Sexiling at Tufts (by Jared Wolfe)

October 5, 2009 BY danariely

Many awkward situations inevitably arise from the college roommate situation, most of which do not have a clear-cut solution. For instance, should you try to get your roommate to take out the garbage for a change? Should you tell your roommate to stop playing M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” from his or her laptop 9 times a day? Should you tell your roommate it’s not cool to have to get kicked out of the room for 15 minutes every time your roommate brings someone back to have sex with? This last quandary brings up the notorious practice of “sexiling,” in which college students “exile” roommates from their room for a period of time so that they could have sex. This has become a relatively common practice on campuses because one alternative would simply be to have sex while your roommate is in the room, which brings up its own obvious issues. The other alternative, of course, is not to have sex at all. But, c’mon, is that really an option to many horny college students?

But Tufts University has now officially banned “sexiling,” stating that “any sexual activity in the room should not interfere with a roommate’s privacy, study habits, or sleep.” Besides the obvious question of whether or not this is even enforceable (“Excuse me…campus police? My roommate is currently having sex while I’m here trying to sleep!”), it raises a number of interesting psychological issues that suggest not only its inevitable failure as a policy, but also its indirect effect on the roommate dynamic.

First of all, even if students simply giggle at this new policy and passively accept it by not directly fighting against it right now, this does not mean that the practice will stop at all. Dan’s “laptop” study showed that people do not realize what desires they will succumb to when they are in a “hot” state (eg, horny) while they are in a “colder” state. So when it comes to sex at Tufts (or any college for that matter), students may be currently thinking something along the lines of “OK, I guess this rule makes sense. I wouldn’t want to have sex while my roommate is sitting there studying Orgo anyway.” However, when the moment of passion comes, that same person might not be able to resist the urge to have sex- whether that means kicking the roommate out of the room or having sex while the roommate is studying or trying to sleep. We simply do not know the decisions that we will make in certain states when we are not currently in that state.

My second point is that this new anti-“sexiling” rule could- perhaps ironically- damage the roommate-roommate relationship. Roommates generally have explicit or implicit social contracts with each other, filled with all sorts of social norms. For instance, roommates may understand that if one is “forced” to leave the room so that the other could have sex, the other will inevitably hit him or her back with a favor later on. Basically, these social contracts between roommates help in the cultivation of a relationship between the two and the imposition of rules from the college administration may undermine this relationship. Now, instead of, say, Roommate #1 being grateful that Roommate #2 was nice enough to wait until Roommate #1 went to the gym before having sex, Roommate #1 may think that Roommate #2 just didn’t want to get slapped with a punishment from Tufts.

And finally, it is a shame when institutions set stupid rules, but it is particularly sad when a university does not study a topic, and test it out before trying something like this.