The columns vary in their level of explicitness: the Ivy League and the state of California seem to be the best places to test the limits of good taste; the writing there occasionally takes on the clammy feel of "Penthouse Forum" letters, designed to make dorky freshmen feel like they're missing out on crazy erotic adventures. Some columns are written as naughty sex chronicles; others sound like an anatomy lecture; others are milder and more relationship-oriented. But in many respects most are basically the same.
The spirited "Sex on Tuesday," in Berkeley's Daily Californian, is credited with being one of the first collegiate sex columns (it made its debut in 1997), and it remains, in style and substance, typical of the genre. "Sex on Tuesday" was written during the past school year by a young woman named Sari Eitches, who appears full-figured and saucy in her author photo. Eitches seemed fully aware of the odd responsibility that comes with dishing out sex advice to randy twenty-year-olds, and like many of her peers, she tossed an occasional bone to the more staid sexperts at the university's health service, reminding people to use condoms and otherwise do their best to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. But these hints of sexual seriousness aside, her tone was breezy and all-knowing, her prose sprinkled with innuendo and euphemism, as she chided readers not to be prudish.
Indeed, prudishness is the only unforgivable sin for a sex columnist—and as a result there's constant pressure to see how far one can go. In a column titled "Some Like It Rough," printed in March, Eitches urged her readers, "Relax your idea of what constitutes sadomasochistic tendencies," and noted, "If you include not just getting whipped by a leather-clad dominatrix while attempting auto-asphyxiation, but also giving your partner a little hickey during a make-out session, this campus is just crawling with sadistic heathens." In an earlier entry she interviewed a female porn star about her methods of stimulating her leading men. And then there was the obligatory piece championing anal sex, titled … well, never mind.
In some ways college sex columnists are following in the footsteps of the first famous American sex-advice celebrity, the matronly Dr. Ruth Westheimer, whose radio program, Sexually Speaking, offered listeners wry expertise from 1980 to 1988, no matter how bizarre the query. (Westheimer also writes a column in which one typical response begins, "It is a bit shocking that, after all that has been written and said about sex, so many people remain sexually illiterate, but you are far from alone …")
But the junior sex columnists owe a greater debt to pop-sex writers such as Dan Savage; Anka Radakovich, who had a widely read column in Details magazine throughout the 1990s; and especially Candace Bushnell, whose meditations on the love lives of restless Manhattanites in the New York Observer column "Sex and the City" inspired the television show of the same name. Like Bushnell and her alter ego, Carrie Bradshaw, most collegiate sexologists write their columns as pseudo-diaries, drawing on personal experience to educate readers. And they, too, mix a jaded attitude toward the physical act itself with a wistful yearning for true love, and even a hint of disappointment. ("It is rare for college students to have sex with people they're genuinely in love with," lamented Miriam Datskovsky, a "Barnard College sophomore majoring in Human Rights and French," in the Columbia Spectator's "Sexplorations" last April. "At the other end of the spectrum, random hook-ups allow us to have sex without intimacy.")