The Sex Habits of 784 College Students

From Harvard to the University of Minnesota to San Diego State. Photo: Ann Singer, Boston University, class of 2017

To get a feel for national trends in college sex, we partnered with SurveyMonkey to survey students from diverse backgrounds at a wide range of four-year colleges and universities all over the country — from Harvard to the University of Minnesota to San Diego State. A couple of caveats: The poll was designed by journalists, not social scientists. So on the controversial question of sexual assault, we rather bluntly asked respondents whether they’d been raped, while most public-health surveys instead describe the act of forced sex in a number of different ways and over a series of questions. 

Far more people will say that they’ve experienced rape if you don’t actually ask them to identify as rape survivors, so fewer students said they’ve been raped in our survey than have in recent national campus studies. (However, a high percentage of people in our survey said they know other students who have been sexually assaulted.) Also, despite our best efforts to get an even gender split, more women responded to the poll — it turns out that the difficulty of getting young men to sit still for a survey is a well-known problem.

There were a lot of things that interested us about the findings: College women, as a group, have a significant fear of sexual coercion; men, by contrast, overwhelmingly fear rejection — and are approximately twice as afraid of poor performance in bed as women are. But the thing that intrigued us most was that for all the narrative dominance of “hookup culture,” the students who replied to our survey were surprisingly sexually conservative.

Analysis by Amelia Thomson-Deveaux

Not interested in taking the poll?

Skip down to the student sex life data ↓

How did your college sex life compare to that of the surveyed students?

  1. Are you male or female?

  2. When did you lose your virginity?

  3. What is a hookup?

  4. If you are not a virgin, how often do you have sex?

  5. Do you think you’re having more sex or less sex than your friends?

  6. How long do you think you need to know someone before you have sex with them?

  7. What is your biggest fear when it comes to dating and sex?

  8. If you are not a virgin, have you ever felt that a sexual partner crossed a line?

  9. Have you ever been in love?

See your results

Your results relative to the surveyed students and other New York Magazine readers are marked in orange.

1.) When did you lose your virginity?

2.) What is a hookup?

3.) How often do you have sex?

College Students NY Mag readers

4.) Do you think you’re having more sex or less sex than your friends?

5.) How long do you think you need to know someone before you have sex with them?

College Students NY Mag readers

6.) What is your biggest fear when it comes to dating and sex?

Men Women

7.) If you're sexually active, have you ever felt that a sexual partner crossed a line?

8.) Have you ever been in love?

College Students NY Mag readers

Student survey responses

Sex

Nearly 40 percent of the students we surveyed said they are virgins. Still, most people thought everyone else was having tons of sex.

Are you sexually active?

How long do you think you need to know someone before you have sex with them?

Nonvirgins Virgins

How do you find sex partners?

Through friends 53%
Class/dorms/extracurriculars 47%
Other 34%
Bars/parties 21%
Online 14%

Do you use dating apps?

Women

17%

Men

27%

How many sex partners do you think you should have before marriage?

Women Men

Risk

Not surprisingly, more women than men report that a sexual partner has crossed the line, but almost as many men as women know someone who has been raped.

Do you use birth control?

86% Yes
Condoms 49%
Pill 45%
Other 12%
IUD 8%

Have you been raped?

Yes

Women

12%

Men

4%

Do you know someone who has been raped?

Yes

Women

54%

Men

45%

Do you think your school does a good job of handling rape reporting?

Yes

Women

62%

Men

80%

How much do you typically drink on a night out?

Freshman/Sophomore Junior/Senior

Love

Relationships are not dead: 69 percent of respondents said they have had one that lasted longer than a year. And almost everyone plans to get married someday.

What’s the longest relationship you’ve had?

Nonvirgins

1%

Under a month

12%

2 to 6 months

14%

6 months to a year

69%

Longer than a year

4%

Never been in a relationship

Virgins

6%

Under a month

14%

2 to 6 months

9%

6 months to a year

19%

Longer than a year

52%

Never been in a relationship

What does a “date” mean to you?

Dinner 21%
Sex 1%
Any one-on-one encounter with romantic potential 71%
Other 7%

Do you think you’ll get married someday?

Yes

91%

No

9%
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*This article appears in the October 19, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.