The week before graduation at Wesleyan is referred to as “senior week.” When an underclassmen, senior week is the stuff of legend: a crazy final week of last minute hookups, road trips, alcohol-infused decision making, and out of control partying culminating in a gigantic party under a tent on the baseball field. Making senior week even more bizarre is “wescam,” a website designed to let seniors anonymously scam on the crushes they’ve always had before they lose the opportunity to make their interest known—or to play pranks on friends. Last year, I came back to campus to dance my butt off at the tent party, and many underclassmen remain at Wesleyan every year to work reunion and commencement events or to rage with their friends for an extra week after finals. But there is no way to fully experience senior week until you are in fact a senior.
What you don’t get as an underclassman is the intense do or die pressure that comes with being on deck to enter the real world. For some soon-to-be graduates, senior week is their last chance to unwind before entering the work force. For most, senior week is the last time many will see their closest friends again, at least until the first wedding a few years later. It does not matter how prepared or excited one is to graduate: it is inherently a goodbye. As a result, fear of missing out is rampant. Wescam is a good example of this: if I don’t sleep with this person now, I will never have another chance! The horror!
I spent my final semester of college in a committed relationship and so the wescam messages piling up in my email account were little more than an ego boost and a source of entertainment—one suitor offered to cover my body in chocolate syrup. I watched my friends match up and exchange numbers with cute fellow students, and drafting wescam messages together became a regular lunchtime discussion in my apartment. But as someone on the outside, wescam did not hold much appeal. Maybe I’d been out of the hookup game too long, maybe I was just happy in my relationship. Or maybe I saw too clearly what wescam was, at least for some students: a way to soften the blow of leaving Wesleyan behind. A way to put off feeling the creeping isolation that is part and parcel of moving away from the safe haven that is college, that is friendship, that is youth.
I do not want to sound judgmental. I advocate casual sex if that is what someone wants to have, and as long as it is safe and consensual. I even support online dating, or at least online matching, as the intention of wescam is clearly to get it in at the last minute. But wescam, and the last minute hookups of senior week in general, gave me pause for a reason it took me a while to identify. My roommates regularly asked each other the same questions: if I add this person on wescam, will he expect me to sleep with him? If I match with someone, am I obligated to see him? Can I invite him over to my apartment if I don’t feel comfortable going to his house alone? Senior week did not eliminate the same safety concerns that infused college life—if anything, they were exacerbated by new anxieties and, loath as I am to say it, alcohol. I have no well-researched evidence of senior week hookups, but most of my friends had positive experiences getting to know people they had always wanted to spend more time with. A few, not so much. End of the world sex does not necessarily equal pleasurable sex.
On Tuesday, four days into senior week with four days left before commencement, I went to the health center to see an OB/GYN. Let me tell you something about Wesleyan: I love its health center. The campus health services deserve so many gold stars when it comes to sexual health, at least in my experience. Although it can be difficult to schedule an appointment to get tested, the staff is calm, non-judgmental, funny, and reassuring. I won’t air my dirty laundry on the Internet, but I practically lived there during my junior and senior years due to a dangerously infected spider bite and a myriad of other medical issues. By the time I graduated I was on a first name basis with most of the nurses. As a result, I was privy to some gossip. One of the doctors mentioned the insane amount of students coming into the health center during senior week with STI scares, pregnancy scares, UTIs, and yeast infections. People were fucking like it was the end of the world, but there were very real short term and long term consequences to deal with as a result.
As the resident sex education queen in my general social circle, I also received several panicked text messages from friends who had questions about the risk of receiving STIs, condoms breaking, and do you know what I did last night because I can’t remember? My answer was usually: calm down, seriously, calm the fuck down, and call the health center. I had always known that my university—despite being one of the top schools in the country—had a sex education problem. My own fuck ups during my four years at Wesleyan taught me even I didn’t know everything there was to know about safe sex. But never before had I seen so much sexual confusion, risk, and terror in one concentrated week.
Sex education stops after high school, if we were lucky enough to receive it at all—my own high school offered a truncated abstinence-only program from which I learned… basically nothing considering I am clearly not abstinent. There are several admirable student-run sexual health groups on Wesleyan’s campus, and I did my part to keep the conversation about STIs going as a sexuality studies major and the editor of a sexuality magazine. But students learned the most about sexual health from each other, for better or for worse. I was lucky to have a savvy apartment, recommending the best lubricants to each other and keeping tabs on one another when someone went out for the night. I was lucky though, and sex education via peers shouldn’t be the status quo. Adult sex education is critical for our physical and mental health, and higher education and sexual education should go hand in hand. After all, senior week did not create problems that did not otherwise exist: it just poured lighter fluid on an ember to make it a flame.
If anyone wants to help me draft a senior week sex education and consent guide to circulate for the Class of 2015, send me an email. My time as a student at Wesleyan might be over, but I’ll hopefully return for tent party next year as a proud alum.