Love, sex, and dating at the RUG
Student sex: myth and reality
The myth is strong, and oft-repeated: Groningen is the city for sex. The whole town is a party scene. It starts with KEI week, where students play drinking games during the day and hook up at night.
Stephen, who moved here from a conservative Christian community in India, remembers his first day of KEI week. His group played a game of ‘never have I ever’. Everyone one-upped each other with stories of their sexual exploits as they threw back shots with each round. ‘They were confessing to things like sex in a police car, or straight people having gay sex,’ he says. ‘I was laughing along on the outside, but inside I was just marvelling at their lives. It’s like everyone here is sexually available at all times.’
And the partying doesn’t end with KEI week. It spins out into the rest of the academic year: ‘You can go out and drink every day of the week’, says Valeska, a master student from Germany. ‘Hook-ups happen all the time.’ That’s true no matter your sexual preference, agrees Ben, an Irish AI student. ‘For gay men in particular, there is this emphasis in Groningen on promiscuity as some kind of virtue.’
Students say it seems like everyone is sleeping around. In an UKrant survey of nearly four hundred RUG students – mostly first and second years – 48 percent say casual sex is the most common kind of sex at the RUG. That’s especially true for the Dutch students, says Edward, a journalism student from Slovakia. ‘One-night stands? They don’t even think twice. For them, it’s like an every Monday kind of thing.’
That impression sets the tone for student sex culture in Groningen. ‘The casual sex culture at the RUG is an institution in itself.’
But the myth is not reality. ‘When I got into the RUG, everyone said I’d be having tons of sex. But it’s been eighty-four years’, jokes Jacob, a twenty-four-year old British student, as he shakes a feeble fist in mock protest.
To fit in it seems you have to talk and act like you’re some kind of sex addict
Stephen reflects on that KEI week game of ‘never have I ever’: once everyone was properly drunk, he says, the truth came out. One girl who had played along eventually wandered away from the group, sat on a curb, and wept. She confessed she had only ever slept with two guys in her life, both serious boyfriends at the time. Everyone was shocked at the revelation. It made her sad ‘that people saw her as a slut or something’, he says. ‘It seems like to fit in, you have to talk and act like you’re some kind of sex addict.’
‘The anxiety to have lots of sex here is a big thing’, agrees Benjie, a 24-year-old from Britain. ‘It’s always a topic of conversation; people like to imagine they are a part of this glamorous, exciting hook-up culture. But I think it’s a veneer, for the most part.’
Benjie is right: according to our survey, only 16 percent of students report that they are engaging in casual sex, and 40 percent say they aren’t having any sex at all. Given the hype, those numbers are surprisingly conservative.
What kind of sex are you having right now?
A bunch of bad sex
And for those who are having casual sex, the odds of it being good sex are lower than you might expect: two-thirds of respondents who have had one-night stands report they were satisfied by them less than half of the time.
RUG women seem to fare the worst. 77 percent who have had one-night stands report low rates of satisfaction. Students may be egalitarian about sex – in the sense that there is no gendered stigma attached to sleeping around – but that egalitarianism clearly doesn’t translate to equality of pleasure.
‘I definitely don’t think women are getting as much pleasure from casual sex culture’, says Emma, an international student from the UK. Valeska agrees: ‘I know about so many shitty hook-ups where the guys just don’t care. My friends end up like, “why did I bother with that?”’
Sex is the mutual smashing of genitals
There is a persistent stereotype that the guys, on the other hand, enjoy sex no matter what. ‘A guy friend once told me that sex for men is like pizza: even if it’s bad, it’s still pizza’, quips Tatenda, a Zimbabwean law student. A first-year psychology student takes it further: ‘A dude could literally pound a piece of steak and get off. I wouldn’t even have to be in the room.’
But the ladies might be surprised to hear that the odds of great sex don’t seem awesome for anybody: 50 percent of the guys also reported that casual sex is satisfying less than half of the time.
‘There is this notion that casual sex is easy and convenient for men’, says Ben. ‘But I don’t think it’s that easy for anyone. People have emotional needs that can be involuntary.’
There are many reasons casual sex kind of sucks. A lot of it can be chalked up to ignorance. In an open question on the UKrant survey, one guy even described sex as ‘the mutual smashing of genitals.’ That level of finesse hardly inspires confidence.
Emma recalls a one-night stand with a guy who was ‘rather huge’ and who assumed being well-endowed was the same as being good in bed. ‘But it hurt’, she grimaces. When she complained during sex that he was bruising her cervix, he responded, ‘“What’s a cervix?”’
She chuckles: ‘I stopped everything right there and pulled up the Wiki page for the female reproductive system. I said: imagine someone punching you repeatedly in the diaphragm. But he was confused: “You don’t like that? Isn’t that the g-spot?”’
Emma also blames porn for the prevalence of bad sex. Students are seeing more sex than ever, but not much of it depicts female pleasure realistically. ‘It’s pretty male-centric. And guys often do stuff they’ve seen in porn, only in real life no one is enjoying it. It’s like, please don’t; my leg doesn’t bend that way. It’s all so performative and awkward.’
Guys often do stuff they’ve seen in porn, only no one is enjoying it
It frustrates her that porn normalises sexual violence but not the conversations that prevent sex from turning into assault. ‘So people don’t want to have those difficult conversations in real life, either. Kinks are fine. Whatever. But it’s really important to discuss them – especially things like choking and hitting. Otherwise, you’re choking someone who doesn’t want to be choked. Not fun.’
To be fair, most students aren’t being choked by strangers in bed. In fact, almost everyone says that the casual sex culture here is pretty responsible, all things considered. Conversations about preferences, safe sex, and consent are accepted and even expected – something students say is special about the Groningen casual sex culture.
Usually, students say, one-night stands are lackluster for less dramatic reasons. Jelle points out that alcohol is often involved. Drinking makes people sloppy but it also protects them from vulnerability: ‘They can always blame their bad performance on the booze’, he shrugs.
He thinks for the most part casual sex fails to impress simply because it’s casual. If you’re not connected to the person in some way, he says, it’s just not going to be as good.
Over and over, students told us that sex is best when it feels like the person you’re having sex with wants to be there with you, and cares about your experience.
It’s not about you being special: ta da! Bad sex.
But that’s not as likely to happen when everyone involved is playing by the rules of casual sex culture. Detachment is a cornerstone of the hook-up, says Benjie. ‘A hook-up is like, an emotion-distant, non-binding contract. It’s about you being a human being with a body I can have sex with. It’s not about you being special. Ta da! Bad sex.’
Overwhelmingly, the RUG community agrees that relationship sex is better than casual sex (as evidenced by an Instagram quiz). And nearly 78 percent of our survey respondents say that they would prefer to have committed relationship sex over any other kind. But students are so steeped in the casual-sex myth that they don’t believe relationship sex is actually on the table.
‘There is this idea of having as much sex as possible, especially in the first and second years’, says Jelle. ‘So maybe some people want to have a relationship, but because everyone else just wants to have fun, that can make it hard. The culture doesn’t really support relationships.’
But as we have discovered, the casual sex culture myth is just that: a myth. There is a big difference between what students think they are supposed to want and what they actually want. So if you’re feeling left out of the hook-up scene, you’re in the majority. In spite of the RUG’s wild reputation, people are talking about hooking up way more than they are doing it.
How many sexual partners have you had since coming to the university?
How many years have you studied at the RUG?
‘People think this generation has invented a whole new culture of sex, because of social media and hook-up apps. But in reality, human beings are pretty consistent. They want what they have always wanted – for someone to care about them’, says Benjie.
A note from the editors: after part one of this series, one of our female sources was inundated with gross and inappropriate messages online. So we chose not to use surnames in this story, in order to protect our sources from our readers: RUG community, that’s you. Do better.
In case you’re just now catching up, this is part three of a series on love, sex, and dating at the RUG. Tune in next week to hear about the curse of the commitment paradox!