CNN published a story at the beginning of January outlining the possible health advantages of having sexual intercourse. These benefits will soon be revealed in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. And just like a captivated puppy, every college student in the country just perked up one ear.
The article said that people who have frequent sex will benefit from a healthier heart, lower blood pressure, a lower risk of different types of cancer and a longer lifespan.
It also listed benefits such as relief for migraines and lower back pain, higher testosterone levels, healthier semen for men and fewer negative symptoms for women during menopause. Also, CNN lists sex as an effective form of exercise. In fact, it reported that having sex 12 times burns as many calories as running seven miles.
In light of this article, I decided to see how students and health professionals on campus felt about the new study and how they thought it could affect the overall campus culture. I mean, I was certainly surprised to find out that an act frowned upon in our society for people my age, unless judged under specific circumstances like marriage, is now being seen in a positive and more encouraging light.
According to the USC American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment Report of 2009, which was based on results collected from a student survey, 23.1 percent of students are exercising at a rate that would help them maintain a healthy body. Healthy students are defined as those that participate in about 30 minutes of semi-intense exercise five to seven times a week.
When asked what types of activities they considered exercise, most students listed sports, gym activities — such as elliptical machines and weights — swimming, running, etc. Not surprisingly, not one student considered sexual intercourse as a form of exercise.
I interviewed students to find out how they thought their peers might react to the findings mentioned in the CNN article. Several respondents agreed that sex, as a form of exercise, would not lead students to a particular view or opinion regarding their personal sexual activity.
“I think sex for a lot of people is also a moral issue, so I don’t think if [the CNN study] was proven, people would go out and have sex gratuitously,” said Sabrina Rahrovi, a sophomore majoring in business administration.
But a few students thought these new study results would encourage others to justify having sex to themselves and to others.
“I think it would [change the college culture] because it would lead to a lot more people having sex,” said Sheliza Kabani, a junior majoring in biochemistry.
The USC report said 35.1 percent of students engaged in vaginal intercourse within 30 days of taking the survey and about 40 percent of those students said they always used a condom.
Yet despite the relatively low rate of students who use condoms as contraception, the rates of sexually transmitted diseases among USC undergraduates are relatively low.
On campus, less than 3 percent of undergraduates have human papillomavirus (HPV), and less than 1 percent of undergrads have chlamydia, gonorrhea or HIV. Further, 85 percent of undergraduates within the last 12 months had either zero or one sexual partners.
I asked several students how the information presented in the CNN article might affect students’ views on conducting safe sex in the future, and several students said it would encourage students to engage in safer sex now more than before.
“I think these findings are shedding light on sex in a positive way, so this positively would add to the idea of safe sex,” Rahrovi said.
Paula Swinford, the director of USC Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Services, said the information in the CNN article would not affect students’ sexual behavior at all.
“It’s trivia that would catch people’s eye,” she said. “But the reasons why we have sex and take care of ourselves while we are having sex are much more complex than just getting a bit of exercise.”
While I’m not convinced that the college culture will change significantly because of the results of CNN’s study, I do think that people in relationships and those who are already having sex with a specific partner will have more incentive to engage in sex on a more regular or frequent basis. But those who are not having sex are not going to start just because a study says it’s good for their health.
Students will still use their moral and personal views to base their readiness for sex, but at least now they can weigh the positives and negatives with enough pros and cons on each side to keep the scale balanced.
Danielle Nisimov is a sophomore majoring in public relations. Her column “On the SCene” runs Thursdays.