WASHINGTON – In an era of coed dorms and slackening rules about “overnight guests,” a new constituency has emerged on college campuses: the roommate inconvenienced by sex.
Shielding a cohabitant from moments of intimacy is an article of collegiate etiquette as old as the sexual revolution. In the previous generation, a tie or sock hung from a doorknob served as a do-not-disturb sign. Today, the warning is more commonly delivered by text message. At some point, students displaced from their rooms came to be known as “sexiles.”
Tufts University, near Boston, raised eyebrows this fall by going where its peers would not. The school has banned sexual activity in dorm rooms when a roommate is present.
“It happens, not often, but it happens enough,” said Ben Gittleson, of Gaithersburg, Md., a 20-year-old Tufts junior. “I think it’s ridiculous that people can’t talk it out with their roommates. But people aren’t always considerate, and roommates aren’t always assertive enough.”
Tufts may be the first college in the nation to make explicit what other schools have only hinted: It is not cool to have sex in front of your roommate.
The action also is notable as a baby-step backward in the decades-long march toward fully coeducational living. Colleges have steadily loosened rules about romantic guests as they have brought the genders closer together, first in coed dorms, then coed floors, and finally coed rooms. Couples can now share a dorm room at a growing number of schools, including Wesleyan University and Oberlin College.
The policy at Tufts, a private research university with 9,500 students, has reaped heavy publicity on college campuses, providing fodder for Conan and Leno and reducing the school to something of a national punch line.
Tufts officials said the change was prompted by persistent complaints from students, numbering perhaps a dozen over the past two to three years.
In response, administrators helpfully added a new item to a list of Host Responsibilities for students with overnight guests: “You may not engage in sexual activity while your roommate is present in the room.” Dorm sex should never “deprive your roommate(s) of privacy, study, or sleep time.”
Tufts officials hoped the new policy would “empower roommates to initiate conversation about what may be uncomfortable subjects,” said Kim Thurler, a university spokeswoman. “When students share a room, they must have good, clear communication about how the room will be utilized.”
Tufts officials said they know of no other school that has recognized a student’s right to be spared roommate sex. It’s too early to tell whether their new rules might set a trend.
The policy has not been universally embraced. Some at Tufts deem the topic a bit too personal and think it should be left to roommates to sort out. Others resent that the schoolwide community was not involved in the decision. Still others – those too shy to speak up, or with particularly thoughtless cohabitants – feel as though a burden has been lifted.