Love (well, sex) in the time of Covid

This article is an excerpt from a new one Chronicle special report “Reshaping the Student Experience” available at the Kroonika store.

Ameya Okamoto happily admits that she returned to the Tufts University campus in the fall of 2020 for a man.

When Tufts closed due to the pandemic, they had disrupted his freshman year. According to Okamoto, her crush was not ready for a relationship at the time. But in August of her sophomore year, they started talking again, and soon they were both back on campus and dating.

Reality on campus — Tufts reduced the density of dormitories and limited access to visitors and group interaction – was quite different from the pre-pandemic days. Okamoto got into trouble for violating Covid protocols after sneaking into her boyfriend’s dorm room to sleep. (They have since split up.)

Friends also got into trouble for dodging Covid politics. At Tufts and other campuses, the pandemic raised the stakes for joining — students risked exposure to Covid and social shaming or formal discipline. But the alternative – isolation – wasn’t great either.

In his version of The Magnificent Abandonment, visual artist Okamoto went to school at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2021. He and other students say the pandemic has made them more discerning about what they want to become. sex and dating. Okamoto says she’s noticed that more of her peers are in relationships now, and she leans toward being in a relationship rather than being in a relationship.

While the pandemic prompted more intentional conversations about sex and safety, a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling reversed that Roe v. Wade it is expected to lead to much more.

Part of the college experience

The sex and dating scene may not be the first thing most students consider when choosing a college, but it is an important part of the college experience for many. As Clark Kerr, the first chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, noted at the faculty meeting in 1957: “The chancellor’s job came to be defined as providing faculty with parking, student sex, and alumni athletics.”

The emergence of the pandemic significantly disrupted the sex lives of students as campuses were closed and students returned home. The data confirm that moving home put students at a physical distance from their partners and they had less sex.

So far, most research on sex and relationships during the pandemic has focused on the early stages, making it difficult to quantify how the vaccine might have changed things. Anecdotally, students say they are back to having sex like they used to. But students and researchers note that they are trying to be more thoughtful about the decisions they make about sex, including how and with whom they have it.

When the pandemic broke out, sex took on a new level of risk, as close contact helped spread the coronavirus. Some chose to abstain. Others who were sent home to mom and dad didn’t have much of a choice.

in a study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers collected data from students at Indiana University Bloomington in January and February 2020, before the pandemic began, and in April and May, after colleges closed across the country. In the first survey, 2.6 percent of respondents said they lived at home; in the second, 71 percent said so.

The researchers found that participation in sex decreased significantly between the two phases, and that after the start of the pandemic, sex occurred more often between people in relationships. They also found that 14.5 percent of people in relationships broke up when their campuses closed.

at Duke University study Between fall 2020 and spring 2021, undergraduates and graduate students in North Carolina reported using online platforms for dating and sex more during the pandemic. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they had less likely that they have had more sex partners in the same month than before the pandemic, and 54 percent said they were less likely to have kissed a new partner for the first time.

Digital stalking after a sexual experience online or during a sexual experience is a very big problem that people have come to us with.

While the pandemic may have reduced partner sexual activity among college students early on, it certainly did not eliminate it. Lisa Wade, an assistant professor of sociology at Tulane University, conducted 150 interviews with students at her institution about their pre-vaccine lives during the 2021-2022 academic year. He found that students living in dorms continued to socialize, but were more likely to interact with people in their dorms.

Students living on campus had a different experience, Wade says. They largely used dating apps to meet sex partners and tried to limit their list to other Tulane students. “They knew that other Tulane students were being tested frequently as well,” Wade says. “It seemed safer to them.”

Dating apps that increased during the pandemic, have presented their own safety concerns. Claire Moberg, a rising senior at George Washington University and co-president of the group GW Students Against Sexual Assault, says increased use of digital tools such as dating apps, social media, pornography and texting puts students at greater risk of dangerous situations online, including retaliation or sexual harassment.

“Our phones have a lot of power,” says Moberg. “Digital stalking after a sexual experience online or during a sexual experience is a really big issue that people have come to us with.”

Paige Amormino, a graduate student at Georgetown University, notes that, Covid or not, meeting strangers on dating apps is always risky. “I didn’t think Covid would add so much more risk to me personally,” he says.

Bacchanals have not happened

Debby Herbenick, a professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health and lead researcher of the study Sex researchers absolutely see that the sexual behavior of partners normalizes before and after the start of the pandemic. “If we’re just looking at rates of sexual behavior, that seems really pre-pandemic to me, because a lot of young people are having sex with partners,” Herbenick says.

But the campus bacchanals that some feared after students were vaccinated never materialized. “I know there was this concern … that all of a sudden all these students who were packed up at their parents’ houses were going to go crazy over spring break when they got back to campus,” says Jonathon Beckmeyer. Associate Professor in the College of Applied Humanities at West Virginia University and Research Fellow at Indiana University. “I don’t think that necessarily happened either.”

In fact, data from the American College Health Association State College Health Assessment shows that the percentage of college students who say they have never had vaginal intercourse actually increased during the pandemic, from 40.2 percent in spring 2020 to 41.7 percent this fall, 43.9 percent in spring 2021 to 49.2 percent this fall. The percentage of students who say they have never had oral sex follows a similar course.

Sarah Van Orman, past president of the American College Health Association and student health officer at the University of Southern California, says the findings follow a decline in youth sexual activity over the past decade. Reason – Is it increased surveillance? porn? Social media? – is unclear.

Abortion rights, a growing concern

It’s too early to tell how the recent decision by the US Supreme Court, which overturned a landmark ruling establishing a constitutional right to abortion, will affect students’ sexual choices.

Women in their 20s accounted for the majority of abortions in 2019 – nearly 57 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts say colleges should adopt more student-parentsRoe, but many institutions are not ready to support them. Students in states where abortion is or will soon be illegal delete theirs period tracking apps in piles, out of concern that prosecutors might subpoena their data. And women have stocked up on abortion pills, emergency contraception, and birth control pills in case birth control rights are lost as well.

Moberg, a student at George Washington, says he and many of his peers were upset by the conversion. Abortion is still legal at all stages of pregnancy in Washington, DC, where GW’s main campus is located, but she finds it frightening that the right is no longer federally protected.

Moberg is from Ohio, where prohibited abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. “Reproductive health certainly has an uncertain future in Ohio,” she says. “It’s just very sad and something we will continue to fight for. It’s not over.”

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