Jeffrey Eugenides answered questions about college, sex, and writing for the Arizona State University State Press. Check out what advice the bestselling author had for today’s college students here.
Question: Much is made of “sex on campus.” Do you think the college campus lifestyle enhances, diminishes, or changes at all the thrill of a sexual experience?
Jeffrey Eugenides: The signal event of my first-year orientation was the showing of an X-rated film called “Debbie Does Dallas.” This was long before porn had gone mainstream on the Internet. Most of my fellow 18 year olds had never seen anything like it before, and if we had, we’d certainly never watched it with members of the opposite sex around. But now we were in college. We were, by universal agreement, all grown up.
And so we sat there watching the acts being performed on the screen, acting as though it was funny to us, or reason to cheer or holler. I remember one jock shouting, “Why doesn’t my girlfriend do it like that?” In actuality, we were all extremely uncomfortable. College, we’d been told, was going to feature a lot of sex. But we weren’t quite ready for the rules to change so quickly. We had to pretend to be more seasoned and blasé about the whole thing than we actually were. I don’t remember a single thing about that movie. All I remember was how everyone was trying to pretend to be someone they weren’t yet and maybe never would be.
In my own case, the “college campus lifestyle” didn’t enhance the thrill of sexual experience, certainly not my first year. That was because I was having no sexual experience. As I say in “The Marriage Plot,” “In the sexual hierarchy of college, freshman males ranked at the very bottom.” The freedom was there, the dorm room was ready, but the opportunities were not forthcoming. As the years passed, things got better. The explorations, physical, emotional and intellectual began. It turned out to be nothing like “Debbie Does Dallas.” It was much better than that because the women were real.