Tuesday, May 17, 2011

College Isn't a Fraternity: Sexual Pressure on College Students

Composition II Final Paper

     Sex has consumed our American society. Nearly every car commercial, beer commercial, or even fast-food commercial capitalizes on sex appeal. A recent Carl's Jr. commercial was advertising its new Char-Broiled Turkey Burger, and in the commercial an attractive woman is shown walking by the side of a pool, first in a stunning dress then stripping down to a bikini. While we see footage of her, a man with a sexy voice narrates:
  • "To help you remember our delicious new char-broiled turkey burger, we hired Miss Turkey. to help you remember Miss Turkey, we put her in a bikini. And to help you remember Miss Turkey's bikini, we had it designed with little tiny pictures of our char-broiled turkey burger."
     In most cases, the average consumer would not mentally connect a turkey burger to any sort of sexual image. However, sex sells, and Carl's Jr. knew that people would remember their product if it were associated with a sexy image. Sexual content has permeated every part of our modern media, creating a culture of people obsessed with sex and often unrealistic expectations. While in college, these social expectations can feel very extreme, with students still learning how to be independent from their peer's opinion and discovering their own self. In this self-discovery, students often cave to the peer pressure to be consumed with sexuality and become sexually active. College students are indeed pressured to engage in sexual activity, and there are several factors contributing to the pressure, including the fact that students thing their peers are having sex more often than they really are, virginity is considered socially awkward, and marriage while still in college is discouraged.

1. It's All About Perspective

     College students think that their peers are frequently having sex with multiple partners, feeling pressure to also have sex, while in reality most college students are not as sexually active as society portrays. this belief is perpetuated by popular movies and television shows in which college is often described as one big frat party with students gallivanting around having sex with new partners every night. An example of this is the popular television series, Greek. First airing in 2007, this ABC Family show is about students that attend the fictional Cyprus-Rhodes University and immerse themselves in the fraternity and sorority life. While these students are supposedly attending college to further their education, the cast spends little time on their studies and instead focuses on parties and nightlife. According to PluggedIn Online, a family-oriented website that reviews television shows, Greek's portrayal of college life includes "...taped sex acts, homosexual kisses, scenes featuring lovers writhing in the sheets, and a slew of double entendres. Sorority sisters parade around in bikinis and other skimpy outfits" (Pluggedin.com). With modern media portraying college as "party central" instead of an academic resource, many college students believe that they're expected to impersonate the college lifestyle that is being modeled to them.

     The problem lies in that college students aren't really having sex as much as the media portrays and society believes. When comparing students' perceived number of how many sexual partners their peers were having to the actual number of sexual partners, the numbers don't add up. According to the 2006 results of American College Health Association's National College Health Assessment's survey of nearly 24,000 college students reveals that while the average female had 1.2 sexual partners in the past year, her perceived number of partners is 3.3, and for men, the average number of sexual partners in one year was 1.6, while the perceived number was 3.1 (ACHA-NCHA). College students are not having as much sex as society assumes, but this survey shows that students feel that their peers are having at least three sexual partners in one year. The perception that their peers are extremely sexually active puts pressure on the college students who aren't sexually active to have sex as well.

2. Against the Perceived Norm

     Because of the belief that all other college students are frequently having sex, the decision to remain a virgin and live outside of the perceived norm creates awkwardness and social tension, which may serve to further pressure students to have sex. Modern media capitalized on this awkwardness in the recent movie The 40 Year Old Virgin, where comedian Steve Carrell plays Andy Stitzer, a middle-aged man that is portrayed as nerdy and awkward because of his virginity (or perhaps he's a virgin because of his awkwardness). Taking notice of their friend's plight, his co-workers make it their goal to help him get laid, taking him to bars and speed dating services. Throughout the course of the movie, the characters make it a point to speak graphically about women and sexual interactions, capitalizing on Andy's inexperience for humor's sake.

     Interactions such as this serve to reinforce the social ides that for an individual to be considered well-developed and normal, they must be sexually active. As a college student, it is common to hear from every corner, "all students are going to have sex, they just need to do it safely," and there even tend to be free condoms available in university clinics. When people interact with college students, it is often assumed that they are sexually active, even to the point that medical officials are required to ask if there's a possibility of pregnancy if the patient is over the age of 18. This stress, while it may seem subtle, whispers to the minds of college students, "all college students are having sex. You're not normal if you're not having sex."

3. Too Young to Commit

     Modern society is discouraging college students to get married while still in college, and the expectation to finish their education before getting married makes it difficult for students to have patience with their current desires. Alexandria A. is currently finishing up her freshman year at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. As Alex finds the balance between studying for finals and working part-time, she also manages to squeeze in spare minutes to plan her upcoming July wedding.Getting married while still in college was a natural decision for Alex and her fiancee to make, and yet while many of their friends and family members are supportive of their decision, not everyone shares in their excitement. Alex's older sister is against her getting married so young, and when she had received news of the engagement, instead of responding with congratulations, she reacted with negativity: "Why get married young when you know you will change so much when you are in college?"

     Unfortunately, this reaction is an all too-common occurrence with college students that desire to commit themselves to marriage before graduation day. This negativity may be a result of people generally getting married at older ages, causing young marriage to be the exception. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1965 the average marrying age for a woman was 20.6, and the average age for men was 22.8. In just 40 years, however, the average marrying age has risen by nearly five years on both accounts, with the 2005 average marrying age for women resting at 25.3, and the average age for men 27.1, which are the highest average ages for the past 100 years ("Estimated Median Age..."). If a freshmen in college wanted to commit to their significant other, society claims they should wait at least four more years before they would be considered marrying age. Four years is a long time to wait, so college students often cave to physical and societal pressure, having sex with their other while still enrolled in college.


     We see that college students are indeed pressured to engage in sexual activity, and whether or not they cave to this pressure, society looks on them with expectation. Students often think their peers are having sex more often than they really are, feeling that they must have sex to be considered "normal," and virginity is considered socially awkward, swaying from the perceived norm. In addition, marriage while still in college is discouraged because students are considered too young for that commitment while still in college. The combination of these pressures, as well as others, is contributing to the decision for college students to begin having sex.

Works Cited:
  • American College Health Association. American college Health Asssociation - National College Health Assessment (ACHA - NCHA) Web Summary. Updated August 2007.
  • "Estimated Median Age at First Marriage, by Sex: 1890 to the Present." U.S. Census Bureau. September 21, 2006. Web. May 1, 2011.
  • Greek. ABC Family. July 9, 2007 - March 7, 2011. Television.
  • Miss Turkey. Carl's Jr. Commercial. Television. April 7, 2011
  • PluggedIn Online. TV Reviews: Greek. Web. May 9, 2011.
  • The 40 Year Old Virgin. Dir. Judd Apatow. Perf. Steve Carrell. Universal Pictures, 2005. Film.

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