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Things that make you go hmmm ... Part 1: Sex, politics and idealism in elite America

By Kirsten Edwards - posted Sunday, 15 October 2000

This is the first instalment of Kirsten's discussion of sex and politics in Ivy League universities. Part two can be read here.

It started with sex. Or did it start with the road trip? It is hard to say. Both issues had been bugging me for a while but then I started to link the two. I’ll start with the road trip. Oh, OK I’ll start with sex – I know you want me to.

Sex in the City University

Newly single shortly after I arrived in the US, I idly entertained of thoughts of the classic rebound fling – both for myself and as a general statement to the world that the dumped one can still cut it in the romantic world . The fling did not come to pass. Then I thought of going out and getting another boyfriend – no luck there either. The offers just seemed to have dried up completely. After the standard personal crisis, therapy, a haircut and the purchase of an expensive gym membership, I started looking around and realized something very strange – no one else seemed to be getting any either.


Then I realized the shocking truth – Ivy league students just don’t have sex. You may find this hard to believe, I mean Hill and Bill famously met at the Library at Yale Law School and surely they did it – at least in the beginning. That may be, but I challenge you to go to a Ivy League campus and find evidence of it. Unlike my alma mater ANU, you won’t find couples languorously stretched out on the grass laughing and snogging here. You won’t see students holding hands as they stroll between classes. It just doesn’t happen. When one Ivy League law school wanted a picture of a happy-looking couple for a promotional brochure they scoured the campus for a candid shot, in the end they had to ask two of my friends (who couldn’t stand each other) to pose.

Go to the Law Ball at one of top five US law schools and you won’t see the typical Australian sight of drunken couples pairing up for a pash at the end of an evening. They don’t get drunk and they don’t pash, I swear.

I am not the only one who thinks this. I stopped short of peering into windows in dorms but I asked around. I overheard one very attractive female undergrad saying to another as they walked past me: "well you know, [Ivy League College] isn’t what you’d call a dating college".

Just last night I shared a bus with first-year law students who were absolutely horrified to discover that the guys here wouldn’t even flirt with them.

In the name of research I talked to the wife of the Master of one of the Colleges here. She knows a lot about campus life and she agrees with me. You won’t see PDAs (Public Displays of Affection) among the student body. Of course sex does happen – at least according to some rumors it does. But public courtship and physical affection are out – if you wanna do it, you gotta sneak around.

Why? Well everyone has a theory. Some people say that Ivy Leaguers often are convinced, with some justification, that their future lies in high political or legal office and they don’t want to risk any scandal coming up at their Senate Confirmation hearings. Others say that in places with such high intellectual ambitions people want to be known and remembered as "that terribly clever Jill Smith" not "didn’t she date Joe Bloggs?". According to a friend of mine the phenomenon is confined to the smaller Ivy League schools on the basis that nobody wants to be the centre of intense gossip. This argument is convincing in the early stages of any relationship but it loses some force when couples have been together for more than six month. In one famous case a couple even got married without telling their classmates.


On the Road

But let’s leave the sex bit for a moment and go back to my road trip. My sister came to visit and we decided to hire a car and see a bit of America. First stop was Washington DC. We loved it. No one does monuments like the Americans – we loved them all: Lincoln, Jefferson, FDR, Kennedy, Korea and Vietnam.

All the Presidential monuments are made out of marble and they all have inspiring quotes made by the Prez carved into them. Some of them are really awesome. One of Thomas Jefferson’s is:

Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.

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About the Author

Kirsten Edwards is a Fulbright Scholar currently researching and teaching law at an American university. She also works as a volunteer lawyer at a soup kitchen and a domestic violence service and as a law teacher at a juvenile detention centre but all the community service in the world can’t seem to get her a boyfriend.

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