Dear Hump Day,

I start at UW in the fall. I’m a little nervous. Is college dating different? Some of my friends are pretty experienced, but I still haven’t met the one. I’m no prude… but what can I expect?

Shy, Expectant And Nervous

Dear SEAN,

You have every right to be a little nervous. College is vastly different than high school. Depending on your decisions, it can be downright awesome or ridiculously stressful. Many people think college is a crazy-sexual, drunken environment where people hook up constantly and skip classes to get high and play beer-pong every chance they get. Now, granted, we all know a few people who have done that, even in high school. That type of lifestyle makes for a hilarious and slightly depressing movie, but a really bummer reality. Clearly you can’t be drunk all the time; sometimes you’re hungover, other times you have a final to go to. That goes with anything that you take to excess: Drinking, sex, studying, relationships — balance and moderation is needed.

No matter how experienced you are, the college dating scene will be different. From the larger variety of ages and backgrounds to the expectations people have when they go out, college offers a plethora of options, academically and sexually. Now, before you go off exchanging numbers and bodily fluids, you should assess what you want from a partnership(s), should you decide to have one. You don’t want to walk into anything with blinders on.

Know what you are looking for, or at the very least not looking for. Do you want to hook up with someone or do you want to find someone to spend time with you on Bascom Hill? Your preferences will give you guidance in the activities you decide to explore. Look at the details: If you don’t want to make out with someone who smokes, don’t hang out with the crowd outside of the frat house. Know your limits. Just don’t go exploring your limits with strangers and a bottle of Everclear. Be clear about your expectations and preferences and the people that you hang out with are more likely to do the same.

Experiences for the novices: You’re not alone. By the time people go to college, more than half have already had some type of sex, while the rest have yet to experience any. College is a time for learning. That includes your mind and body. To scope out the dating scene, go to one of the libraries, check out any student orgs that you are interested in (Los Sabrosos for salsa dancing, Hoofers for sailing, etc.), or head over to a caf?. Undoubtedly you will meet someone you think is cute in class, in your dorm or at the Nitty. Smile, flirt a little and ask if they like to go cross-country skiing. Invite them out for tea or lemonade (Dobra Tea on State has amazing teas and a great atmosphere, Dotty’s on Frances has incredible fresh squeezed lemonade and delicious burgers). And if you happen to get to the bedroom at some point (or the kitchen table), be aware of what you feel, and not just physically. If you aren’t having fun, if things are moving a little too fast, make your thoughts known. “Hold on, I need a little breather” or “I’m really not into this but I do like…” Communicating your desires or lack thereof is key in avoiding awkward situations. You should start from the moment you meet a person. If you don’t want to have sex yet, say so. Don’t wait until you’re getting hot and heavy in the elevator. And if your partner is not very understanding, drop them. Immediately. “Thank you, but I am no longer interested.” With over 40,000 students and the rest of this awesome city to explore, you’ve got a lot of other options.

Experiences for the experienced: You’ve had sex. You’ve done the dating thing. Those experiences can be a little different at the university level, a bit more in your face. Think about it: 5,000 freshmen no longer under the watchful eye of their parents. Instead of doing it in the car, you do it at your friend’s house or your own dorm room. Instead of kissing in the closet, you can now kiss literally everywhere. With many more options, you should be pickier. Challenge yourself with dating outside of the circle of friends that came with you to Madison. Just like Gen Eds, you should try out things that you never have done before (safely, sanely and consensually). Add some spice to the same dating routine. Go rock climbing, biking, attend a concert on the square.

Everyone should check out all of the awesome resources at this university! The Sexual Health Clinic at University Health Services (UHS) at the SAC, the new awesome Planned Parenthood on S. Park, the LGBT Campus Center at the Union, the Multicultural Student Center in the Red Gym, PAVE and Sex Out Loud at the SAC. Many of these places offer free condoms, resources, and a wonderful staff to make your stay in Madison even more awesome than it already is. Not to mention using this column as a resource for all of your sexual and dating dilemmas! All of our questions are from real readers. All are responded to anonymously. There is no such thing as a stupid question (or too kinky). Send them all in!

This article was written by Nicolette Pawlowski and Suzie Baker. Suzie is a sexual health education coordinator and wanna be homemaker and Nicolette is a sexual health educator and a graduate student in EPS. All questions are from real readers. Keep ’em coming! E-mail [email protected]