Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitties give low-down on ‘hooking up’

Students across campus have spent the last month sharing intimate details about their sex lives, not with their best friends, but with the sociology department: all anonymously, of course, and for a constructive purpose. Alumna Paula England, who graduated from Whitman in 1971 and is now a sociology professor at Stanford University, created the survey, entitled “Hooking Up,” as a means of determining patterns of sexual activity in college students across the country. Whitties give low-down on

“I had never heard of a ‘hook up’ until 2002 when a student appeared in my office asking if he could write an honors thesis about why students don’t go on dates much anymore,” said England in an e-mail. “I said, ‘They don’t?’…What intrigued me was the social change in norms about sexuality and how it might link to increasing age at marriage, more women planning graduate school and careers and other larger social forces.  I’m interested also in why some things haven’t changed so much: like the double standard where women seemed to get judged more harshly for being ‘easy’ than guys.”

Why Whitman? England started by distributing the survey to bigger universities but is now looking to incorporate different types of collegiate experiences. “Exactly the same survey is being administered at each school: just changing the college name in the appropriate place,” said England. “This way I can compare between schools on how the same question was answered. While there are some differences, pretty much the same ‘scene’ is taking place at most colleges and universities in my sample.”

Sociology Professor Michelle Janning has agreed to help England by distributing her survey to Whitman students by e-mail.
“I am helping her distribute the survey that she has written in an attempt to make more complete the descriptions she has of hooking up on college campuses. Also, it is just a fascinating subject,” said Janning.

Janning said the survey was relevant to classes she teaches, like Sociology 257: Sociology of the Family and Sociology 258: Gender and Society.

“This topic was just intrinsically interesting from a research point of view. … In my classes students are often doing research projects where they do surveys: just of each other: and I would say by far the most popular research topic among students… is dating, relationships and sex. I think it extends into a part of students’ lives that professors don’t necessarily know about, nor do they necessarily want to know about, but that certainly affect their entire experience at Whitman,” said Janning.
The survey includes questions like, “What is your sexual orientation?” “How many people have you asked out on dates since starting college (not counting fraternity, sorority, dorm events, or people you were already in a relationship with)?” “How many people have you hooked up with whom you didn’t know before that night?” and “Would you say that you have ever been in love with someone?”

“It would be problematic to ignore the non-academic components of students’ lives when we look at what they think about Whitman and what they will remember about Whitman when they graduate,” said Janning. “I suppose it is safe to say that one of the things we who have graduated from college remember is people we have dated, or people we didn’t date that we were interested in. And, as trivial as it may sound, dating and hooking up are still important parts of the big picture of what it means to be a college student.”

Student reactions to the survey have varied.

“Well, it was kind of funny because I was watching my friends take the test yesterday, I don’t know if I would have wanted to take it in front of other people,” said Kendra Johnson, whose name has been changed to respect her privacy. “A lot of the questions were stuff you don’t normally talk about…I kind of felt like a slut when I was taking the test.”

Sophomore Lisa Mattson said, “I felt exposed… a lot of things can’t be categorized.”

England is coupling the online survey with in-depth qualitative interviews, all of which are being conducted at Stanford University, with the exception of several Whitman students with whom England spoke last spring while she was on campus. “I only got to talk to a few, but it sounded fairly similar to the Stanford social scene,” said England.

England will be writing a series of articles on her findings for publication. “I also sometimes give talks at various universities on this material. I have a great graph showing how much more often men than women have orgasms on hook ups, but how men seem to often think their partners had orgasms when they didn’t on hook ups involving ‘sex.’  Students tend to find this funny.  But it is also telling us something about whose pleasure is prioritized,” said England.

Janning anticipates that she will be doing a presentation at Whitman on the results of the online survey towards the end of the semester.

If you haven’t done so, have your experience represented by taking the online survey, which takes about 15 minutes.  Your name will not be attached to any results. Go to: socialsurvey.stanford.edu/whitman and use “Whitman” as the password.  If you have any questions, contact Professor Janning at [email protected].

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