How Casual Sex Became a Privilege of the Rich

07/15/2013 10:17 AM |

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Privilege is everywhere. Privilege is the word of the day. And it’s just the accident of birth that leaves you on the right or the wrong side of privilege. And, really, whether it’s privilege related to class, race, economic status, gender, looks, or even intelligence, there is a right or a wrong side. If you don’t believe it, think to yourself about whether or not you’d feel afraid of walking home after going to buy some Skittles because you might be shot through the heart. That’s the world we live in right now, where the ability to walk in your own neighborhood without fearing assault is a privilege. And, you know, fuck that. Fuck that, but don’t deny what the reality is. There are people who are born into power, and there are people who have to fight for it, every step of the way.

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But so, sex. This past weekend, the New York Times ran an article addressing the stunning new revelation that college girls like to have sex. Which, ha ha, New York Times. Pretty funny to publish a seven-page article on the topic of women’s bodies and sexuality which deals with, among other things, date rape and sexual violence and put it in the Fashion & Styles section. I guess everything having to do with women is just automatically shunted into Fashion? Cool. Good to know.

Within the scope of the article, however, was something that was far more notable than the young woman who sees sex as something with a concrete “cost-benefit” ratio or the fact that there is apparently a thing now called “difmo” or “dance floor make-out.” I guess what I’m trying to say is, alarming as the acronym “difmo” is (which, VERY alarming), there was actually an interesting element to the piece that isn’t even worth mocking. At one point in the article, which concerns the sexual proclivities of female undergrads at the University of Pennsylvania, author Kate Taylor, notes that “campuses are not sexual free-for-alls” and speaks with “Mercedes, a junior at Penn who is on financial aid.” Mercedes comes from a “mostly Latino public high school in California” where she says “it was the troubled and unmotivated students who drank and hooked up, while the honors students who wanted to go to college kept away from those things.” Now at Penn, Mercedes “was surprised to see her elite classmates drinking, but even more surprised by the casual making out.” Taylor further illuminates that “[Mercedes’s} unease was common among students from relatively modest backgrounds…women from wealthier backgrounds were much more likely to hook up, more interested in postponing adult responsibilities and warier of serious romantic commitment than their less-affluent classmates.”

So this is interesting, right? What reason does Taylor give for there being such a disparity between the wealthier students and those who are less economically privileged? Well, she doesn’t really give any. Instead she allows Mercedes to claim, “Nothing is stopping me from rebelling. I just didn’t rebel.” And then Taylor moves on. But wait. Not to take anything away from Mercedes and the choice she has made, but, well, it isn’t really much of a choice when you come from an economically disadvantaged background, is it? When Mercedes recalls that it was the “troubled” students at her high school who had the most sex and were frequent partiers, what she’s leaving unmentioned is that those students are seen as troubled because they very publicly pay the consequences of casual sex, namely, they get pregnant and don’t have the same types of options afforded to them that their wealthier, better connected peers do.

7 Comment

  • “it was the troubled and unmotivated students who drank and hooked up, while the honors students who wanted to go to college kept away from those things.” Now at Penn, Mercedes “was surprised to see her elite classmates drinking, but even more surprised by the casual making out.”

    Seriously? Has Mercedes ever watched Animal House, Old School or Van WIlder? Honors students in high school live at home, are watched over carefully by their parents and have little access to drugs or alcohol. In college the playing field is leveled out.

    From the perspective of a college student at a private school with immense socio-economic diversity, there seems to be little difference between sexual activity of rich and poor students. Just because CollegeACB etc.brings the sex lives of sorority girls (who tend to be rich) to the forefront of the internet, doesn’t mean that others aren’t enjoying a lot of sex. Its a rich white girl thing to get banged by seven different frat guys in a week.

    Your article fails to understand that as much as we all love sex, there are subtleties to its use. More is not necessarily better. Consuming Plan B and getting abortions left and right might be something rich people can afford financially, but ultimately nobody wants to live that sort of life.

    Most college students have easy access to cheap or free birth control, its not about how much money you have, its about being careful and understanding the consequences of all your actions.

  • All I can say to that is Mercedes’ comments are based on her real life experience, while your are based on movies like Animal House.

  • Ummm… As a “less privileged” student I partied less because I had less TIME to party. I had to work 30 hours a week so I could afford to go to school and live. I was always able to afford the $30 per month for birth control but didn’t party as much as much as other students because working and partying were AT&T odds due to time available. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in this.

  • Folks, the article has two parts. The important stuff is in the 2nd part.

  • *Disclaimer: this is just my opinion and my reflections solely stem from my own personal experiences.*

    Thank you for this article. I agree with the individual above, that having access doesn’t directly imply that utilizing these services is “enjoyable.” However, by utilizing those services, I argue that the “enjoyment” factor is obsolete — by consuming it and constantly seeking it out, they are services that are expected and ultimately vital to sustain their casual hookups.

    Additionally, there is a major difference between witnessing partying/hookup culture via the media versus actually engaging in this lifestyle. Just because you are in college does not mean there is an even playing field — in fact, the only time this may be leveled is when you are sitting at graduation with your fellow classmates — y’all will have a degree from the same institution.

    As a low-income, first generation male student of color at a “prestigious” university, I would absolutely characterize my HS mindset with that of Mercedes — however, I solely withheld from this culture in HS to ensure I would actually make it to college (like she echoes). Once in college, I planned on fully engaging in this lifestyle — despite my low-income status, I did in fact join a fraternity and enjoyed it immensely. I bring this up, because adding another layer of “equalization” (me in a fraternity with high-income students at the same University), my college experience dramatically differed from 99% (the one of other male on financial aid out of 65 guys) of my fraternity brothers across a myriad of factors. I held a part-time job (30 hours, not work study) every semester of college, maintained internships in 4 semesters (to build my own networking prospects since I didn’t inherit contacts via family name like my brothers), and actually paid my entire fraternity costs. Despite these additional barriers, I fully enjoyed my experience and was one of the few graduating seniors who earned a professional career opportunity aligned with their studies (I find this important considering the landscape of our economy and the struggles college graduates have).

    I mention this because of those individuals who did not get hired, because of their privileged socio-economic means, this was not catastrophic or remotely concerning. In fact, having graduated in 2011, only a handful of actually have a job to this day (many still live in our college town and party at least 5x a week). If you have the privilege to be supported by your family financially, can return home to your family post-college, or the freedom of mind to not worry about being unemployed (if I wasn’t hired, I’d be on the streets because my family simply cannot support me with 3 younger siblings), this reinforces why I highly applaud this article because there are many underlying factors that may have contributed more to Mercedes’ thought process than just “only students in my HS not on a college-bound trajectory, engage in such behavior.”

    Lastly, in response to the comment above, citing CollegeACB is just hilarious and ludicrous. I don’t believe the author has ever made the point that there aren’t low-income students who fully engage (and just love) the partying/hookup culture (i.e. others girls may love to be “banged” by many men-it’s not just a rich, white sororistute thing to do), it ultimately surrounds if one does get pregnant, an STD, or any other unplanned/unwanted consequence, there are very different options and reactions to such given one’s socio-economic means.

  • No, I don’t think this all boils down to who has enough money to risk pregnancy.

    We won’t get into the details, but it’s not actually that easy to get pregnant–especially if you’re trying to avoid it. Do accidental pregnancies happen? Absolutely. But the idea that Ivy League college students who “hook up” a few times a year, only a portion of which involve sex, are going through many pregnancy scares is unrealistic.

    And the idea that there are students at Penn who can’t afford $50 to not change the course of their life is absurd. How poor and mal-connected do you think these people are? If they are at Penn they are either spending/borrowing/being affording sufficient money that fifty bucks for something as life-changing as pregnancy is within reach.

    Interesting perspective, though.