Sex, university hookup culture, & ‘The Talk’

Learning about sexual health and desire starts in the home and carries through to university

Five individuals detail how a lack of at-home sex education influenced how they experienced sex and relationships at Queen’s.
This piece uses “Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC)” to refer to the experiences of racialized students. We acknowledge this term is not universal. 
Alysha Mohamed, ArtSci ’22, grew up in a household where sexual health and desire weren’t openly discussed. 
“My parents had a conversation with me which wasn’t really a conversation—they gave me a book. I remember reading it on my green living room couch and thinking that I already know half of this stuff.”
Both of Mohamed’s parents grew up in Nairobi but attended university in Canada, which she thinks made them more progressive than people generally expect immigrant families to be. Yet, sex was still a touchy subject. 
The Journal spoke with four students and an alumnus who experienced a lack of at-home sex education which—for those who grew up in households with immigrant parents—was often limited to the basics. Some of them felt this delayed their development in sex and relationships—in part during their time at Queen’s.
Zainab Naqvi, ArtSci ’23, grew up in a Pakistani household. As her parents were brought up in a different environment than she was, Naqvi questioned whether the information she received from them was tinged with cultural bias. 
Similarly, Jane Mao, ArtSci ‘20, a Chinese-Canadian, remembers lacking confidence in their at-home sex-ed. When sex and relationships were discussed, ideas could be interlaced with anti-blackness or fatphobia. The at-home sex-ed they received was heteronormative, as it was for all those interviewed.  
Gage Benyon, ArtSci ’19, identifies as a gay man. In his household, sex-ed wasn’t discussed in the context of different sexualities.
“When you hear the talk and you only hear about male-female sexual experiences, that furthers alienation. It embeds in you that [homosexuality] is not what’s normal.” 
This isn’t to say Benyon’s parents were homophobic—discussing experiences outside of heterosexuality just wasn’t normalized, he said.
None of those interviewed said a lack of non-heterosexual sex-ed indicated homophobia in their households. 
Sexual pleasure also wasn’t openly discussed at home for any of the students. 
Mohamed detailed feeling uncomfortable discussing sex at home in any capacity. When it came up, she said her parents made it clear it should only happen between married people for the purpose of having children.
Lily,* a third-year ArtSci student, had similar experiences as a young adult. 
“Sexual exploration was kind of a ‘don’t speak’ topic […] and sexual pleasure was described as being within marriage.” 
Aside from school, many said they relied heavily on the internet to learn more about sexual exploration.
Some turned to pornography, but ultimately decided it wasn’t the best course of action. 
Mao was frustrated by it, detailing it consisted mostly of “trained performers that could do certain things that most bodies aren’t capable of.” 
“Porn is the most accessible for individuals, which sucks because porn is literally inaccessible,” 
they said.
In the Tinder age, hookup culture thrives at Queen’s. While that can be empowering for many across a spectrum of identities, it also comes with unwelcome pressure.
“When I was in first year and we’d go out, a lot of the goals would be ‘I just want to meet a cute guy and hook up with him,’” Naqvi said. 
Three students said they had negative initial experiences with hookup culture, which may have been driven by an implicit expectation for Queen’s students to engage in casual relationships.  
Mohamed eventually decided hookup culture wasn’t right for her, but the realization came after feeling pressure to partake in it during first year. 
“Everywhere at Queen’s, everyone was on Tinder and hooking up. Every joke was about sex.” 
For Lily, instances of toxic behaviour associated with hookup culture influenced how she viewed consent, creating confusion. 
She detailed a night while she was living in residence when an individual came to her room at a late hour, knocking at her door as she pretended not to be there. Prior to that point, that person had continually made unwanted romantic advances toward her.
Lily was unsure whether she could immediately find a support system to help cope with the situation. 
“I felt that I couldn’t approach people about it because this individual was well-liked on the floor, seemed to be good friends with our don, and I didn’t know if this crossed a line or not at the time.”
She also wondered if her at-home sex-ed contributed to her uncertainty. 
“I tried to give the impression that I was not interested, but I felt very ill-equipped to deal with the situation because of the lack of education I had received up until that point.”
Regarding embarking on new relationships, Naqvi also felt her experiences were influenced by a lack of at-home sex-ed. 
Growing up, Naqvi’s mom asserted she shouldn’t depend on a significant other, but she viewed her parents as traditional and wondered if this idea was only meant to hold her back from experimenting with sex. 
As such, coming to Queen’s she felt a need to prove to herself that she could be in a relationship and still have self-worth. 
The pressure students feel to engage in hookup culture is amplified for those who occupy marginalized identities. 
Mohamed, who came from a diverse high school, found it shocking being exposed to a mostly white dating pool. She knew she looked different than her peers and, as a result, sometimes felt she needed to appear attractive specifically to white men. 
“I was trying to validate a group that I never needed validation from to begin with.”
Naqvi echoed the sentiment. As a brown girl, she felt a desire to prove her beauty, and she saw attracting white men as a way to do so. 
“Being in an environment with only one race does make you question your self-worth.” 
Mao felt the need to appeal sexually to her white peers starting at home as a result of family pressure. 
“I was trained to essentially mold myself to whiteness, but also be okay when [white people] only see me as a person of colour.”
This idea carried through to the relationships they’d go on to have. Regardless of the nature of their relationships, they feared they’d be both fetishized as an Asian person and simultaneously not be white enough to their partners.
In addition, Mao also felt somewhat isolated by the leading voices in sex research at Queen’s. 
“My professors are only cis white women. My textbooks only contain pink vulvas.” 
While thankful for both queer white researchers and the few BIPOC sex researchers they’ve been exposed to, Mao feels there’s still work to be done in sex research to sufficiently study and speak to the experiences of BIPOC. 
On hookup culture and the Queer community, Mao found the connection unsettling at first, although their discovery of this community was ultimately a positive part of their time at Queen’s.  
“The Queer community at Queen’s is very hypersexual, in my experience.”
Mao said discourse surrounding sexual positions, polyamory, and kink culture can be commonplace—but that’s not necessarily a comfortable environment for all Queer students, especially those who identify as asexual or aromantic. 
Considering what advice they’d give to an incoming first-year, Mao emphasized that “there are really, really great thriving communities at Queen’s. But recognize that there is potential to hurt within these communities.” 
Benyon, who also felt pressure to engage with the gay community, said “sex is something that shouldn’t be rushed into at any point.”
Mohamed agreed, emphasizing the importance of treating sex as an individual decision. 
“You’re only gonna be happy and fulfilled in your sex life if you’re doing things because you actually want to do them.” 
*Name changed for anonymity due to safety reasons.

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