It’s late, and you’re looking forward to your nice warm bed. You’re about to open your door, when you hear suspicious sounds coming from your bedroom. Reaching for the doorknob in your sleepy state of mind, you suddenly realize your roommate has an unexpected guest, and it’s gonna be a long night on the common-room couch.
Sexile happens. It’s a quintessential freshman (or for that matter, college) situation. But Tufts University hopes to end that awkward, and all too familiar, experience. I’m just not sure it can — or should even try.
At Tufts, the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) has adopted a new policy prohibiting any sex act in a dorm room while one’s roommate is present. Additionally, any sexual activity in the room should not interfere with a roommate’s privacy, study habits or sleep. According to a ResLife representative, the policy is intended to promote discussion and compromise between roommates regarding the issue.
“Personally, I see where sexiling can be a huge problem,” wrote a Penn College sophomore in an e-mail, who wished to remain anonymous due to the topic matter. “However, … it seems like, policy or not, people are going to sexile roommates at some point or another. Although there are cases where roommates are highly inconsiderate, I find that most of my friends are able to come up with agreements between roommates so as not to disturb their studies/sleep/privacy.”
Aside from being potentially ineffective (not to mention nearly impossible to enforce), I could see a policy regulating sex raising problems instead of resolving issues.
Widely known and accepted practices for dealing with the classic lack of privacy in dorm life already exist — a sock on the doorknob, a quick text asking the roommate to kindly not come home that night. And sure, it’s annoying to be locked out, but chances are, you’ll ask the same of your roommate another time. You honestly just have to compromise — nobody wants to be that roommate.
A rule on the books that forbids sexual activity to interfere with a roommate is for all intents and purposes a ban on the act itself. There’s just no way to not interfere with your roommate with paper-thin walls and little-to-no personal space. And a no-interference policy impedes, rather than facilitates, compromise.
If one roommate can end the discussion of sexual activity in the room by pointing at a rule saying it’s not allowed, it creates bad blood between two people who have to live together for a year, but more importantly, you lose the opportunity to discuss something that may be uncomfortable — and learning how to talk about those things is an integral part of any roommate relationship.
Learning to live with someone unrelated to you is an experience in itself. Not only are you forced to practice being considerate, you also learn to confront issues head-on. Your other options are essentially living somewhere else, or suffering through passive-aggressive misery.
Discussing a conflict of lifestyles (i.e. someone who hooks up every weekend versus a roommate who rarely goes out) is a crucial skill, not only for future living situations, but also in the workplace. If you have a colleague or boss who micromanages, and it drives you crazy, you won’t be able to say, “You’re not allowed to do that.” You have to either suffer through it, or talk about some coping mechanisms, the same way you’d ask a roommate to keep the sexiles to a minimum and provide adequate warning.
For better or worse, Penn is unlikely to change residential guest policies. According to associate director of College Houses Pamela Robinson, the Office of College Houses and Academic Services believes sexual behavior in the presence of roommates is relatively rare, but is also already covered in the residential handbook. If there is a problem, though, the office encourages residents to seek the assistance of house faculty.
I’m not so sure the “behavior” is as rare as the University might think, but then again… blissful ignorance is not necessarily a bad thing.
Katherine Rea is a College junior from Saratoga, Calif. Her e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org
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