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Sex and the Single Woman

The woman approached these sexual encounters for themselves, not as a precursor to marriage, or even relationships. Grownup alert: That's just the way sex on campus often is.
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"Sex and the Single Girl," of course, is the name of a 1962 best seller by Helen Gurley Brown. If that book sounds very modern, it's because you misunderstand the title and the time. Brown simply said that women were allowed to have sex, even before they were -- or if they weren't -- married. Although it appears dated today, it took some bravery on the part of a strong woman to write such a book in the early 1960s.

Dial forward 50 years. There are websites describing sexual activity from women's standpoint -- like Jezebel. In other words, women display an independent interest in sex. Huh, wasn't there a century or two when science said that was impossible? Indeed, as revealed by the new bestseller, "Sex at Dawn" by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, there persists an industry (called Evolutionary Psychology) that erroneously reads prehistory and primate behavior to claim that women are genetically predisposed to monogamy and marriage rather than to enjoying sex.

Meanwhile, some recent discoveries further expose that sex has entered a new era. Take, dare I utter the words, anal sex. You can't donate blood if you've had anal sex. In public health surveys, having anal sex puts a respondent instantly into the high-risk category.

However, according to the 2010 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (from Indiana University's Center for Sexual Health Promotion), compared with a 1992 survey, "more men and women have engaged in oral sex and a significantly greater proportion have engaged in anal sex. The larger proportions of those who had engaged in anal sex were not limited to the youngest cohorts." However, the study noted, a fifth of 18- to 19-year-old females have had anal intercourse.

It would seem that public health surveys will need to be more discriminating in categorizing high risk subjects, or else they will have lots of normal young people -- and others -- on their hands.

And, then, there is the Duke coed who recorded her exploits with a dozen or so athletes, in a sometimes explicit, but really rather clinical, mock research paper. As always, what is most important is not the document itself, but how people respond to it. There are two narratives about the reaction to the "report" on campus. One is that Duke students are deeply embarrassed; the other says that students' reaction is ho-hum.

The "how embarrassing" reaction is the mainstream one (for example, see how "The Today Show" handles it, with Vieira Meredith introducing the report like she was speaking about a mine disaster). Of course, the woman (who has graduated Duke) has expressed regret. But by what standard are 13 sexual partners in a college career regrettable? Actually, although the report is supposed to be a "mockumentary," it is really an in-depth exploration of intimacy and sexual fun. The woman, for instance, finds her best sexual encounter involved a nonstop evening-morning session where the man complimented her, was verbal throughout the encounter and -- what brought her the most intense stimulation -- maintained eye contact throughout. (She did rate penis size -- "equipment" -- as good too.)

The main aspect of the report worth noting is that the woman approached these sexual encounters for themselves, not as a precursor to marriage, or even relationships. Grownup alert: That's just the way sex on campus often is. (This post is directed to Americans; in much of Europe people already know these things about youthful sex.)

Nonetheless, despite her frankness and her direct approach to sex, the woman's insecurities occasionally do surface in her "report." And, she seemed to need alcohol to fuel her sexploits. But her regret is especially real now that American blue noses have gotten a hold of her experience.