other people’s behavior, she can change her own and that she might consider bringing a guy back to her room and saying, “Hey, you know I want you sexually, but let’s take a break here and meet again when we’re sober.” And that if she does decide to have sex, to reach out to the person the next day and say, “Hi, I really enjoyed what happened last night.” If they don’t write back, add: “You know, you really hurt me that you didn’t write back after we shared that moment together.”

We discussed that if he gossips about her, it’s okay because she was just being true to herself and this is what mattered. If the person she had sex with thinks she is crazy for expressing emotions, then let them.

In the 1960’s, the feminist movement of sexual liberation was about empowering women to feel connected and to have sex when they want, on their own terms. There is almost a feeling of going backwards and away from these ideas, as expressed by Gracey and many other college coeds.

Again, we are hard-wired and programmed to feel intense love during sexual intercourse and overriding that natural impulse requires effort — through alcohol or cultural messaging about: “friends with benefits” and “not wanting to get attached.”

So how can we encourage our college coeds to reconnect with their true natures?

We can start by realizing and accepting that a sexual partner may be temporary, but it can be temporary and also kind, loving and connected — they don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

Here are some helpful guidelines for Basic Sexual Etiquette for College Coeds:

1. SEX WILL NEVER BE FULFILLING WHEN DRUNK. Wait a bit to sober up — talk, hang out, quit the alcohol and then you can really experience the fun and joy in sex.      

2. COMMUNICATE!. Make sure to ask your partner what he or she likes sexually — don’t be afraid of pillow talk!

3. EVEN IF IT'S NOT FOREVER, IT'S OK TO LOVE IN THE MOMENT. Compliment your partner, tell them what you like about the way they smell, feel and look. Not only is it kind, but it will turn your partner on and make the experience better.

4. CALL YOUR PARTNER THE NEXT DAY. Even if it’s to say that you don’t think you can be in a relationship, but you wanted them to know how much you enjoyed the evening. This will avoid hard feelings on both ends.

Watch my video for more on this subject and follow me on Instagram @shamelesspsychiatrist

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