I Was Afraid to Have Sex on an American College Campus
“I’m gonna fuck so many Fratties on exchange,” read the caption of my Instagram update.
It was the night of my going away. I was set for a semester abroad in the rural precinct of the Southern Bible Belt of western North Carolina, USA. I’d heard about all the sex you have on exchange. Those of my mates who had gone away to study always returned with exceptionally crazy and liberating sexual experiences. As a person who’s very open with their sexuality and eagerness to explore the domain of casual sex, I accepted my fate of the ultimate fuck fest.
A week before our semester began, the other international girls and I were pumping ourselves up for the babin’ jocks we’d soon encounter. The hype was real. Frat boys, geeks, rock-climbing enthusiasts – nothing was off-limits. Finally, classes began. The information gathering commenced. Who was who and who to screw?
And then our research was stunted. Our inhibitions materialised when we became aware of the unfortunate truths of our surroundings. Rape culture.
Within our first week, two claims of sexual assault came from the freshman dormitories. We were all notified through the security alert messages, a protocol following all claims of assault. This happened a lot, particularly within the freshman dorms. 17-year-olds resided in the freshman dorms.
As days passed, we learned of the female student body’s number one fashion accessory: pepper spray. Everybody had one; you’d be a fool not to. Rape culture was barely even hidden under the surface. One recently dissolved fraternity chapter even had a room nicknamed, ‘The Rape Room’.
My first interaction with some of the local boys was a day at the lake. The internationals were being inducted into the Alpha Sig crew. We were in our bikinis playing frisbee in the water. We were made to run, stretch and reach for the frisbee while we were unknowingly being photographed. I caught a camera snapping at me before being ushered over by a curly-headed guy kneeling on the sand, playing with angles, clearly an amateur photographer.
“You look so good here. I’ll send it to you and you can make it your DP.”
“Send it to me,” I said.
He never did send it to me directly. Instead, an album of the entire day’s semi-nude and suggestive photographs were disseminated through a private Group-Me chat made up of 80 strangers. I wasn’t in the group.
For the first time, I realised while I was here I wouldn’t have complete control over my body. 80 people had now conjured a first impression of me leaping around in a bikini. They didn’t know my name, they knew my body. This was the first time I’d ever felt victimized; the first time I truly felt exposed. I burst into tears.
Fraternities considered themselves the cream of the crop. If they spoke to you, lavished you, invited you to their Snapchat group chats and sent you the details to their exclusive house parties, you became their possessions. As internationals, we were bombarded by the like. Apparently we did wonders for their social status. Having us at their parties was a real crowd pleaser. Sleeping with us was even better. But I wasn’t into it. The desperation of constant booty calls and invitations to come over and smoke didn’t really appeal to me.
I watched the changes occurring to our fellow international lads. Boys who had refrained from perceiving women as objects were now tallying a score board. Boys who were committed to their girlfriends at home soon buckled to temptation. Boys who claimed to respect women were now complaining of the mediocrity they were surrounded by.
When one guy from our group started dating a local girl, he was shamed by his mates for being “whipped”. These mates were not locals; they were internationals who had adopted the mantra, “Here for a good time, not a long time.”
But the same liberation couldn’t be said for the girls. Within this college community, girls who wore lingerie in public and did keg stands were considered cheap, not to mention that if they’d slept with more than five men, they were labelled sluts. Girls marking frat letters on their bodies while on a drunken dare would be dropped from the guest list of their other frat mates’ social gatherings. So they just accepted this. Friends and parties were more important than individuality, the boys called the shots and they simply followed suit.
Exchanging conversation was now perceived as an attempt to woo. Boys would coerce girls with weed and pre-poured drinks. So I stopped going out, preferring to sit at home and binge watch Netflix, scoffing my face with carbs and talking to boys from back home.
While my sensitivities were at an all-time high, I knew that I couldn’t categorise all of my peers into the same air of domineering masculinity. There were sweet, introverted and respectful members of the pack too, but unfortunately, they were minorities, drowned out by the loud and uber masculine.
Cat-calling was a given. If you wore tight jeans, eyes were gawking at your rear wherever you turned.
For the first two months of my exchange, I was too scared to be myself. Back home, I was an overt extrovert who wore flares and dangling earrings with a tattoo on my side that read, ‘PSSY PWR’. I started realising the other international female students experienced the same trepidations that I did.
One was yelled at for leading a guy on; another was abused on a tinder date because she didn’t feel like having sex. She was later told by a frat ‘bro’ that she was the idiot for going on the date expecting nothing would happen. That was the consequence of her naivety. We stopped talking to these guys and the ones who supported them. We thought that we’d eventually be forgotten.
But the male supremacy never left. These jarring instances even followed me.
“Yeah baby,” he said to me as I exited the bar. It was the first time I’d been out in a few weeks.
He was a typical redneck bro: snapback, extra-large tee, baggy jeans and a knee hiked up on the table bench. A phallic asserting lean was angled in my direction.
Cat-calling. It’s never on. Why was I fretting? Why had I shrunk into myself, afraid of the pests who had no game, no style and no respect. Back home I’m empowered in my solidarity, not validated by the glances of perverts. No, fuck you mate. I don’t care where I am, it’s still not on.
“Fuck off,” I said it, looked him square in the eye.
He was taken aback immediately.
He looked to his left and laughed almost embarrassingly to his dirtbag mate.
I won. He might think he did, but in my eyes he didn’t. There she was, my voice, finally.
Easing back into myself, I coerced the local girls into wearing outfits they felt beautiful in. I told them to dismiss the guys that were using them. We compiled break up messages and went out on girls nights. We hooked up with boys and never texted them back.
It was easy to care too much around here. I’d lost myself in the fear of a male dominance I’d never before encountered. I was adopting a local mentality, forgetting that these men and their supposed power of social patriarchy didn’t actually have to impact me.
I finally felt accomplished when a frat boy named Storm – whose ‘great grandpappy was a civil war confederate with a tobacco farm’ – affirmed that my differentiation as a loose unit actually had no effect whatsoever on the social pecking order. This guy meant nothing to me.
“You’re not like other girls,” he said. “You just do what you want and you actually fit right in.”
It was odd hearing those words. It told me how rigid their framework of everything was, how ignorant they were of individuality or challenging the status quo. It also told me that he felt obliged to validate what I was doing so that I could feel better about myself.
But that didn’t matter. Instead I took away a valuable message for myself to recall the next time I was surrounded by men who took ownership over my presence in society.
Next time you travel, remember to pack yourself with you before you leave home.
Cover via girlwiththebeehive