Schrödinger’s Cat May Be Dead, but Your Love Life Is Not

“But isn’t it true that 80 percent of MIT students graduate as virgins?”

Just as I’m explaining the things I enjoy about MIT culture, the acquaintance with whom I have struck up a casual conversation takes a tiresome, albeit predictable, detour.

For the umpteenth time, I find myself defending the sexual philosophy of my home-away-from-home. Before I had ever visited MIT, I had a vague notion of the Institute as a place of congregation and homage for thousands of brilliant (if slightly nerdy) students. As an undergraduate, my vision of student identity has remained relatively constant; MIT truly is a place of great activity and diversity, where you can find representatives of nearly every culture, philosophy, and field of interest. Visitors to our campus will discover a fresh and highly multifaceted image of the Institute. A weekend here may easily begin at a varsity lacrosse match and segue through a sleepless night of tooling, a Friday night frat party, a heated Guitar Hero game, or a thousand other possibilities in between. But somehow, MIT is often disregarded as a place of sexual culture and identity.

Courtesy of The Tech’s “Sex and Sexuality” survey, we can shed a bit more light on the truth. Clearly, the vast majority of each graduating class does not identify as virgins; campus-wide, the number lies closer to a respectable 43 percent. In fact — virgins excluded — the survey indicates a 2/3 chance that any given MIT student has had sex within the past two months (take that, doubtful naysayers!). The data takes a more interesting turn, however, when it comes to tallying the number of partners students have had since attending MIT and the average number of times they have slept with each one. Approximately 47 percent of students surveyed have not had a partner while at school, with 26 percent counting one and 15 percent naming two to three. What’s more, around half of students who have had partners while at MIT estimate sleeping with each one over twenty times.

This is the core of the oft-debated question of sex at MIT. Clearly, though the average number of virgins on campus is nearly twice the national estimate for individuals of our age group (20–25 percent virgins), sex here is strongly based upon relationships, not casual hookups. According to the survey, it is significantly less common for an MIT student to participate in a string of one-night stands than to be involved in a relationship.

Why is this true? If any given MIT student had chosen to attend a different university, would the same behavior prevail? Is our sexual culture a product of the environment or of the students themselves? Most of the student body chose to come here based upon the unique nuances of their personality and social characteristics: commitment to academics and activities, determination in achieving goals, patience in solving complex problems, and interest in expanding knowledge. Interestingly, these qualities transfer over rather well to the context of a relationship. One-night stands are relatively simple — one or two reckless evenings without the ties of a more formal bond. To remain in a happy relationship, individuals must engage in the same patience, commitment, and devotion as they may when attempting to master a challenging subject. The personality of the average MIT student displays, both statistically and qualitatively, an inherent proclivity toward associating strongly with one partner at a time. In fact, over 80 percent of MIT students surveyed were satisfied with the amount of sex they engage in, or expressed a specific desire to have more in a relationship setting.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, what can we conclude? Yes, MIT as a whole participates in less actual sex than do certain other college campuses. However, the important fact to keep in mind is that the relationship-based culture of the Institute represents a far healthier type of sex than the oft-intoxicated and transient pleasures of the casual hookup.

After all, isn’t quality always better than quantity? I rest my case.