The Wessex Lifestyle Sexual Health Survey 2012


Graphics by Nicola Manuel

With sexual health awareness a continuing issue, Wessex Lifestyle decided to find out what was happening on campus – or to put it another way, in the beds of Southampton students. An online survey was sent out, answers collected, and comments discussed. And here’s what we found out.

University students are notorious for their academic enthusiasm, independence and penchant for pot noodle. Along with this is a reputation for sexual freedom. It’s clear from over hearing conversations and briefly browsing online that the stereotypical student is linked with a vivacious and very active sex life; the words ‘one-night stand’ and ‘friends with benefits’ are thrown around, much like underwear in the height of passion. However, from our results, it appears only 55% of those who answered have ever had a one-night stand. Yes, it is over half; but to many that still seems very low compared to expectations. With the freedom to come and go as you please at university (and please, try to refrain from muttering ‘that’s what she said’) it’s no wonder that the opportunity to have a one-night stand does not go a miss for many.

With one-night stands (not to mention the opportunity for relationships) becoming an integral part of the university experience for many, it is not surprising that numbers of sexual partners increase as well. Suddenly the questions “what’s your number?” could take on a whole new meaning.  Numbers ranged from one to twenty-six. After asking students about their sexual history, they were urged to discuss how they felt about their own ‘number’:

I’m not sure. I’d like to think that as a modern woman I don’t need to feel shame in having slept with more than 10 men, but I still feel like many people would judge me so in that sense it embarrasses me. But I don’t regret them as they’ve been part of the journey that’s made me who I am today.’

–  Female 3rd Year BA English, (11 sexual partners, 3 since attending University)

It’s clear that the stigma of a ‘high’ number of sexual partners can still be worrying, especially for women. Many of those who answered in a manner that displayed guilt, shame or worry were indeed female, with men seeming to be mostly unfazed. However, it was liberating to see how positively other young women felt about experimentation and self-indulgence;

I consider myself to have had an average amount of sexual partners for a university student of my age. I do think that had I not have come to university, I wouldn’t have slept with as many people as I have. Uni has changed me in that respect. I now have the attitude that I should have fun now before I settle down so I know what I want and don’t want.

– Female, 2nd year psychology, (5 sexual partners, 4 since attending university)

Southampton Students are more than clued up about sexual health – with 93% of those who answered never having had an STD, alongside an incredibly good response when asked about STD checks. However much sex we students are having, we certainly are doing it safely. The positive response continues, with most sexually active but single students taking it upon themselves to carry contraception on a night out. It was refreshing, though, to read that not everyone saw a night out as an opportunity to ‘pull’;

Do you carry contraception on a night out?

No. I don’t like going home with people on a night out. I prefer to know the person first. You say a lot about your character when you have sex with someone, and I’m not happy revealing that about me unless I’m getting to know the person…Do you see sex as something casual, or something special? It’s special. I’m not one of those people to preach and say it’s sacred and shouldn’t be done before marriage or prescribe my views on anyone else; it’s a lot of fun after all. But personally I think you make quite an existential connection with someone when you sleep with them. I think that’s got to be worth something.

– Male, 3rd Year Philosophy, (4 sexual partners in total)

It may be reassuring for many loved-up students to know that they are not the only ones to see sex as something more than just ‘a good time’. In modern society, with sex on TV, in films and openly discussed in the media, the loving side of sex is often forgotten; but the 60% of students that are in a relationship often stated that sex had become more meaningful with that special someone;

Being in a relationship has opened my eyes for the emotional aspect of sex. Before I approached it as a competition of sorts, a fun and exciting one but a competition nonetheless. I felt the need to be in control and never completely open up. I would not let anyone see me have an orgasm because I felt it was something too personal, a moment of vulnerability, and a loss of control. But now I’ve learned that it’s wonderful to let go and share something so special with another person.

– Female, 3rd year BSC Psychology

Though only a small percentage of students retain their virginity, those that have mainly do so out of solid determination.

I am a Christian, and believe sex is a gift from God for marriage. There is a much more laid back approach to sex here – “no strings attached” seems to be the norm, and that’s sad.  –

Female, 1st Year BA English

Although these results are only a small percentage of the student population at the University of Southampton, it gives some insight into the sexual awareness of our peers. Some responses surprised, some shocked, but most revealed that students are much more aware of the risks, pleasures and issues of sex than may be expected. Some suggested that more information was needed at the university, possibly themed days on concourse, nights out to raise awareness and more guidance readily available to those who need it. Others insisted that it was not the job of the university to teach us how to stay safe in the bedroom – by this age we are old enough to make our own choices, and to learn. The opinion is thus divided, but it is clear that Southampton University has raised a generation of sex-savvy, opinionated and self-assured students.

Margherita von Aulock





Discussion2 Comments

  1. avatar

    “we asked a bunch of people studying psychology and english at avenue campus -who barely represent the typical southampton student- what they think about sex!”

    Jo Fisher

    James, I just want to point out that, actually, we sent around an online survey and over 200 people from different faculties answered. There was a great response – It just happened that the most interesting answers came from similar backgrounds – it’s purely a coincidence. Appologies if it appears that a limited group of people have been represented, but I can assure you that this was not the case in the overall results.

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