Two years ago, Beth Bailey, a foundation distinguished professor in the department of history, asked students in her “Youth, Sex, and Romance in Post-WWII United States” class to create a guidebook for incoming Jayhawks.
The guides included ideas about what bars to go to for certain interactions and how to act the morning after, Bailey recalled.
The next year when she assigned the same task, Bailey says the guides were much different. They primarily included information about campus resources for sexual health, safety and consent.
Bailey says she isn't sure why there was such a change in the guides from one year to the next. It could have just been the different groups of students, or perhaps the changes in discussions about consent.
A recent Columbia University study suggests that there should be a closer link between the way students practice consent and legislation that aims to promote affirmative consent. Finding the balance between celebrating positive sexual experiences and having conversations about negative sexual experiences can be a challenge, Bailey says.
“How do we promote a positive sexuality — for those who wish to be sexual — [and] how do we promote a sense of openness to the variety of decisions or situations or positions of people, while at the same time insisting on consent, insisting on people being very aware of the potential perils, whether it be, you know, sexually transmitted diseases or whether it be the possibility of nonconsensual sex or rape?” Bailey says. “It’s very hard to figure out how to do it.”
To examine what sexuality looks like at the University and open the conversation about positive, consensual sexual experiences, we spoke to three experts to discuss sexual culture on campus and how it has changed over time.
Beth Bailey, foundation distinguished professor in the department of history
In her 1999 book, “Sex in the Heartland,” Bailey examined the sexual revolution in Lawrence.
From a historian’s perspective, Bailey says things have changed dramatically from the time period she focused on in her book — 1945 to 1970s — to now.
Then, college students’ goal was to meet someone they would marry, Bailey says.
“It wasn’t so much a period of experimentation, because experimentation could ruin your reputation and make you unmarriageable,” Bailey says. “It was an opportunity to have fun, certainly, and walk that fine line of being sexually attractive and alluring, but not, you know, being seen as easy.”
Women had curfews that were “ferociously enforced” on campus, but over time, they negotiated more freedoms.
“By the early 1960s there were so many complicated rules and exceptions that applied in this case and not that case, and to this year and not that year, that it was virtually impossible for anybody to keep track of without constantly consulting their guide book,” Bailey says.
Bailey says colleges have played different roles in the romantic and sexual experiences of youth over time. But disagreements about acceptable behavior and controls were more nuanced than one group of people wanting freedom and another group of people trying to control them.
Not all women on campus, for example, were pushing for more freedom.
“There was a push from some levels of administration to give more freedom, and a lot of the young women in sororities pushed back and said ‘no this will ruin our reputations, people will think we’re easy, we’re loose,’’’ Bailey says.
But Bailey says it was a time of amazing moments, too, when people proclaimed the right to make their own decisions about sexuality.
“During the period I was writing about, a lot of people rejected the notion that women’s value was directly tied to her sexual virtue, and that sex was valuable because it was scarce, and said sex is an amazing thing that we as humans do and that it isn’t scarce and that we should celebrate it," Bailey says.
She sees similarities between dating during the time period she looked at in her book and today. She says traditional models of heterosexual dating were rejected for a while, but have made a comeback along with some changes.
“There’s more of a sense again that men are — in heterosexual dating — supposed to pay,” Bailey says. “That men are supposed to take the initiative, that women are supposed to be courted. Which coincides quite freely with people hooking up and Tinder and such. They’re all part of the network.”
Dennis Dailey, professor emeritus in the school of social welfare and sex therapist
If Dennis Dailey had his way, a comprehensive sexuality education class like the one he taught at the University for more than 25 years would be required for all students.
In his class, “Human Sexuality in Everyday Life,” no topic was off limits. The class covered masturbation, knowing your body, gender issues and more.
“Part of that class was to see if we can get rid of the myths, get rid of the biases [and] get rid of the things that get in the way,” Dailey says. “Not talk about how do you prevent a disease, but how do you enjoy it? How do you make it really, really pleasurable — like off the freakin’ graph pleasurable?"
Dailey taught at the University from 1969 to 2008, and offered a sexuality education class in several capacities along the way. He first taught a graduate-level course in the school of social welfare, then the Human Sexuality in Everyday Life course, and a free course at Ecumenical Campus Ministries.
“One of the most common feedback pieces that I got consistently over 25 years is a student comes up to me and says, ‘Holy crap, I should have had this, like, in junior high,’” Dailey says. “'Yeah, you should have had this in junior high, that’s exactly right.’”
Dailey’s class was popular among students, likely because he was showing explicit films and discussing topics that weren’t often talked about, he says. But he also received pushback from the state legislature and Kansas Senator Susan Wagle, who tried to defund the class in 2003.
A number of students receive bad sex education that often focuses primarily on preventing pregnancy and diseases, he said, which is only a small part of what human sexuality is about.
“I have been consistently motivated to teach that class because I’m really pissed that so many kids don’t get sex education,” Dailey says. “And that certain groups like handicapped folks or gender minorities get less. And so it’s been motivated by a deep sense of personal mission.”
He thinks the University does a good job at preparing for students for work, but isn’t as good at preparing students for life outside of work.
“That’s what college is about, it’s taking all kinds of stuff that expands your intellectual, emotional and physical experience of the world.”
Sam Kendrick, graduate teaching assistant and Ph.D. candidate in the women, gender and sexuality studies department
Participating in hookup culture can be a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation, says Sam Kendrick, a graduate teaching assistant and Ph.D. candidate in the women, gender and sexuality studies department.
“If you don’t participate, you’re excluded from this dominant norm or part of, like, your coming of age narrative, like you missed out on this experience,” Kendrick says. “And if you do participate, even if you enjoy it in the moment, there’s still that limit to how much it can mean to you.”
Kendrick previously conducted research on pop culture representations of casual sex in film and media, which overlapped with hookup culture. Her research included the way performances of sexuality and hookup culture as a dominant norm affects students’ college experience.
“I think hookup culture is something that is talked about exclusively on college campuses and I think it’s also something talked about exclusively in terms of whiteness and middle class individuals, but I don’t think that’s everybody’s experience,” she says. “And so I think that it's one of those things that we don’t really know how people are having sex and I think that we pretend like we do.”
While society often equates casual sex with meaningless sex, the two are not mutually exclusive, Kendrick says.
“You can have a really meaningful casual sexual experience,” Kendrick says. “The meaning might be something different than what we typically think of. It might mean that you experience a lot of pleasure for yourself and you just needed that. It might mean that you enjoy this connection with a person, you might end up enjoying the experience. And those things can have meaning for college students.”
Kendrick is now researching the way that hookup culture influences the behavior of millennials after college. For that research, Kendrick has interviewed millennials across the United States. Her research has not yet been published.
Kendrick says a number of the individuals she talked to said they hoped to connect with someone, but that they weren’t making the connection. Kendrick says she doesn’t think that’s because of casual sex itself.
“I think people are dissatisfied with casual sex because society and dominant norms say that casual sex is meaningless.”
Now that the dialogue has started, Chalk wants to hear from you. If you have a minute, and would like to share an experience or thought about sexuality on campus, consider filling out this form. Your responses will be considered for publication in a future article.