Is everyone really having sex in college? Myths vs facts

Sometimes it can feel like we are surrounded by media stories and images that tell us that college is all about having sex—from movies like American Pie to our popular music, there is a pervasive myth that ‘everyone’ is having sex in college.

However, we know that isn’t true! In Spring 2015, Student Wellness implemented an annual survey called the Needs Assessment on Sexual Health (NASH). The survey revealed that one in four students (both graduate and undergraduate) have never engaged in any sexual activity. The survey defined sexual activity as oral, vaginal, or anal sex—though there are lots of other sexual activities people engage in that fall outside these definitions!

One major take away from our survey is that a significant number of students of all genders aren’t having sex in college, for all sorts of reasons. Some reasons that students gave include preferring to wait until they are in a committed relationship (either long-term or marriage), not having found a partner to have sex with, and moral or religious/spiritual reasons. Other reasons people may not be having sex in college include not being interested in having sex at that point in time, being too busy, recovering from trauma, identifying as asexual, having a hard time meeting someone…the reasons are endless!

We also learned that 85% of students who took the survey said that they feel UNC is supportive of students who choose not to engage in sexual activity. In other words: it’s totally okay to not be having sex or to never have had sex.

Everyone has their own timeline around sex, and the decision to have sex should be centered around sexual readiness rather than societal or peer pressure to have sex. You might be wondering: what is sexual readiness? Sexual readiness is all about feeling physically and emotionally ready to have sex. Some questions people can ask around sexual readiness include:

  • Do you feel comfortable communicating with your partner (whether sexual or romantic) about your wants and needs? Do you feel safe and comfortable with that person?
  • Do you need to think about safer sex supplies and/or contraceptives? If so, do you know where to get condoms/dental dams or contraception? (Hint: the Student Wellness office and the Student Union always have safer sex supplies and you can make an appointment at Campus Health to get a prescription for contraceptives!)
  • Are you educated on how to avoid any unwanted outcomes, such as unwanted pregnancy or STIs?

For more questions to check your sexual readiness, check out this article to learn more. You can also make a free appointment with Student Wellness to talk with a trained staff member about sexual health and sexual readiness by calling 919. 962.WELL (9355) or emailing

Sexual Health Appointments, UNC Student Wellness
Sexual Health Appointments, UNC Student Wellness

Shifting the focus to sexual readiness can be a hard concept to grasp when our society sends mixed messages about sex. There is both a pressure to wait until marriage to have sex as well as pressure to ‘lose one’s virginity.’ But did you know that virginity is not a medical term and that there isn’t an actual medical definition for virginity?

Furthermore, sex means different things to different people. A person can engage in oral sex and still consider themselves a virgin, while for another person engaging in oral sex means having sex. Our cultural understanding of sex tends to be heteronormative, focusing on sex as meaning ‘penis and vagina,’ though we know that there are lots of ways people of all sexual orientations have sex that don’t include this definition.

Because society often promotes unhealthy messages and meanings of ‘virginity’ and ‘sex,’ it’s up to us to understand the context of where these words come from and to find out what they mean to us. People’s personal worth is not based on whether or not they have had sex. Let’s shift the narrative to supporting people to make decisions about their sexual choices around sexual readiness and personal values on sex, rather than feeling pressured by the many messages we get from media and society about sex.

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