Throughout my first few weeks on campus, it seems like everyone is focused on hooking up during nights out. I’ve never done anything like that before, but I feel kind of pressured to start. Hooking up wasn’t really big among my friends back home and my health class only discussed abstinence. Plus, my parents usually just avoided any sex-related conversations altogether. I don’t want my new friends to think that I’m weird or anything for staying on the sidelines though. Should I just go for it already?
— Uncertain Underclassman
Dear Uncertain Underclassman,
Your worries are completely valid — and more common than you might think. Adjusting to the new social environment on campus, even for upperclassmen/returning students, can be overwhelming. Before jumping to any conclusions about what others are doing, you might want to ask what your friends really mean by “hooking up.” The term can mean anything from making out to engaging in vaginal or anal sex. Try not to let social pressures — even from your new friends — cloud your judgment on intimate matters. Of course, separating yourself from the perceived norms on campus is no easy task. Still, regardless of what your friends or peers are doing, the decision to start exploring physical intimacy — i.e., any form of sensuous contact — ultimately resides with you.
It’s important to understand that what you may see or hear about sex on campus is likely not an accurate representation of what’s “normal.” Those who are not engaging in sexual activity tend to be less vocal about that choice than their sexually active peers are. Our data suggest that the percentage of students not engaging in oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse is higher than those who do. Only 27.4% of current freshmen arriving on campus have ever had sex, according to The Daily Princetonian’s 2026 frosh survey. Based on the ACHA-NCHA III Spring 2023 survey of undergraduate students in the United States, 39 percent have never engaged in oral sex, 44 percent have never engaged% in vaginal, and 84 percent have never engaged% in anal. Therefore, whether or not you choose to participate in sexual activity, your behavior will certainly not be outside of the norm.
Oftentimes, you’ll hear that you should wait to engage in physical intimacy until “the time is right.” Unfortunately, that timing can be very difficult to discern and is influenced by many factors. Luckily, you’ve already gotten off to a great start by simply taking the time to think about whether “the time is right” for you. Reflecting on what you’re comfortable with and setting personal boundaries while level-headed can help prevent getting swept up in the moment — especially when under the influence or caught up in the excitement of a night out. It’s easier to make a decision about engaging in physical intimacy when you can rationally weigh the options, rather than going on an impulse or giving in to social pressure.
The start of college is a great time to iron out your values as an individual — and that goes for your sexual life too. When deciding whether or not you’d like to engage in physical intimacy, try to separate how you actually feel from all of the external forces in your life. Consider yourself in relation to your familial upbringing, cultural norms, and spiritual values — all of which can play an important role in your decision. If relevant, the chaplains at the Office of Religious Life can serve as helpful resources for navigating your sex life from a religious perspective. For more support in exploring sexual identity, you can also connect with staff or peer educators at the Gender + Sexuality Resource Center. At the end of the day, whatever decision you make about choosing to engage in sexual activity is not binding in any way; it’s simply a way to take stock of your boundaries and expectations as you start this new chapter.
Once you sort out where you stand among these diverse influences, the next step is communication. You should always be upfront with potential romantic or sexual partners about your boundaries and goals for intimacy, and respect theirs. A helpful tool is the “How I Like It” Inventory. You can fill it out to explore for yourself, and/or have your partner fill it out; comparing results can help you to find what you want to do together. Making your expectations well known and communicating with your partner about your level of experience in sex, ahead of time, can prevent misunderstandings and feeling pressured down the line. Moreover, make sure to continue having these discussions throughout your interactions because boundaries and desires can easily fluctuate.
Finally, if you do decide to begin exploring physical intimacy, make sure you do so safely. Use an appropriate barrier method such as a condom (external or internal), dental dam, or finger cot to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If engaging in penile-vaginal sex, use a reliable contraception method to prevent any unwanted pregnancies. Condoms, birth control, STI testing, and sexual health appointments are all available through Sexual Health and Wellness at University Health Services. Ultimately, your first semester at college can be an exciting time of self and sexual discovery, so make sure you stay safe and healthy while exploring your boundaries.
Best of luck!
— The Sexpert
Information for this article is provided by the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment III, Daily Princetonian, and University Health Services.