A recent survey by the Boar regarding the sexual experiences of 835 Warwick students found that two out of five people have not had sex before coming to university. But if you walked into a game of ‘Never Have I Ever’ during your first week here, you would have never guessed how significant this demographic is.
The game of ‘Never Have I Ever’, amongst others of a similar fashion, is aimed at socialising and getting to know people. Yet it can often revolve solely around how sexually active each person in the room is. The premise of the game is simple: drink if you’ve had a similar experience to the person speaking, or stay quiet if you haven’t. While these instructions may not seem terrifying on paper, they can be daunting to those who are new to the talking-about-sex phenomenon that characterises university socials.
Something as universal and central to the experience of young people as sex can work to bridge gaps.
Freshers’ week can be one of the best weeks of your life as it allows you to meet lots of new people, whilst also feeling truly independent for the first time. It is a shame therefore that for many the experience is tarnished by the anxiety induced by sex-focused drinking games and conversations.
The tendency to talk about sex is partly understandable. When you mix together a bunch of 18-year-olds with an eclectic range of interests, walks of life, and political opinions, something as universal and central to the experience of young people as sex (whether we’ve had it or not, we all think about it) can work to bring people closer together and bridge gaps.
If you come from a background that leaves these conversations behind closed doors, then the ability to talk about it freely can be liberating.
This openness about an often-taboo topic can also have other benefits. If you come from a background that tends to leave these conversations behind closed doors, then the ability to talk about it freely with others can be liberating. For girls especially, whose sexuality is frequently still repressed due to cultural stigmas, the experience can be a formative one. One Warwick student, who chose to remain anonymous, commented that for her, “being able to discuss my sexuality unashamedly finally gave me the reassurance that I was not any less normal for being a girl who thought about sex and wanted to have sex. At school conversations about sex omitted female sexual desire and sex was understood as something enacted by boys upon girls”.
Furthermore, if university is your first time living away from home, then the idea of having sex without a parent in close vicinity can be exciting. Talking about it during the first few weeks of term may help you readjust to this newfound independence.
It may even be considered a bonding experience with your new flatmates; describing your funniest sexual encounters and trading stories and fist-bumps in order to cement a friendship. Sarah Morland, a final year English Literature student, remarked that “talking about sex is a good way to break boundaries and freshers’ awkwardness.”
Falling outside the heterosexual norm can lead to overthinking and strategising drinking games such as ‘Never Have I Ever’ .
But there can be a negative underside to it too. The Boar News survey demonstrated that 80% of females and 88% of males at Warwick claim that they are attracted to the opposite gender. Despite this large majority, there are evidently people who don’t identify as heterosexual. How do they experience this need to share sexual experiences? What if they are not ready to come out to a group of people they have only just met?
Falling outside of the heterosexual norm can lead to overthinking and strategising drinking games such as ‘Never Have I Ever’ in order to either subtly indicate your sexuality, or hide it altogether. Unfortunately prejudice and homophobia are still fairly common, and not everyone wishes to risk becoming susceptible to it in their first days of university. For those who are still exploring and discovering their sexuality, drinking games and conversations revolved around sex can put pressure on them to label themselves in a way they are not comfortable doing.
It is great that individuals are unlikely to be shamed for their sexual experiences, but what about their lack thereof?
More pernicious still is the heteronormative nature of these conversations. If we still live in a culture that fails to validate non-heterosexual sex (you’ve only ‘lost your virginity’ if you have experienced penis-in-vagina sex), how can individuals who do not identify as straight register their sexual experiences and navigate games such as ‘Never Have I Ever’?
Furthermore, students who come from a culture which dismisses pre-marital sex may find the centrality of the topic in conversations uncomfortable. It is great that individuals are unlikely to be ashamed for their sexual experiences at university, but what about their lack thereof? In a social context that seems to determine how interesting or fun people are according to how sexually experienced they are, those who find themselves lacking that experience may undergo serious self-esteem issues, or feel unease in social situations.
In the UK, the age of consent is 16, but that does not necessarily mean that it is a rite of passage. In fact, according to the Family Planning Association (FPA), nearly half of young women aged 16 to 24 said they “wished they had waited longer to start having sex”.
Indeed, it does not seem difficult to envision how regrettable decisions may be taken once individuals are made to feel ashamed about their lack of experience. Some may find themselves in situations they are not comfortable with purely to adhere to what they believe to be the norm. Worse still, in their need to fit in, they may pressure others to do things they are not comfortable doing.
Boys are encouraged by things such as ‘pull charts’ in kitchens to pursue girls at whatever cost.
Boys especially are subject to shaming for lacking sexual expertise. ‘Lad culture’ seems to imply that the more girls a boy has ‘pulled’, the more of a man he is. Boys are encouraged by things such as ‘pull charts’ in kitchens to pursue girls at whatever cost—even the dismissal of consent. The argument that we are faced with a ‘rape culture’ is partially based on this—on the knowledge that getting a woman in bed, whatever the means, is seen in our culture as a necessary step to validating your identity as a man.
Talking about sex can be great. But, as Warwick finalist Lauren Hurrell puts it, in the context of games which “turn sex into a game of comparison in which you lose if you haven’t done as much”, it can be damaging and shaming.
Ultimately, sex should not be something that defines you.
Ultimately, sex should not be something that defines you. It can be, but that should be something you decide, not that is decided in the midst of drinking games. We are fortunate to be living in a largely sex-positive society. Though students try to promote this attitude through their drinking games, it can often backfire.We must find a way of talking about sex that is inclusive of everyone.
If you are having any concerns or troubles regarding sexual experiences, or sexual orientation, there are plenty of resources that can help you. Warwick provides counselling sessions face-to-face or through email. Additionally, Nightline is a student-run listening service that is available every night from 9pm to 9am. You can call, email, instant message online or drop-in in person.