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'Sex and the University' unzips campus sex columns

Material that recently came across Daniel Reimold's desk:

Faint grunts and moans leaked through the paper-thin divider — something the Howard Johnson likes to call a wall. It seemed to end quickly, (apparently the poor guy was either inexperienced or not quite on his "A" game) …

As an assistant journalism professor and adviser to the University of Tampa's Minaret newspaper, part of Reimold's job is reading student sex columns — that one from UT student Hannah Webster. It's a task with which he's intimately familiar.

Reimold, 29, is the author of Sex and the University: Celebrity, Controversy and a Student Journalism Revolution, a new book that explores the rise of raunchy writing on campus. Based on interviews with 150 writers, editors, ex-lovers and shell-shocked parents (including sex columnists from the University of South Florida), Reimold chronicles the sexual evolution of college press.

Sex and the University includes a handy glossary of phrases in the "student sexicon" — tag-team boobs, anyone? But as Reimold explained, his book is about more than dirty deeds.

Why write about sex columns?

It's basically the question everybody has. Even sitting down with my grandmother, God bless her. Regardless of what the title screams, the book really is not about sex. The driving engine is my passion for college media. People are spending a lot of time figuring out what the professional press is doing, and there's a lot of interest in high school scholastic journalism. College has gotten bumped to the side. It's gotten a C-list status. I wanted to attempt to fill the gap. It started with a LexisNexis search. I simply typed in a few buzzwords. College. Media. Student. Newspaper. Campus. Press. Ninety-nine out of 100 entries, no matter what terms I was putting in, popped up with something to do with college sex columns or … magazines.

Were you concerned about reaction?

When students talk about it, their term for the criticism or the shock of the general public is called "blinded by the sex." You see the word "sex" in a headline or above the fold or in a lead sentence of a column and it's hard for many people to get past that and see the value of what they're writing about. It was a story worth telling fully and worth telling right. I can think of a lot worse ways to spend an afternoon than talking to student journalists and reading more sex columns than anyone else on Earth.

How did sex columns explode?

Dear Abby, Anne Landers, Dr. Ruth and a few of these early celebrity life advice columnists are the groundlings. But what students cite and what the social and pop culture history tends to cite is a whole bunch of cultural moments. Everything from Clinton's Oval Office escapades, to the rise of Internet porn, to the mainstreaming of sex, … to an increase of classes dealing with sexuality, to the rise of coed dorms. That set the table. The feast was served with Sex and the City.

Did you have ideas about sex columnists?

I had notions that were put forward by the classic criticisms which tended to be that the columnists were … I don't want to use the word skanky … were sexually forward to a fault, out of touch and just sort of exaggerated versions of Carrie Bradshaw. They turned out to be pretty ordinary college students. They tended to be dealing with the same sort of issues and insecurities about love and lust as every other undergrad. I think you do have to have a certain affinity for the limelight and a certain boldness of character to put your name on a column of this sort.

Did any columnists regret putting so much out there?

A number of them did express regret. Not at the content. There was no shame so much, but simply that they were not able to anticipate some of the problems of people's perceptions. We're living in this age of our Google print and things we cannot escape from. On law school applications or grad school applications, job interviews and even some blind dates, their sex columnist past comes up.

Can a college sex column actually lead to journalism jobs?

In most cases, from what I've come across, it's been an incredibly direct spark plug to careers in magazines and online journalism. There are even a few who have become household names because of their sex columns. … It has blurred the lines between what's considered public and private, what's considered gossip and news. I think it's showing that journalism can lead the way in talking about anything and everything.

Daniel Reimold

Meet the author at the 2010 St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 23 on the campus of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Admission is free. For information, go to

festivalofreading.com.

'Sex and the University' unzips campus sex columns 09/16/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 16, 2010 12:27pm]

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