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At the crossroads of Locust Walk and 37th Street, freshmen amble in wide circles, making great adjustments to their strides to avoid the Compass. Penn folklore holds that a foot on the compass means failing your first midterm.

But it wasn’t always so. Zoom out from the emblematic compass and you’ll see the Phi Delt and Kappa Sig fraternity houses looming nearby. The Compass myth originated as a useful tool for fraternity brothers to identify freshmen girls, who became the aim of their sexual advances.

Over the past week, as freshmen have become oriented (or disoriented) on campus, their sex appeal is at its peak. The phrase “freshman fetish” has made its way to Urban Dictionary (where it is defined as a “love for freshmen, usually exerted by upperclassmen”) and is the subject of one of the more popular articles on Bro Bible, entitled “Five Keys to Hooking Up with Incoming Freshmen” (I’ll spare you the unsavory advice).

Why are we so bent on bedding the barely-legal freshmen?

One explanation is cognitive: we’re hardwired to enjoy novelty, and freshmen are new. A region of the brain called the substantia nigra ventral tegmental area serves as our “novelty center,” lighting up when we experience something (or someone) new. This area triggers the release of dopamine, which makes us feel rewarded and motivates us to seek out more novel stimuli.

But it isn’t just their novelty. There’s certainly more chatter about hooking up with freshmen than, say, transfer students, even though both are new to campus. According to sociologist Kathleen Bogle, who wrote “Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus,” freshmen become the locus of sexual attention mainly for their naivete and willingness to experiment with the college sexual scene.

“Upperclass women are still attractive targets for hooking up, but they will never be as easy a target as the fresh meat,” Bogle told me in an interview. “For men looking for something more casual, freshmen are where it’s at.”

As newcomers, freshmen are still navigating the nuances of hook-up culture. For many, this can create dilemmas of toeing the line between being labeled as “sluts” or as “prudes” depending on how they respond to the flood of sexual attention.

The freshmen hook-up game is most pronounced during NSO, when Spruce Street lights up with off-campus fraternity parties designed to court freshmen.

Wharton and Engineering junior and Tau Epsilon Phi President Jason Mazursky said that fraternities “spend a great deal of effort and money in meeting freshman” in order to raise interest in the fraternity among the incoming class, encourage freshmen to rush in the spring and increase participation from current members. At some fraternities, NSO parties cost over half of the annual budget — a high investment in impressing the freshmen class.

Although fraternities aim to appeal to all freshmen, the young women are the main beneficiaries of this lavish attention and effort. For freshmen men, it’s more common to be left behind at the door: many fraternities, including TEP, enforced a strict three-to-one ratio of women to men at their NSO parties.

According to Bogle, these gender ratios “increase the likelihood of upperclassmen being able to hook up with freshmen women.” Freshmen men lack the same glorification because “most upperclass women don’t want to go after someone who just graduated high school.” (Mazursky declined to comment on gender ratios at parties.)

While freshmen might have an extra edge, their erotic capital isn’t nearly as pronounced beyond the excitement of the first few weeks of school. “For men who are looking for a relationship, senior women are just as attractive as freshmen, if not more,” said Bogle.

The freshman fetish, then, is essentially just a combination of novelty and naivete. But the freshmen should enjoy their attention while they can — all too soon, they’ll be washed-up seniors like me.

Arielle Pardes is a College senior from San Diego. Her email address is You can follow her @pardesoteric. “The Screwtinizer” appears every Thursday.

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