Every Saturday night, amidst the weekend buzz, students slink about campus in pairs, seeking discreet locations for amorous rendezvous. Known places are: Graves, Elson Art Center, and perhaps most scandalously, the Cochran Bird Sanctuary. Often the butt of jokes, source of stressed-out house counselors, and cause of calls for re-evaluating Andover’s approach to sexual health, “students are having sex in unsavory places because there’s nowhere else to go” is a common refrain on this campus.
But why? Andover purports to support its students’ sexual health, with The Blue Book touting an entire chapter titled “Sexual Intimacy,” outlining the Academy’s resources for encouraging students’ healthy sexual habits and practices. Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center offers free condoms (alongside many other forms of protection), our Physical Education requirement has segments on sexual health, and Youth Educators for Sex Positivity (YES+) does an incredible job of furthering sexual education at Andover. The problem, then, may not be a dearth of resources and support, but an abundance of regressive policies.
The subject of much discussion, room visitation policy (sometimes referred to as “parietals”) has been worryingly faulty in recent years. Criticized often in the past for heteronormativity, the visitation policy changed in The Blue Book at the start of this academic year to require permission for all room visits, regardless of gender. This move has garnered significant pushback for making safe spaces where students above the age of consent can have sex (such as their dorm rooms) even more inaccessible.
A symptom of a larger system of campus policies that disregard student privacy and encourage unsafe sex, a number of critiques have persisted for multiple years. Chief among them: the “Doors open” policy, where students must keep “doors in the room…open 90 degrees” when they have a visitor over, has drawn particular criticism (The Blue Book). While The Blue Book states that “students…have a right to privacy that includes the comfort of knowing when visitors will be present in the dormitory and the right to be free from unwanted exposure to the intimate sexual behaviors of others,” the “Doors open” policy directly contradicts any attempt at privacy, for both the visitation host and their dormmates.
Moreover, room visitation and sex have become so inexorably linked in campus discussion that it is difficult to extricate one from the other. Therefore, when petitioning policymakers to reform the room visitation system, students often attempt to decouple one from the other, arguing that room visits are not inherently sexual, and as such, they should be given a greater degree of privacy. We put forth that while room visits are, indeed, not inherently sexual, and that many students above the age of consent may not wish to engage in sexual activity, sex between students is a reality on this campus, and we should address it as such. Ignoring this reality only leads to more risk, more danger, and more liability.
The failures of the room visitation system to provide students with privacy within their own rooms, sexual or not, ultimately puts students who wish to and will have sex regardless of policy, in danger. The severity of room visitation policy forces students into unsafe and subpar spaces to conduct their sexual endeavors. With privacy denied and safe spaces robbed by over-strict policies, students have no choice but to remain abstinent or have sex in vulnerable places. So students take to desolate academic buildings or the great outdoors, putting themselves at risk in the process.
But the considerations behind the severity of room visitation policies are understandable. Safety concerns over misconduct behind closed doors or over visitors in dorms are backed by reason, care, and grounds. However, in practice, these considerations are more sabotaged by these policies, not less. The possible ramifications of sexual misconduct increase once a student is beyond the safety of their dorm. Consider an abandoned building or forest with no help nearby, versus a dormitory, where trusted adults are at arm’s reach in case of an emergency.
Andover needs to put weight behind their stance on sexual health in student lives. What’s the good of free Sykes condoms and birth control, extensive sexual education resources, and a culture of “promoting sexual health,” if there’s nowhere safe to use them? To put it simply: you might not catch chlamydia, but you may get caught in a bush by PACS. As adolescents, exploring our sexualities and having protected, consensual sex is normal and healthy. It’s time for our policies to reflect our reality.