Penn Sex Story: The Morning After

The latest New York Times dispatch on Ivy League hook-up culture, “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too”

Love on the UPenn campus
Love on the Penn campus

The latest New York Times dispatch on Ivy League hook-up culture, “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too” ran long: 4,703 words, to be exact. For last Sunday’s Style section cover story, reporter Kate Taylor interviewed more than 60 University of Pennsylvania coeds over the course of a school year and found that some of the young women interviewed  have casual sex!

Some just are too ambitious and devoted to their GPAs for the time-consuming business of relationships. Some get drunk and do things that they regret and then try to put a humorous spin on what sounds an awful lot like date rape in the cold, harsh light of morning. Some perform oral sex because it’s just an easier way to end an evening. And some secretly want boyfriends, despite a breezy hook-up culture that makes young women feel sexually empowered, even if a sociologist quoted in the story contends that college women have better sex in steady relationships. (This after interviewing 24,000 students at 21 universities.)

Many of these women ignored the advice of Princeton alum (and recent book-deal recipient) Susan Patton, who urged Ivy League ladies to get engaged while they still have access to the future high earners of America.

Not everyone interviewed for the article agreed with its premise.

On Monday, as reactions from feminist sites and Penn students and alums were flying around the Internet, Arielle Pardes, a rising Penn senior, penned a Cosmo blog post to “set the record straight.”

“In our interviews, I described in great depth my serious boyfriend and how much I felt that Penn was a place where women can really have it all, at least for four years,” Ms. Pardes told Off the Record.

She said she was interviewed twice for the article—once in August, when Ms. Taylor began her research into Ivory Tower sexual mores, and again in January.

“Some of my friends complained about her poking and prodding,” Ms. Pardes said. “She would literally just pop up in a local coffee shop or show up at a party; I mean, she was everywhere—but I think that’s what makes a good reporter. I can’t knock Kate Taylor for her research methods or her interview skills, because she is a very, very good reporter. But it doesn’t seem like her conclusions reflect what many Penn women, like myself, told her.”

Ali Kriegsman, class of 2013, who landed a job in the corporate side of media immediately after graduating, told OTR that she was approached by Ms. Taylor after performing in a campus production of The Vaginia Monologues. Ms. Kriegsman said that the reporter was “really nice and approachable” and wasn’t afraid to get personal.

“She wanted to know how much casual sex I had at Penn, the quality of my sex, if I had drunk sex,” Ms. Kriegsman told OTR. Ms. Kriegman said she also found herself being asked if she intended to marry the guy she was kind of dating (a weighty question for many 21-year-olds).

Ultimately, Ms. Kriegsman theorized that she was left out of the article because she had a semi-boyfriend and didn’t fit Ms. Taylor’s narrative. “I was in something that resembled a relationship and I actually did like the person I was with, so my voice didn’t matter in the end, given her ‘editorial objective.’”

In the end, Ms. Kriegsman said the article “makes us look like career beasts who will just use a guy’s penis.”

On Tuesday, Ms. Taylor defended her article in an interview with Times public editor Margaret Sullivan . “I’ve heard criticism from some young women at Penn that they think I painted the picture of relationships there too bleakly—that I didn’t pay enough attention to the women who do have boyfriends, whether at Penn or long-distance,” Ms. Taylor said. “I certainly met girls who had boyfriends, but they were the exception, not the rule, and I included the voices of several girls who either were dating people or had dated people in college in the story.”

Both Ms. Kriegsman and Ms. Pardes (and many bloggers) noted that, to their knowledge, no men were interviewed for the article.

Although the article focused primarily on women, Ms. Taylor said that she did interview some of the male Penn contingent but, due to editorial imperatives, their perspectives didn’t make it in.

“I did interview male students, though not as many and not in as much depth as the female students,” Ms. Taylor told the public editor. “At a certain point their voices were in the story, as a discrete section, but my editors found that awkward, so it got cut.”

In any case, Ms. Pardes had been hoping for a saucier read, considering how long the article had been in the works.

“After seeing her in campus bars and at fraternity parties for a year—a year!—I was really expecting her to blow the lid on some sort of secret sex scandal at Penn, but instead she delivered the rather blasé conclusion that, yes, women at Penn are having casual sex,” Ms. Pardes said. “On the first read, I honestly found it kind of boring, which I suppose, in and of itself, is remarkable: how do you write 5,000 words about sex and make it boring?!” Penn Sex Story: The Morning After