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Sex ed

How has hookup culture changed on campus in the wake of the DOJ investigation? The answer depends on whom you ask.

On a recent evening, roughly three dozen University of Montana students gather on couches and chairs near an assortment of lubes and condoms displayed on a table inside a room on the top floor of Jessie Hall. The students are asked to select from several foods listed on a screen in the front of the room—whipped cream, chocolate sauce, sushi—and say where each could be placed on a lover’s body.

“Sushi goes nowhere,” says a young man in the back of the room, “because it’s gross.”

Curry Health Center’s Wellness Program is hosting the event, called “I Wanna Sex You Up,” which is billed as “a sex-positive program … guaranteed to light your fire.” It’s just one of an evolving array of educational programs launched by UM during the past several years aimed at helping students cultivate a healthy sex life.

Tonight, students working with the Wellness Program cover a wide range of subjects, including the benefits of kegel exercises, which they explain can strengthen pelvic muscles for both men and women and intensify orgasms. Also discussed are the dangers of sexting and the importance of using communication as a means to achieve emotional safety. It’s the topic of erogenous zones that prompts the food question and elicits the most giggles from the crowd.

When it comes to erogenous zones and snacks, nearly anything goes, advises Curry Wellness Program staffer Carrie O’Herron. But there’s a significant caveat: never apply edibles to the genital area. Sugars in food help grow yeast, meaning a whipped cream or chocolate sauce application can trigger an itchy and perhaps painful candidiasis infection. And, yes, O’Herron warns, men can get the bug, too. “You do not want to be attacked by the yeast beast,” she says. “Yeast love warm, dark, moist areas.”

Presentations such as this—and the topic of sex in general—come at an interesting time for UM students, many of whom are away from home for the first time and looking to experiment with things like sex and alcohol. Just how those desires play out in light of the Department of Justice’s recent investigation of UM’s handling of sexual assault allegations, along with a string of new federal mandates governing how the university deals with victimization, depends on whom you ask.

At the “Sex You Up” event, Ashley Lindvig, a 20-year-old senior, holds a pillow in her lap while watching the presentation from a couch in the front row. She says the controversy has made her more cautious. She always tells a friend where she’s going, for example, prior to heading out. “A lot of people are more careful, for sure,” Lindvig says.

Lindvig’s wariness is not universal. Other students say they were already cautious or that the assault scandal was blown out of proportion. Freshman Lilly Brogger decided to attend UM just as the DOJ announced its investigation and wasn’t spooked by the news. “I was never worried,” she says. Brogger and others interviewed all stressed that they take certain precautions when going out and mostly socialize with a small, trusted circle of friends.

In fact, local and national data indicates that, despite media portrayals of a wild collegiate hookup culture, many young people are relatively conservative when it comes to sex. For example, data collected by UM shows that students in Missoula are most likely to engage in serial monogamy, says UM Director of Health Enhancement Linda Green.

“The average number of sexual partners in the past year is 1.5,” she says. “I would say they’re a lot less promiscuous than a period of time in the ’60s.”

UM Women and Gender Studies co-chair Elizabeth Hubble notes that national statistics show a similar trend. She points to research compiled by Occidental College sociologist Lisa Wade, who’s identified what’s increasingly being called the “myth of hookup culture.” Wade has found that the average number of hookups for a college student during their academic career is seven, with only 40 percent of those encounters involving intercourse.

“To me, that’s not hookup culture,” Hubble says.

Based on that data, students at the “Sex You Up” event are likely already well aware of the importance of the last bit of advice bestowed by Wellness Center student employee Bristol Horton.

“Communication really is the key,” she says. “You really want to talk about (sex) ahead of time.”

After imparting those last words, Horton and the other Wellness Program staffers send the students home with small bags full of strawberry-flavored condoms, candy and a pamphlet detailing techniques for better sex. (Jessica Mayrer)

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