The changing rules of student sex (CORRECTED)

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The hothouse world of student sexual mores has never seemed more confusing. Why would a 'sweet, kind' man have sex with a barely conscious woman? Is it standard practice to perform oral sex and stop short of penetration? Would every woman who took the initiative be branded 'Slut of the Year'? Above all, as always: what do women want?

Certainly, the rules of campus sex have changed radically over the past 40 years. In the Fifties, 'fast' girls gradually progressed from kissing to intercourse in stages, vaguely hoping that marriage came at the end. In the Seventies, liberated women had sex every evening to demonstrate how unrepressed they were (although though they didn't have orgasms).

For young women at university today, Aids makes sex potentially more dangerous. Some try to make their partners use condoms; far more delay penetration for days or even weeks into a relationship, so they know they haven't risked their life for a one-night stand.

They have grown up with a different kind of feminism, one which suggested that sleeping around wasn't necessarily liberating. It taught them to be sexually adventurous, but that they could say no at any point in an encounter. And they have come of age in a conservative moral climate, which emphasises 'family values' and attacks single parents.

The rules of the Nineties are well-known on campus. Unfortunately, the outside world - in nightclubs and courtrooms - is still in the dark.



College in Newcastle, Final year

Sex is not really discussed between male and female students, but it's on everybody's mind. I live in a house with six girls and if one of us brings a bloke back, the first question the next day is, 'Did you shag him?'

I feel there is a stigma about having sex on the first night. I've almost always regretted it. People'll think, 'She's easy'. I don't think it's making love; it's a quick shag.

I met my first boyfriend in freshers' week, but I didn't go out with him until a while into term. The first time we went to bed I said no half-way through, and he respected that. I didn't want to jump into bed too quickly, what with my reputation and Aids.

Last summer I met someone, not a student, and made it absolutely clear I didn't want to sleep with him. He gave me a terrible time over it. In the end I walked off. To some extent, I wish he'd forced himself on me. It made it even worse, the way he tried to make me feel there was something wrong with me because I didn't want to have sex.

Yet a lot of women say no and really mean yes. The last man I slept with was a friend from home; I was very drunk and so was he. I actually said 'No', but he said, 'Would you like me to stop?' and I went, 'No, not really'. Men do it as well: 'Ooh, don't do that'. And really they love it] If you mean no, you've got to say 'No]' and push them away. If they carry on then, they're raping you, in my view.

I have done things I regret because I was drunk. I went to see a band in London and saw this sexy bloke dancing down the front. So I got steaming pissed, went back to a party and shagged him. I didn't enjoy it. It was the first one-night stand I'd ever had. I'm really annoyed with myself that I let him.

I think the reporting of the Norwich case was disgusting, the way Radio 1 said she was voted slag of the year at school. That poor girl. So what if she gave him a blow job? No has to mean no. She could have done whatever she wanted to in that room because when it came down to it she said no. He should have respected that. Even if a woman is drunk and flirting, that gives a man no right to rape her.

But she was a bit stupid. If I gave a bloke a blow job and lay in bed with him, I would assume we were going to have sex, and I expect so would he. Men don't know how to read the signs and that seems like a complete come-on.

If I was date raped, unless it was physically abusive, I don't think I'd report it. I think it's disgusting the way women are tried. It's usually just one person's word against the other.

Some women are a bit embarrassed about saying no. So many just go through the motions. If a bloke is coming on, it's not going to impress them if you start saying, 'No, no, no]' I always get embarrassed about what they're going to think of me. Will they think I'm really frigid if I don't sleep with them?

I think half the time women don't even know they've been date raped. If they say no and the bloke carries on, they might think little of it, because men usually take the initiative. In the Norwich case she took the initiative, so he thought she wanted it. That's awful.

I do worry about Aids, but I also feel pressured by students and the media. In films couples meet, have great sex and worry about nothing. Many students think life's like that.



Bristol University, 1953-57

My crowd were into the jazz scene and smoked and drank and went to the cinema. We had a certain mystique. It was a large circle, not exclusively associated with the university: students from the Old Vic theatre school, art students, medical students, architecture students. There were also ex-servicemen in their thirties whose degrees had been interrupted by the war.

We were probably in the minority, but not a tiny minority, like the 'bad girl' at school. People who had one-night stands were felt to be a bit off. There were women at the jazz club of whom we were jealous and said they were 'no better than they ought to be'. I also had friends who were totally virginal and saving it till they got married.

But there was more non-respectable sex going on than was ever acknowledged. In the Fifties social attitudes were still incredibly punitive and negative. You were labelled as being 'fast' - absolute, total condemnation from grown-ups.

Sleeping with someone implied a relationship, so it was never casual sex. If you were having a steady relationship - 'courting' or 'engaged' - it was all right. Although I think some of my boyfriends were sleeping with other people, lying and cheating while I was thinking: 'Should I start my bottom drawer now?' There was always that faint hope that you'd get married and have children - this ludicrous pre-war concept.

Sexual relationships began fairly slowly. You'd meet somebody, go to the pictures, have necking sessions that would get more and more intimate over a period of time. There'd be lots of 'No, you can't possibly do this' until eventually the opportunity was too good to miss.

Some girls kept scores on how far you went: one was just going out, two was having a kiss, three was allowing him to touch your breasts through your jumper, four was allowing him to touch your breasts with your bra on.

By and large, the men did all the running. You could make it known subtly, though. I remember going into the students' bar night after night at a certain time when I knew this lovely medical student would be in there having a drink on his way home, until eventually we fell into conversation.

Everybody seemed to drink a lot in those days: I drank gin like a fish. Only once did I get so drunk that the next day I couldn't remember what happened the night before, but at least I know I was with my boyfriend.

I can't think of anybody who even suggested anything like rape or date rape. If you went back to a boy's flat, it was because you knew jolly well what they were up to.

I do remember one terrible boy who went and told the professor of law that I had caused him to fail his examinations because he was 'broken-hearted' - ie, I wouldn't have sex with him. He lusted after me madly, and he knew that I'd been sleeping around and thought therefore I'd sleep around with anybody. He used to try and persuade me to get into bed, but there was never any suggestion that he was going to force himself on me. He was much more likely to burst into tears.



London University, 1989-92

We used to go the students' union and get absolutely smashed but, like the girl said in the Donnellan case, you did expect that if you got drunk your friends - including male friends - would look after you. I lost count of the times I was scooped up and put to bed back in the hall of residence. I actually remember once passing out in reception, lying on the floor, giggling, and waking up to find this boy undressing me and putting me to bed. He didn't do anything, and this wasn't unusual.

The one time a boy did try it on with one of my friends, when she was really drunk, she told me afterwards: 'He bloody got into bed with me and tried to fondle me.' She knew that she didn't really fancy him, so she was going: 'Get off, get off.' He did eventually get off. We made sure everybody knew about it and he was very embarrassed. But it was never seen to be a big deal, as such. It was: 'Come on, that was unacceptable.' We knew the code of behaviour and he knew it as well. He brought us flowers afterwards.

Everybody knew the rules. There was a set pattern of behaviour: you'd go to the students' union, you might snog someone, but - this was the big revelation to me when I went to college - it wasn't taken for granted that it would go further than that. I was at work for two years - for an insurance company - before I went to university. If I liked someone enough to snog them then it was taken as read there would eventually be sexual behaviour. I didn't go out with anybody for the first nine months at university because I couldn't get to grips with the fact that you could almost regress to being a young teenager and say stop at whatever point you wanted. 'How many people did you snog at the union last night? I never snogged so and so did I?' It was standard behaviour.

There was this guy called Simon who was known as a slag. He didn't actually sleep with anyone but he snogged women every night. He was a very pretty boy, a bit stupid - a male bimbo. After my relationship broke up, I was feeling a bit down. One night I thought, 'I really fancy a snog without anybody making a big deal of it' so I targeted this guy. He stayed in my room and I made him wear my pyjamas, because I knew I didn't want to sleep with him. I was absolutely in control. I went out with this guy for about a month, but I never actually slept with him because he wasn't the kind of bloke I wanted to be involved with. I just wanted the attention and to have a bit of fun. The one thing I think about blow jobs is that you're actually taking control of the situation. You might feel slightly embarrassed about having done it but at the same time you haven't been violated. It was your choice; you were doing something rather than being the passive partner. That's the thing that upsets people when they've slept with someone: the act of penetration means you have been violated.

With my current boyfriend, we didn't sleep with each other for three weeks. Because I liked him so much from the night that I met him, if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right.

If you were part of the fun crowd you got drunk on a Friday night. You were considered a bit boring if you didn't get pie-eyed once in a while. It was just considered funny.

The girls that I knew who did sleep with people and got 'used' were embarrassed by the way they'd set themselves up for it. They accepted that they'd been drunk, they'd done something that they wouldn't normally have done and tried to gloss over it by joking about it. They were upset because they'd been rejected emotionally rather than upset because they'd been violated physically.

The thing that upsets me about the recent student rape cases is the way the blokes have been raised to the status of put-upon heroes. What they did by sleeping with someone who wasn't in full control of what they were doing is still a form of rape. These guys have had their names dragged through the papers, but the woman in the Norwich case is now known as 'Slut of the Year'. What distresses me more than anything is this media backlash against 'promiscuous' student women.

I consider myself a feminist. I believe women should be allowed to take responsibility for their actions. Then, if something is out of hand, having got into that situation you should also have the strength to say: 'No, get lost.' When my friend was persuaded to sleep with someone and was then talked about and laughed about among the lads afterwards, I went down there and told him what a shit he was. So he apologised to the girl and said: 'I shouldn't have slept with you. I shouldn't have lied to you. I'm sorry that I talked about it.' I think the most effective weapon is to embarrass the person. Confront them head on in front of their mates and say: 'Do you think it makes you a man to sleep with a girl because she's drunk, and lie to her?' In my friend's case, she felt vindicated, he felt like a heel, and we could all leave it behind. Maybe if the girl in the Donnellan case had had a good network of friends, she'd have done better to embarrass him to his face, and write it in the ladies' toilets.



York University, 1972-75

I wouldn't use the word promiscuous, but I did sleep with lots of people. I think I was reasonably typical. I wasn't a virgin when I went to university, not by any stretch of the imagination.

It was an era when there was an expectation that sex would happen at the end of the evening, and you would be slightly surprised if it didn't, without particularly thinking this was going to be the beginning of a relationship. It generally wasn't discussed. There wasn't an 'Are we going to sleep with each other?' conversation. I always lived in shared houses with other women, and the fascination was, who was going to be at breakfast next morning?

York is a small place. You had probably been hanging round the campus all day, evening would come, you'd have something to eat and then you'd go into the bar. You were surrounded by lots of people you knew and would move from table to table. At the end of the evening it was, 'How about it?' More often the man asked the woman, though I certainly did my own asking.

In my first term this women's group started, so that gave us a great deal of sexual confidence. But I didn't start having orgasms until my third year. You didn't do it because you wanted sexual fulfilment, you did it because it was expected. But you didn't think, 'Oh my God, I'm being pressured to have sex when I don't want to have sex.' It was social pressure.

In the group I was involved in, I wouldn't have been regarded as a slag or a slut but somebody who had no hang- ups about sex. What I'm describing certainly happened with a lot of my friends.

We automatically had sex at the end of the evening to demonstrate how grown- up we were, how cool we were, how liberated we were. You didn't think: 'Do I want to have sex tonight? Do I want to have sex with this person?' You took it for granted. You began with a bit of foreplay, a bit of tongue, and straight on into it. I don't remember giving a blow job the whole of the time I was at university. I don't think the men had the confidence to ask. Or maybe they didn't know about it.

I can only remember one fantastically bad hangover when I was at university, after my birthday party, when I did wind up in bed with someone really dreadful. But I don't think we were drunk all the time.

We'd be sitting at home in the evening going, 'I want to have so-and-so tonight. I'm going to see if I can pull him.' So you'd just make a play for him.

Hardly anybody was going steady among our glitzy, glamorous set; we laughed at them if they were. It was suburban. It was what you did before you went to university.

There was a guy at graduate school in America who I'd sleep with in the summer. There was another guy I slept with on and off for about a year and a half. Then there were these people you'd sleep with for a few weeks, or two or three times. There were a number of men around who were regarded as material. It was just a matter of working your way through them.

My best friend and I were in the library one day, just before our finals term. I said, 'My period's late.' And she looked at me and said, 'My period's late as well.' We worked out that we had slept with the same guy on successive nights. We sat outside the library in absolute hysterics about being in adjacent beds at the abortion clinic - women were having them all the time - and Andy turning up with two bunches of flowers. Luckily, we weren't pregnant.

I was date raped at university, no question of it. It was somebody who I was already sleeping with - I'd had sex with him maybe five times. I lived in this tiny terrace house with three other people, and my room was the front room. We didn't have any fear of burglars, so I used to sleep with my window unlocked. This guy came and banged on the front door at three in the morning. I didn't open it, so he climbed in through the window. I said: 'What the hell are you doing? Get out of here.' He just took his clothes off and got into bed and raped me. It was the use of force. I made it quite clear that I didn't want to do that. I was very, very angry and told him to go once he'd finished and he went.

The next morning I was very annoyed about it. I think I told him it was rape, I did feel I had been raped, but I didn't think to myself, 'Oh my God, I feel really dirty, I feel really upset.'

In the morning, I said: 'Guess what happened last night? Brian climbed through the window and raped me.' My friends said: 'Oh God what an idiot he is.' I didn't even consider telling anyone in authority or pressing charges. And I don't regret it.

There's a new political correctness about the damage we're supposed to feel and frankly I just did not feel that kind of damage. I felt the same way you'd feel if you'd been burgled - somebody has taken a liberty. Somebody has invaded you. And, of course, I was on the Pill and there was no Aids, so you would take it less seriously from that point of view.

About two years ago I was followed from the bus stop by someone who punched me in the face and pushed me into the bushes by my front door and quite obviously was going to rape me. He said 'Shut up.' I started screaming and shouting, 'I'm not going to shut up. This is a really busy road. There are cars going past, there are people walking past, you can't get away with this.' I think I woke him up from his little dream and he backed off and ran away.

The effect of that was far greater than being raped as a student.

The names of the women featured in these articles have been changed.


In an interview published on 5 November as part of a feature on student sex, a Newcastle student was reported as suggesting that the alleged victim in the Norwich rape case had not consented to sexual intercourse. We wish to make it clear that in that case, the jury rejected the woman's assertion that she did not consent and accepted the evidence of the defendant, Matthew Kydd, who said she did. We do not question the jury verdict in that case and apologise to Mr Kydd if the interview gave such an impression.

(Photographs omitted)