I AM A 21 YEAR-OLD MALE, SLIGHTLY PAST HIS PRIME, AND I GUESS I WOULD HAVE TO ADMIT THAT SEX IS VERY MUCH ON MY MIND. . . . IF I STUDIED IN MY CLASSES IN HALF THE TIME THAT I SPEND DAY- DREAMING, FANTASIZING, REMINISCING ABOUT THAT STUFF CALLED SEX, I WOULD UNDOUBTEDLY BE ON THE DEAN'S LIST.--Senior male, anonymous paper, 1986
If friendliness was the first thing I noticed when I began my research in the Rutgers dorms in 1977, then the new college relationships of sex and gender were the second.1 I had also spent a great deal of my time thinking about sex in late adolescence, but I had not lived with persons of the opposite sex during my years in college. Since I had started teaching at Rutgers, I had sometimes wondered what really went on in these new institutions, the coed dorms-- officially undreamed of in the early 1960s, virtually unstudied in the student-life literature almost two decades later.2 Now I was apparently in a position to find out. And yet the finding out was not to prove so easy to do.
An inevitable middle-aged fantasy about the coed dorms was that they were ongoing sex orgies. For here were young women and men, unrelated by blood or other family ties, living side by side at just that time in their lives when, according to American popular psychology, the sex hormones coursed most insistently through their bodies. They were heirs to the second great sexual revolution of the twentieth century, the one that took place in the late 1960s and the early 1970s.3 They had access to modern biotechnologies that effectively divorced sex from pregnancy and child- birth. They were free from the moral supervision of their elders. And, considering the eroticized nature of contemporary American popular culture, they were fish swimming in a sexual sea.4
I thought of anthropological parallels for what American college sexual customs might have become by the late 1970s. The adolescent youths of