“Do you feel you are a skilled lover?” This may seem like a strange question to ask in a college newspaper poll, but that’s exactly what showed up in a survey conducted by the Record in December 1976. Charting the sexual tendencies of students on campus, the survey also gauged alcohol and marijuana consumption as well as student views pertaining to contemporary national issues. This week, the Record polled roughly 700 randomly selected students – 432 of whom responded – in a similar survey, but limited the focus to student sexual relationships.
Among other things, the results reveal that a greater percentage of current Williams students are having sex than students were in 1977. However, it is more difficult to assess how this percentage compares with national numbers, as recent surveys on collegiate virginity have yielded drastically different data.
In 1976, survey results showed that 32 percent of Williams males had not had sex, while 40 percent of females were virgins. At just over 41 percent, the proportion of female virgins is largely the same today. However, only 24 percent of males who filled out the survey this week classified themselves as virgins. In total, 33.5 percent of polled Williams students have not had sex.
According to some sources, these percentages are significantly lower than national averages. One article published in 2007, linking sex to intelligence, claimed that 87 percent of American college students have had sex. This number may be too high, however. In a 2000 Zogby poll, 40 percent of students nationwide reported that they were not “sexually active.” And although this number does not preclude the possibility of having had sex at one time, other colleges are far below the 87 percent mark.
For instance, a 2001 sex survey by the joint MIT/Wellesley college magazine Counterpoint found that only 59 percent of Harvard undergraduates have had sex. At Princeton, 56 percent of undergraduates are non-virgins, while only 51 percent of MIT students have had intercourse.
What the administration – and indeed many others – perceive as a “pervasive hook-up culture” at the College today, according to Dean Merrill, is, in some respects, less promiscuous than it was in 1976. Although the survey reveals that a higher percentage of current Williams students have had sex, a lower proportion of those students have had multiple sexual partners, in comparison to non-virgin students 32 years ago. Twenty percent of current Williams females and 20 percent of males have had six or more sexual partners in their lives. In 1976, however, 17 percent of women and 33 percent of men at the College had had six or more partners.
These numbers are all subject to statistical skepticism, however. Richard De Veaux, professor of statistics, said that a 5 percent margin of error can be expected for questions regarding virginity and relationship status.
Amongst current Williams students, the percentage of non-virgins varies significantly across class year. Students in the Class of 2008 are mostly likely to have had intercourse, with over 82 percent being non-virgins. Over 74 percent of current juniors are non-virgins, while 60 percent of sophomores polled have had sex. First-years have the lowest proportion of non-virgins, as just over half of the polled class has had intercourse. Although in total 42 percent of polled students said they were involved with someone else, the existence of romantic relationships also varies across class year. Almost 59 percent of seniors and over 50 percent of juniors are currently in a relationship. The figures drop significantly for the two younger classes. Thirty-four percent of sophomores and roughly 28 percent of first-years are involved in relationships.
There is also slight variation in relationship status between males and females. Over 44 percent of all males polled said that they were in a relationship, while roughly 40 percent of women reported to being romantically involved with someone else.
Those who are currently in relationships are much more likely to have had sex. Only about 10 percent of males in a relationship are virgins. Fourteen percent of females who are romantically involved have not had sex.
The survey also revealed that the vast majority of the student body classifies itself as heterosexual, consistent with national averages. Almost 93 percent said that they were straight, while just under two percent is either gay or lesbian. 2.5 percent identifies as bisexual and 2.8 percent classifies its sexual orientation as other.