When junior Adam Banks sees a rainbow tie wrapped around his doorknob, he knows he needs to get lost.
The article of clothing is how Banks’s roommate indicates that his girlfriend is staying for the night. Banks takes the hint.
“I just go hang out with another buddy that lives a few doors down,” he said.
Just like they discuss their sleep schedules and music preferences, many roommates lay out ground rules for “sexiling,” a neologism combining the words “sex” and “exile.” But a request for a roommate to leave doesn’t necessarily mean sex in the technical sense.
“You don’t know what they’re doing in there,” sophomore Lyndsay Medlin said.
Away from their parents’ watchful eyes, college students have the freedom to experiment both in the classroom and under the sheets. Dukies differ in the extent to which they do or don’t experiment—but whatever they decide, their roommates are impacted by the decision.
Sexiling has existed for as long as students have had roommates. But a policy adopted by Tufts University this Fall stating that students may not have sex when their roommate is present and no student should lose sleep over their roommate’s sexual exploits has sparked discussion on many college campuses.
Duke administrators said they do not think the University will adopt a similar policy any time soon.
“I’m not aware of us ever having a policy similar to Tufts’ policy, nor am I aware of any plans to put a policy like that in place,” said Sue Wasiolek, assistant vice president for student affairs and dean of students.
L.B. Bergene, assistant dean for Residence Life and Housing Services, said administrators would only consider a sexiling policy if there was enough student demand for it. So far, that has not been the case.
“I would rather have this be something students say they want rather than us dictating it,” she said.
Duke has no written policy on guests of the opposite sex, but freshmen are required to sign a roommate agreement sheet that encourages discussion on issues that arise from living together in such close quarters.
“The sheet basically entails setting down specific rules for the room: when do you go to sleep, study conditions, when do you want to stop bringing in friends,” said sophomore Yidi Ge, a Randolph Residence Hall resident assistant. “It doesn’t specifically say anything about bringing members of opposite sex into the room, but through that document you can set down rules.”
Compromises struck between roommates take many shapes. But most rooms at Duke have a self-imposed double occupancy—when one roommate brings someone home, the other must go.
“I don’t know of anyone who actually has sex in the room while the roommate is present,” sophomore Jennifer Lin said.
Some students plan their romantic encounters based on their roommates’ class schedules so no one has to be a “sexugee”—another neologism that combines the words “sex” and “refugee.” Taking advantage of one partner’s single room is another way to dodge the problem.
“I don’t care if someone is spending the night in the room, but it’s kind of courteous to not have sex in front of me when I have to go to class the next day,” Medlin said. “But it’s OK if they have sex while I’m in class anyway.”
Most students said they are happy that Duke has not enacted a policy like Tufts’, adding that it would be difficult to enforce and unnecessary.
“I feel like that’s a conversation that needs to be had between roommates,” senior Lauren Coleman said. “We’re all adults. Nor can it be enforced. What are you going to do?”
Other students said they do not think the University has a place in students’ bedrooms.
“I don’t think Duke has the right to [have a policy],” Medlin said. “We’re adults. How can you say, ‘Don’t have sex’?”
Across campus, whiteboard messages, hair ties on doorknobs and text messages get the point across so students can avoid awkward situations. But some roommates never feel comfortable setting ground rules for sexual encounters, particularly freshmen who have just started to live together.
“A good friend of mine has a boyfriend coming over from [North Carolina State University] all the time, and her roommate is just not comfortable with the male presence in the room,” junior Song Kim said. “[It has been] going on for a full semester, and they’re still reluctant to talk about it and resolve the issue. Some people don’t want to bring it up altogether.”
But sexiling can be more than awkward. If the overnight guest is practically a stranger, the encounter can be downright dangerous.
“You never know what you’re bringing home,” sophomore Grace Baranowski said. “If you met the guy and you thought he seemed nice and you went back to his room, you’re putting yourself in a dangerous position if you’re both intoxicated.”
For better or for worse, students are adults now. Mature behavior must be handled in a grown-up way, and students said a policy that lends itself to tattling is not the answer.
“It would be useless,” said junior Daniel Cheong. “In college, people would feel really immature ratting out to their RA.”