I’ve heard that when you have a roommate, you can put a sock on your door to communicate that you were having sex. However, living at a 150 person, undergraduate co-op, my strategy had to be a little more advanced. I used research, spreadsheets, and debate. That’s right: because of my roommate troubles, the largest co-op in the US got an organized, formally-maintained sex room, and I’m going to tell you how it all went down.
The Cloyne Court Co-op at the University of California at Berkeley sits right on the north-side of the university’s hill. It houses 150 students, making it the largest residential cooperative living space in the U.S. Given that around 60% of the rent of neighboring private rooms gets one room and full board, it’s an attractive place to live. Such an endeavor also necessitates extreme organization: each resident owes 5 hours of “workshift” a week, which they fulfill by cooking, cleaning, distributing food, gardening, etc., and log into a centralized website for which they can be fined by missing. Each resident also owes four hours of “Home Improvement” (HI) work every semester.
Sounds great, right? It indeed was, in many ways, a special project. However, there were some downsides for a 26 year-old grad student. Cloyne was a sober co-op. No alcohol or marijuana was allowed inside the premises, which selected for a specific mindset in the residents. Most residents were undergrads, so the average age was around 20. Furthermore, many rooms were shared.
I happened to be in a shared room for the semester that I lived there — and my roommate, for a variety of reasons, stayed in the room most of most days. As a gay man who was used to having his own room for the past five years, I found myriad challenges in the setup. Most relevant to our story, though, was that it was suddenly a lot tougher to have sex.
Out of necessity, I started to use the co-op’s common meditation room. This was fine: it had a pretty Christmas light set-up and a nice ambiance. The guys I brought in there were often impressed. However, the room didn’t lock, so I would send an email to the house each time notifying everyone that the room would be occupied. This was fine, I thought; we were all adults and understood the necessity of the action, right?
Not quite. I started to understand, almost implicitly — through the osmotic channels that living in such a community engenders — that some were upset. This could be bad: I feared a formal rebuke or ban codified during the weekly council — i.e., a general resident meeting.
I decided to get ahead of any such reaction.
At the next council, I stood up and explained that I thought a formally maintained sex room might help the house, and requested the house to commission a study to understand the desire and need for one. I asked to spend my HI to lead the research and recruit volunteers.
There was some cautious discussion following, but I stressed that I was asking for research only. The president called a vote. Out of the forty or so residents present, there was only a single “nay”. I felt I had the peoples’ mandate.
I spent the week drafting a survey, then convened the first meeting of the “Sex Space Committee” to workshop the survey. We wanted to know basic demographics and characterize how people used the house. Next, we wanted to understand the way people currently had sex: whether they had it inside the house or away, how frequently, and generally with whom. We also wanted to get people’s honest views on a sex space: whether Cloyne needed it or not. A week later, we had close to 90 responses and I set to work analyzing the results.
I have a B.S. in Statistics and Computer Science, and I’ve done intensive data analyses for the U.S. Department of Energy, Google Ventures, and three different Bay Area technology startups. I mean it when I say that I undertook this endeavor in good faith with honest intents, and that I tried my best not to let any bias guide the results I showed.
That said, I was honestly surprised at what emerged from my analysis. I expected the way people to have sex to be split pretty distinctly between demographic groups: that is, I expected women to have sex with a different frequency than men, Black people from Asian from White, and queer from straight.
Instead, I found that all other demographics were indistinguishable from each other except for queer vs. straight — and that demographic was different across the board. Every single question we asked about sexual habits revealed statistically relevant differences between the queer and straight respondents. Queer people had significantly more sex than straight people, with significantly more partners, and were significantly more likely to be ok with someone else using a sex room (as well as wanting one for their own use.) A sex space appeared to be a queer issue.
A sex space seemed to be a practical issue too. After controlling for demographics, we found that the more often people reported their sex interrupted by roommates, the more conflict they tended to have. Then, the more conflicts people reported having with their roommates, the more likely they were to travel outside Cloyne for sex, and the more they tended to want a sex room. People’s views tended to be more positive towards a sex room with a cleaning structure and guidelines than one without. And while only 1–2% of respondents claimed to use the co-op’s common dark room or meditation room, a full 24% said they would expect to use the sex room at least once a semester.
The argument seemed clear. It just didn’t make sense to leave the issue of sex unspoken: this was a real part of resident’s lives, and it was causing hardship across the house. Furthermore, it seemed as though the lack of a sex room disproportionately affected queer people. The desire for structure was reasonable; so, the Committee drafted two proposals about what a formal structure for maintenance and cleanliness could look like. We proposed a BYOS(heets) policy, workshift hours allocated for cleaning, and a printed schedule for reserving time.
We got up in front of Council with slides during the last meeting of the semester: around 110 people showed up, packing the dining hall and leaning in from the hallways. I explained my findings, and my teammates explained the proposals. There was some heated discussion, but, to my surprise, some of the most vocal leaders in the community vociferously supported the proposals.
“I came into this very skeptical about the notion. But I see now, honestly, that it’s a radical proposition, and I really think that we should do it,” said one woman.
It passed seemingly unanimously.
I left Cloyne the next semester for a grad student only co-op (we all have our own rooms here), but I hear that not only is the sex room alive and well, but is formally within the by-laws of the co-op. Apparently it had faced a challenge, to which residents responded by codifying it into the governance of the house.
So that, dear reader, is how the U.S.’s largest co-op’s first formal sex room was conceived.