We interviewed Sex Week speaker Lisa Wade about her work in sexuality and what she’ll be doing at Harvard this March:
What made you decide to participate in Sex Week at Harvard?
I’ve been studying sexuality since I was in college and am always thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to college students about the topic.
What inspired your work in sexuality?
I’ve always been good at thinking and, for some inexplicable reason, good at talking about sexuality. While a lot of people would shy away from these topics, I was always drawn to them. I took my first college-level sexuality class during my first year. From then on I was the go-to-girl in the dorm whenever someone had a question about sexuality. I remember counseling a student who was terrified that she’d gotten pregnant… from oral sex. I would pull out my books and give anatomy lessons. I was occasionally the first person that a fellow student would come out to. It was, as you might imagine, incredibly rewarding! So I kept with it.
You’ve done a lot of work with sexuality as it affects college students and teens. What draws you to that type of work?
I think it’s hard for a lot of people to be objective about sex on college campuses. Your parents and many of the other adults around you still want to protect you. And, to be fair, there is a lot to worry about! And while you probably think you’ve got it under control, the typical college student doesn’t have a lot of experience negotiating sexuality. This worry has meant that there is a lot of fearful and panicked writing about “hook up culture.”
This means it’s my turn. Social science helps us observe the social world from a different, less-personally-invested point of view. We’re less interested in you and more interested in how what’s going on with you can teach us things about sexuality and society more generally. And, since social scientists like myself have turned their attention to hook up culture only very recently, there’s a lot of opportunity to learn something new. As an academic, that’s very exciting.
On March 26 you’ll be giving a presentation on hook up culture on college campuses. Do you think the average college student has a healthy attitude towards sex and sexuality?
I do think that the average college student has a healthy attitude towards sex and sexuality. I really do. The problem is that the context in which college students get the opportunity to have sex and explore their sexuality is not so healthy. That’s a pretty tough situation and some of what I’ll be talking about during Sex Week.
How do you see hook-up culture impacting our society?
So far “society” seems to pretty undisturbed by hook up culture. It’s good fodder for articles in news magazine and the occasional talk show segment, but it’s not taking over the world. You may hook up in college, but nearly all you will start “dating” once you graduate and eventually get married and have kids. In other words, even if you seem to have pretty unconventional sexual behaviors in college, the vast majority of you will live rather conventional lives once you leave campus.
What is the biggest misconception that people have about hooking up in college?
The biggest misconception is that everyone likes it that way. Most people think that most other people want casual sex and nothing more. In fact, most students want to have some sort of emotional connection with the person they’re sleeping with; the majority would like to be in a monogamous relationship. But almost everyone thinks that they’re the only person who thinks that… and most people only tell their close friends what they really think. So the pervasive misconception about what everyone else wants continues.
Is it possible to have casual sex in a way that is sexually and emotionally healthy?
Of course! But the word “casual” implies that it should be easy; and it’s not. In a society that is kind of sick about sex, developing a healthy sexuality takes work. And that work is ongoing. So, if one wants to have casual sex in a healthy way, it’s an ongoing job to figure out how to do that.
Likewise, we have this idea that being “friends with benefits” should be easy. But, in fact, having a great friend with benefits takes meeting just the right person and investing your time and energy into that person. All relationships need to be nurtured. Relationships do, friendships do, and friendships with benefits do. The mistake is thinking that relationships are somehow more fraught with emotion than friendships. They’re not; does anyone remember middle school?
Continue Reading →