The (Sex)Lives of Others

an intimate look at space, surprises, and the sexile

Sex, perhaps especially in college, can become public in some unexpected ways.

Case in point: my freshman year, Boy X and I were interrupted post-coitus by his roommate. Not that bad, right? Well, in tow were several other (very drunk) members of the athletic team both boys were on, and they proceeded to turn the situation into a group-snuggle/pass-out-and-fall-asleep session. With us. In Boy X’s twin bed. (Relax, this wasn’t at Brown. Cease pointing fingers.)

I’ve racked up a number of reproachful gazes from roommates intruded upon in the middle of the night; been asked rather curtly to please stop making out in the hallway, thank you very much; had to avoid eye contact with my lovers’ known cohabitors (whom I sincerely hope sleep with earplugs); and surprised at least a couple of suitemates making my exit from their respective showers. Yes, I’ve been involved in more than a few sexiling snafus and had my fair share of there’s-no-way-I-can-pretend-I-didn’t-sleep-with-your-suitemate-last-night-because-I’m-making-eye-contact-with-you-and-yes-that’s-a-hickey-thanks-for-staring-I-was-just-leaving moments.

Imagine sharing a room with someone you’ve only known for a matter of months and living in a place where essentially every space you inhabit is communal. Now add sex and love and all that’s in between to the equation. This is, of course, freshman year at Brown. Take a walk through the halls of Keeney any Friday or Saturday night, and you’ll see it all unfold: the condom drama, the spatial reshufflings and awkward half-naked encounters, the sexiling and gossip and walks of shame. Because after all, sex—especially in college, especially freshman year—is never just sex. It’s where we negotiate boundaries with others and define our own limits, where we, consciously or not, construct our identities and reputations and relationships. And suffice it to say that it can become pretty complicated pretty quickly.

Your C’s are for condoms

Given Brown’s liberal bent on social issues, it should come as no surprise that the Residential Peer Leaders who head up freshman units do not police or punish the sexual exploits of students here in the same way that their parietal-enforcing counterparts at a school like, say, Boston College or Notre Dame—both of which have strict fraternization rules, and the latter of which can actually expel students for doing it.

Compare to Brown, where freshmen—and their sometimes shocked parents—are introduced to the laissez-faire attitude about sex on campus as soon as they begin settling into their dorm rooms. After all, we’ve all seen the condoms and dental dams for sale displayed prominently on RPLs’ doors in addition to the pamphlets and colorful block letters spelling out their names. The point is to provide freshmen with a way to have safe sex, according to Ethan Levine, an RC in Keeney.

“I would prefer kids are having safe sex at Brown rather than getting STDs or getting pregnant,” he said, adding that despite the fact that residents often steal condoms, he would front the costs of condoms in order to ensure that his residents always have that option.

Logistical issues of providing condoms aside, RPLs rarely interfere with their residents’ sex lives in any professional capacity unless an issue arises within the unit. But there are some beds on campus they try to keep their freshmen out of: their own.

Romantic involvement between RPLs and their residents is “very frowned upon,” said residential counselor (and Post- contributing writer) Fred Milgrim, a sophomore. He said the phrase tossed around during RPL training was, “Love can wait ‘til May.”

All’s Fair in Love and…Sexiling?

Perhaps its Brown’s notoriously free-loving student body and relatively hands-off RPLs that makes places like Keeney a hotbed for all kinds of hooking up. And doing the dirty in a double almost always means one thing: sexiling a roommate.

Kara Kaufman ’12, an RC in Keeney, said she can recall numerous instances from her freshman year in which friends and floor-mates kicked out or were kicked out by their respective roommates, whether for the occasional one-night stand or for frequent accommodation of long-term relationships.

“I think it’s part of the freshmen experience,” she said.

Sexiling “happens all the time,” said an anonymous male freshman, who said he’d kicked his roommate out “many times” already this year and called it “frequent” occurrence in his unit.

Frequent enough, apparently, that his unit uses a smiley face drawn on a door’s dry-erase board as a collectively understood “do not disturb” signal (though some girls in the unit said they prefer to use hearts instead).

As Milgrim put it, he’s seen freshmen in his unit taking small-scale walks of shame back from each other’s rooms, and the condoms on his door have been disappearing at a steady clip. It’s a fact, and not a terribly surprising one, that they’re having sex, often with each other, which means that some people are bound to get sexiled and dormcest is more or less inevitable.

Embracing the potential hang-ups that come along with being two sexually active guys sharing a room, Ben Peipert ’13 and his roommate operate on a flexible give-and-take system where each has been, at times, the “sexilee” and “sexiler.”

“He’s kicked me out of the room. I’ve kicked him out of the room,” Peipert said matter-of-factly.

In many ways, sexiling and being sexiled are just two of the many aspects of living in a double—simply another way roommates have to figure out how to share space and negotiate boundaries.

In general, roommate relations can sour, Milgrim said, “when you start taking advantage of your living situation and your roommate.”

But getting intimate in a shared space has the potential to create what Kaufman called “really awkward encounters” between roommates that are a little different than, say, asking your roommate to talk on the phone somewhere else so you can study. For instance, on Milgrim’s floor last year, one roommate walked in on the other and, Milgrim said, “made eye contact for like 10 seconds” before leaving, which exacerbated the already awkward and tense relationship between the two.

In theory, the roommate contract freshmen fill out at the beginning of the year should address issues like this. And while the contract “helps to put (sex and sharing a room) on the table,” said Faiz, “whether or not it solves the issue is another story.”

Peipert acknowledged that the informal system he has with his roommate is only possible because they get along well.

“If I didn’t like my roommate, I probably wouldn’t kick him out. I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable kicking him out,” he said.

And as anyone who has lived in a dorm can tell you, not all roommates are perfect matches or even functional cohabiters. Less-than-great relationships between roommates often make hooking up in the shared space of the room tricky and, sometimes, not worth the trouble.

Just ask Ryan Gladych ’13. He summed up his thoughts on sexiling in three words: “Don’t do it,” he said. “Go to the girl’s room,” he added.

xoxo, gossip girl

Practically everyone in one Keeney unit knows what one male freshman did last weekend: he blacked out, lied about his age to two girls and somehow ended up having a late-night threesome in a kitchen in his building. The story seems to have reached a point of near-common knowledge within the unit. Perhaps it’s not surprising that many of his peers have heard the story. The freshman unit is a shared space and a tight-knit community of residents. Certain aspects of the personal become public simply as a byproduct of the living arrangement. Other aspects enter into the collective consciousness of a unit or a dorm simply because people like to talk.

The dramas of our (sex) lives may spread to various circles on campus, get retold to friends back home, or be passed along in any number of unexpected ways. But we chalk it up that to the fleeting recklessness that goes hand-in-hand with the college experience—or maybe if we’re feeling honest, life—and move forward because, at the end of the day, having two people you barely know discussing the fact that you swung a threesome in a dorm kitchen as freshman is not exactly the worst thing in world.

Correction appended October 1.