What Is Responsible Sexual Behavior
In college, what sexual behavior is and isn’t responsible?
College brings new relationships and experiences, including those of a sexual nature. Navigating these encounters is challenging, because the federal regulations that help to establish what behavior in college crosses the line are evolving are inconsistently enforced.
In short, the regulations issued by the federal Department of Education under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 don’t prohibit intimacy between college students, but they do establish behavioral standards that must be understood. If you or your student have questions about responsible sexual behavior in college, Andrew T. Miltenberg, a due process advocate and Title IX attorney, explains what you should know.
Under the Trump administration, the Department of Education issued regulations that defined sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” This definition seems comprehensive, yet leaves many students and parents with uncertainties.
Inconsistent standards between colleges and universities, as well as within the same institutions, create further confusion. Academic institutions continue to resist the Department of Education’s call for uniformity, while some have disregarded demands for protections for the rights of the accused. “I think the regulations address these concerns, but they were infrequently followed. Today, schools feel empowered to go backward,” Miltenberg says.
Making sense of Title IX guidelines
Without clear guidance, students are left with little definitive information about how their school will enforce Title IX and what it means for their conduct. Schools are required to determine the impact of one student’s actions on another, the type of behavior in question, its frequency and duration, and other factors. Without consistency, it is extremely difficult to assign boundaries to any of these considerations.
For example, Miltenberg has supported students in proceedings where similar interactions were treated with alarming disparity. At one school, sexual encounters under the influence of alcohol are not considered assault if both parties drink. At others, intercourse after two or three drinks was termed rape. Similarly, repeated texting over several days might constitute harassment and a misconduct judgment in one proceeding, while another at the same school results in a no-contact order or no action –even with more texts sent with greater aggression.
Additionally, most colleges and universities lack coherent policies to address sexual misconduct in same-sex relationships and involving transgender or nonbinary individuals. This makes understanding appropriate behavior and meeting the needs of all parties even more challenging.