Friday, March 28, 2008

Do Canadian Academics Have Sex?

Do Canadian Academics Have Sex?

Recently the graduate faculty at my university distributed a questionnaire designed to measure the more non-academic aspects of lives devoted to scholarship. The ostensible pretense was the buzz caused by a survey conducted by a student-run newspaper. The paper had devoted an entire issue to describing students’ distaste with the sterile, stale, musty, etc. halls of academia; it suggested that academics were cold, celibate, humourless animals who’d devoted their lives to the pursuit of puritanical, sexless learning. And the question that remained to be asked was whether graduate students and faculty felt the same way.

But it went beyond that. Suggestions were solicited, and a detailed, far-reaching examination of the hidden lives of academics was born. Maybe it was just out of boredom or gossipy intrigue, but momentum built toward getting this thing out there and seeing the results tabulated and disseminated. And so this was what we learned:

The undergraduate pollsters had asked students whether they viewed their professors as asexual. Eighty-three percent of respondents answered Yes. They couldn’t see their professors having sex—with each other, with themselves, or with anyone else.

Undergraduates had been asked whether they believed their profs and Teaching Assistants had any hidden kinks. Ninety-seven percent answered in the affirmative. So what were these pedagogues hiding? The top write-in guesses were foot fetishes, book fetishes, and masturbatory acts of erotic scholarly writing (dirty essays?).

Undergraduates were asked whether faculty members or grad students ever got laid at conferences. Seventeen percent thought they did. (Having been to conferences, I can tell you it happens, but only when there's an open bar. Most academics don't touch hard liquor, and it takes a lot of wine to get them past Derrida and onto reality--the point at which they can accept flirting cues.)

Undergraduates were asked whether faculty members or grad students ever slept with students. Eight percent ventured that sex-for-grades was a reality.

So, given those results, let’s take a look at the numbers from the PhD side:

Seventy-one percent of professors and graduate students reported having active sex lives. The number swung way in the professor’s favour, with only twenty percent of grad students claiming to have had sex within the last month. (And that number might be even farther off since it doesn’t take into account that some students are married--and consequently could not have had sex within the last thirty days.) Seventy-three percent of respondents admitted having hidden kinks. By far the most notable kink (notable because almost every respondent refused to admit to a perversion-—and the ones who did gave the usual leather/bondage answer) was an academic poetess who reported to having strong sexual fantasies about Jesus, James Joyce, and Joey Jeremiah (a character on a Canadian TV show). So, go figure. While only two professors admitted to ever having slept with a student, seventeen (out of a pool of eighty-seven) reported having engaged in post-plenary-session coitus.

Perhaps the most interesting answer: eighty-four of the eighty-seven polymaths surveyed admitted to having been attracted to a student. What can I say, jeans are tight.

Beyond that, there were the usual funny answers. Fifty-percent of profs would rather read a good book than have sex. Thirty-four percent had read more books in the past week than they’d had sexual partners in their lives. Twelve percent had had sex in their office or on campus (though, surprisingly, none admitted to doing it in the library. And the archives was out of the question--it's moisture-controlled).

So what does this say about academia? Nothing, actually. But it’s kind of interesting. Professors are often viewed as wizened, timid flakes, but every wizened, timid flake needs a spousal equivalent.

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