North Dakota—the last place most people ever think of-makes the national news from time to time, usually as part of a survey or study. Sometimes the results surprise those of us who live here, but mostly they don’t.
For instance, studies publicized in the past year indicate that we’re the state lowest in stress, that we’re near the bottom of the list in crime, and that we have starving ranchers and a food-stamp crisis in some of our south westernmost counties. Only the last finding was a surprise to us, especially to those ranchers.
Another example of a media blitz emanating from the tundra: Everybody knows by now that we have more days of sunshine than any other U.S. state on the Canadian border. Under our parkas, we’ve known it all along.
We recently made the news again. Two professors at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks—sociologist Arthur P. Jacoby and statistician john D. Williams—studied 200 men and women UND students in 1984 concerning those students’ “sexual experience and their willing ness to date others with varied levels of experience,” according to a summary of those findings which was published in the July 1986 Psychology Today. (The entire study appears in the Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 47, No. 4.)
Jacoby and Williams have plowed into fertile soil, it seems. For one thing, they found that the traditional sexual “double standard”—where a man thinks its okay, nay, obligatory, to score a touchdown on every date but insists on marrying a virgin—has grown rather predictably into what Jacoby and Williams call the “selfish standard,” which amounts to nothing more than the old double standard applied reciprocally by men and women.
Jacoby and Williams found that UND “men and women, equally, held a standard that allowed maximization of personal sexual gratification but limited that available to potential partners.” In plain English, this means that young yuppies of both sexes do their share of slamming and hamming but think twice about dating—dating, mind you—someone less than virginal.
Williams points out that it does take two to tango and that girls and boys who just want to have fun but want to educate a new partner each night are bound to be frustrated. It doesn’t make sense, after all, to litter a thousand campsites and then complain that there are no good wilderness areas left. This insistence on virginal dates (virginal for at least the first part of the evening’s activities) is unrealistic in a drug-induced sort of way.
But wait—there’s more. The study went on to find that most men and women students at UND prefer to marry someone who has never even been “in love” before. In fact, the kids felt so strongly about this that they said they’d consider marrying someone who’d been promiscuous without ever falling in love (“until we met, of course,” one can almost hear them add in haste) before they’d consider marrying someone who’d been chaste but had suffered a broken heart or two.
Now, an AP article on the study says statistician Williams “doubted the North Dakota findings reflect national attitudes. The school’s sampling might be skewed somewhat by the area’s conservative, rural nature.” It would be interesting to find out how we do compare with the rest of the country, but until then one should bear in mind that UND, while it does rest in a predominantly conservative, rural state, balances precariously on the Minnesota edge of that state (need I say more?) and thus probably doesn’t reflect North Dakota values.
For example, a recent UND decree makes it mandatory for incoming freshmen to read The Color Purple during the summer before they hit campus, even if they read nothing else. The book is indeed remarkable, but that it beat out several thousand years of world literature and several hundred years of English literature and a century of great American novels must tell us something about UND’s president and English department, at least. Then there is the UND Center for Peace Studies, the very thought of which wearies me. UND, regardless of its geographical location on the lip of paradise and sanity, is, after all, only a university, and be haves like all the rest of them. So UND students probably mirror pretty closely national university norms.
Personally, I think this emphasis on being one’s spouse’s “first love” is healthy. The kids have reasoned rightly that past promiscuity is a high-risk factor in a mate—but are willing to overlook it if they can have sole claim to someone’s heart. That’s about as touching and innocent as you can get these days. It’s a small step towards romance, and romance—obsession with that Wonderful Other—moves us away from self-obsession. This new strain of the old double standard means the kids have discovered that something is wrong, somehow, with indiscriminate freedom, sexual or otherwise. They’ve got half the problem solved. Now they just need to realize the obvious: that their own promiscuity won’t be easy to unlearn, either and make them unacceptable to Mr. or Ms. Right. This realization is more commonly called maturity.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, North Dakotans accept the findings of this study equably, understanding that what goes on at any university has little to do with real life, plowing the north 40, or worrying about the bills.