Penn State has thousands of students and hundreds of professors. Every single one has their own opinion on the subject of sex and these opinions mold Penn State community’s understanding of the topic.
By talking to a few of Penn State’s professors and students, The Daily Collegian looked at sex in terms of the biology, sexuality, the classic stigma, the transforming gender roles and college sexual behavior.
The Biology of Reproduction
Nanette Tomicek, lecturer in the Penn State Department of Biology, teaches BIOL 177 (Biology of Sex ) at Penn State University Park. Tomicek said the reason for human’s interest in sex and human’s need for a relationship from a biological perspective is humans need to pass on their DNA.
“Our sole purpose in life is really to reproduce. That is why we need to find a mate. There is massive drive for us to pair up and reproduce,” Tomicek said.
Although the biological reason for sex is for people to reproduce, people do continue to have sex after reproductive periods in their life, Tomicek said.
“People enjoy sex. It feels good because there has to be incentive to reproduce,” Tomicek said.
People assume sex is a natural need to reproduce, but sex and sexuality are also social experiences, Cori Wong said. Sexual relationships are just another way to relate, Wong said.
Wong (graduate-philosophy and women’s studies) is a Ph.D. candidate that is interested in how sexuality is shaped by society’s values and what is perceived as normal.
“Sexuality is shaped by non-sexual factors of various disciplines such as anthropology or biology. All these different fields have all these influence on our understanding what sexuality is,” Wong said.
Nick Cupelli (sophomore-chemical engineering) said he has never really thought about what sexuality means but if he had to give the word a definition it would be a “means of expressing yourself through your sexual preference.”
Jo Dumas, senior lecturer in the College of Communications, teaches COMM 205 (Women, Minorities and the Media) at University Park. After being involved with the business of telecommunications, which at the time, the workforce was made up of mostly males, Dumas said sexuality and gender roles had an important impact on her life.
“I look at sexuality as part of our humanity. It is a biological aspect of who we are as beings, who we are as procreators, just our own selves in relation to others,” Dumas said.
The Social Stigma
Being in a culture that originated from patriarchal values, people follow certain social rules and this creates a double standard, Wong said. The stereotypical double standard is that men can express their sexuality more freely and women have to “behave,” Cupelli said.
“Stigma works as a shaming mechanism,” Wong said. Wong said this stigma does not mean people necessarily do what is viewed as socially correct but people are more likely to hide what they view as taboo behavior.
Tomicek said, from a biological perspective, the stigma is derived from the fact that women are born with all of their eggs and therefore women need to be picky about what goes into their eggs. Also, pregnancy is risky and a lot of energy goes into having a baby, Tomicek said. Men make sperm every day from puberty until death so having sex is not as risky, Tomicek said.
Rebecca Santiago said women encourage the double standard. The pressure is more internal from the woman herself and not always from other people, Santiago (sophomore-psychology) said.
Wong said many people do not think how the double standard impacts men. There is a consistent insecurity and anxiety for young males about heterosexuality, Wong said.
“But how close are you with your male friends? Are you too sensitive or too into cuddling? A lot is at stake for young men and how they understand their sexuality and feelings,” Wong said.
The Modern Gender Roles
For the current generation, equality for men and women is not perfect but it is headed in the right direction, Dumas said.
Gender roles and gender identity is becoming looser and not as defined, Wong said.
“Gender roles are being more critically called into question,” Wong said.
Dumas said the media does have a role in how we perceive sexuality, sex and gender roles.
“Sexuality and gender identity, though two distinct things, are very complex processes that define who we are. Media has a strong interactive relationship with how we define ourselves as human beings,” Dumas said.
Wong said gender roles can change how we relate to sexuality and in other ways we relate to each other.
Sex in college
Being in college creates a unique environment with regard to sex, sexuality and gender roles.
“[For the students,] sex doesn’t seem to be as important in a romantic sense. It almost seems like a hobby,” Cupelli said.
Cupelli said he sees some relationships at Penn State but normally the relationship will fall apart because it is based on sex.
Wong said she noticed at Penn State that there are very dominant views with sexuality and sex but these views are very narrow.
The college environment results in casual hookups but many people assume that the hookups are only between teenage or early twenties heterosexual people, Wong said.
“There are only certain ages where it seems socially acceptable to talk about people having sex. But that can be a cover that limits how we understand sexuality on a whole,” Wong said.
Wong said the view that sex of older people and non-heterosexual people can be ignored as legitimate sex is “unfortunately microscopic.”
“[It is] funny that we assume the most sexual period of ones life is post-puberty to pre-menstrual, because it is not true,” Wong said.
Tomicek said that sex is for reproduction purposes but sex is still very important for humans even in post-reproductive periods of human’s lives.
“People that have their health still continue to have sex. [It is] interesting because it is for reproduction purposes but still very much involved in peoples lives even in post reproduction,” Tomicek said.