Sex, Booze and the College Freshman

Being a college freshman is a fairly dangerous occupation. A 2006 USA Today study found that although freshmen account for only about 24 percent of the total population of college students, they accounted for 40 percent of undergraduate suicides, 47 percent of undergrad deaths on campus, and 50 percent of deaths from falls out of windows and off rooftops.

Why do we bring this up? Because over 2,600 freshmen have now begun their first year of college at OSU, and we’d like to take this opportunity to address these young men and women.

Look, your first year in college is an unforgettable experience—it’s going to be a total blast. You’ll kindle friendships and romances that may last a night or a lifetime. You’ll grow as a person intellectually, morally, and emotionally. Best of all, you’re no longer under the watchful eyes of your parents. You’re free. It’s great. But you are destined to make mistakes. At best, you’ll eventually forget about these mistakes, or they’ll arise later in life as bittersweet pangs of regret. But some mistakes you’ll never, ever forget—an incurable STI, an unwanted pregnancy, a DUI fatality.

A certain amount of these mistakes can be forgiven. After all, the prefrontal cortex, that portion of the brain that controls decision-making and impulses and allows us to anticipate consequences, isn’t fully developed until the early to mid-20s. You’re almost biologically determined to do stupid stuff.

If we can blame the undeveloped frontal lobe for, say, 20 percent of the mistakes you’ll make in college, it’s safe to attribute the lion’s share of the rest to alcohol. Of all the deaths in the USA Today study, one out of five was found to have been drinking. And you will drink in college. According to OSU Student Health, OSU students, when drinking, drink slightly more than their national peers (men: 6.9 drinks an evening). Maybe you’ll go to a party and drink punch made with Everclear and not realize you just consumed the equivalent of nine drinks in an hour and a half. You will become violently drunk. Maybe you’ll “blackout” and do something stupid—damage property, pull a fire alarm, get in a fight—and get cited or arrested. Maybe you’ll get a Minor in Possession (MIP)—according to OSU’s annual disclosure of criminal statistics, police made 288 arrests and 299 referrals for on-campus liquor law violations in 2011. Maybe you’ll puke, and won’t stop puking, and need to be rushed to the hospital. Or maybe a seemingly nice boy in your dorm will take you home and rape you. We’re not just trying to scare you—when it came to frequency of negative consequences of alcohol consumption, OSU ranked higher than the national average across the board.

Speaking of rape and alcohol, at OSU in 2011 there were nine (reported) “forcible sex offenses,” seven of which happened in the residence halls. According to a study by the Core Institute, of the 3.9 percent of surveyed students who reported incidents of “forced sexual touching or fondling,” 67.4 percent had used alcohol or drugs. Of the 2.6 percent who reported rape, 79.4 percent had used alcohol or drugs. Once the rapist is included, alcohol has been involved in 90 percent of all campus rapes.

As for consensual sex, it’s great. But not so much when one is inebriated, for a number of reasons. In the same Core Institute study, some 70 percent of college students say they had unplanned sex—sex they probably wouldn’t have had if sober—while drunk. Twenty percent of them didn’t take precautions, even though they practice safe sex when sober. That’s not only gross, it’s dangerous. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV/AIDS—they’ve all been diagnosed at the OSU Student Health Clinic. Every year in the U.S. there are about 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), about half of which occur among 15 to 24 year-olds. So please, use a condom. They’re free. Even better, use a condom but take some time to know a person before you let him or her into your bed. Ask them if they’ve been tested—it may kill the mood a bit, but so will genital herpes.

Sex, alcohol, and drugs—even in combination with one another—are not automatically bad things. But once added to the churning stew of emotions, hormones, impulses, and identity that is the freshman experience, they lead, with staggering frequency, to mistakes. The vast majority of these mistakes are avoidable. You just need to be aware, and responsible, and you’ll be fine. We hope.


By Nathaniel Brodie