The Campus as a Sexual Arena
On the cover of Glamour magazine's February 2006 issue is 21-year-old pop singer/actress and “America's Next Sweetheart,” Mandy Moore. Among the cover stories in this issue is a feature entitled “Are you normal about sex? Intimate details on what everyone's doing.” Popular-culture sources, like this one, are one of the ways by which young people get information about sex and relationships. Like most men and women, college students want to know what is “normal,” because understanding the norms for their peer group helps them to navigate their own sexual lives.1 College students' perceptions of what their peers are doing sexually are shaped, in part, by the messages they receive through pop culture, but perhaps even more so by peer culture. College students do not have to pick up a magazine or turn on the television to find out what their contemporaries are up to—they can just look around campus. This makes the college campus a sexual arena.
Some of the students I interviewed, like Adrienne, a senior at Faith University, keenly felt a sense of watching and being watched and talking and being talked about in the campus sexual arena.
Adrienne: Yeah, definitely [I have] a complex about looks around
here [on campus]. There's a saying that [Faith University]
gives out more eating disorders than diplomas.… when I
came here for open house, I was like: “Oh [this is a] laid-back
kind of campus.” The girls are like dressing in Gap or Old
Navy or something like that. And then I came here [to start
freshman year] and I was like: “Oh my God it's like all the
girls are dressed up, done up, all the time.” [I] never felt like
you could wear sweatpants to class. The girls were “on” like
24/7 and it made me very self-conscious.
KB: Why do you think the girls are dressed like that and why are
they “on” all the time?