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Sex survey results fail to impress

Olver Fortune explores the thin line between quality and quantity

Yesterday the latest National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (15,000 interviewees) was launched, after being published in the hallowed pages of The Lancet.

Needless to say, it amassed a significant number of column inches – because sex always does.

The headlines seemed to be twofold.

Firstly, that – over the past two decades – women have caught up with, if not surpassed, men in terms of the sexual revolution. They are now having their first sexual experiences earlier than previously, their average number of partners in a lifetime has almost doubled – from 4 to 7.7, compared to men’s 12 – and they are now four times more likely to experiment with same-sex sex than they were – it was 4% in 1990 and has now shot up to 16% in 2010 and 2012.

[Or, on the last of these statistics, perhaps women are four times more prepared to admit they’ve had same-sex sex than they were twenty years ago].

Secondly, that apparently we are all having less sex than we used to.

Interestingly, there were reports in the media about a fortnight ago to the effect that Japanese men and women were just generally giving up sex.

I didn’t pay much attention to this news at the time, simply on the basis that I didn’t feel it was particularly relevant to me personally. For one thing, I hadn’t scheduled to go to Japan in the foreseeable future and – for another – I didn’t need to go to Japan in order to give up sex, I’d already done that, off my own bat, about four years ago.

phewHowever, the new National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles survey has not only put some numbers on the issue, it has come up with some causes.

It seems that, on average, men and women in the 16-44 age bracket are now having sex just under 5 times a month, compared to 6.2 in 1990.

Professor Kaye Wellings of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, one of the lead authors of the survey, suggested that the effects of the recession since 2008 may be in part to blame: “There’s a strong relationship between unemployment and low sexual function, according to the literature. That is to do with low self-esteem, depression”.

It is suggested that the other likely ‘culprits’ are the human race’s growing obsession with electronic devices and games and the theory that the recession may have prompted people in employment to work harder and longer hours, in order not to lose their jobs.

Thinking about this new survey in the round, I’m not sure that it takes us too far forward.

The truth is, the world is being constantly carpet-bombed with sexual imagery, speculation and confession. The ‘innocent’ period of childhood (when both little boys and little girls are broadly aware that something is going on, but have no real concept of what it is, or why), which I regard as a rather special and wonderful phase has – to all intents and purposes – disappeared.

I have little doubt that three and four years olds of both genders up and down the UK will be ‘twerking’ around the family tree, miming or singing rafts of obscene lyrics from popular hits, to the delight and amusement of older generations this Christmas. Meanwhile, upstairs, their slightly older brothers and sisters  will be busying themselves in watching hardcore porn or ‘sexting’ their pals [and, I must confess here that I’m on the outer limits of my knowledge of modern social networking in making this statement].

In short, there is enormous pressure upon young people – direct and indirect – to become sexually active, and indeed adventurous. Not, probably, that they need it – that is, if those few memories that I retain of my own youth are anything to go by. It’s all part of human nature and growing up and, indeed, was ever thus.

Similarly, the ‘latest news’ about the decreasing amount of sex that everyone is apparently having is not something that prompts particular surprise or astonishment.

I hold no great faith in survey findings anyway. Further, rather than anyone going out and having as much sex as they wish or need – or at least trying to – in this modern era, most people seem far more interested in finding out how many times others are doing it, so that they can compare themselves, or even perhaps trying (literally) to ‘keep their end up’, in order to exceed the average that some researcher either made up and/or took down from people who were lying in the first place. Or even just in watching other people doing it.

Speaking of which, I feel the need to report the contents of a telephone conversation I had towards the end of last week with the National Rust’s esteemed film editor.

I called him to register that I felt it was incumbent upon me to see the new French movie that everyone is talking about [Blue Is The Warmest Colour], containing prolonged scenes of explicit lesbian sexual activity, entirely for research purposes of course.

However, I continued, having noticed that it was in the French language and apparently lasted over three hours in duration, I was a little concerned that both I wouldn’t be able to stay awake and/or that, if I did, well before halfway I wouldn’t be able to remember why I was watching it in the first place.

Demonstrating one of the great benefits of modern technology, he responded that I need not worry. If I was to give him my smartphone mobile number, he would arrange for me to get an electric shock vibration approximately ninety seconds before the movie’s most celebrated sex scene began.

Who says that Britain has lost its sense of community?


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About Oliver Fortune

A doctor formerly specialising in sexual health, Oliver has written widely on matters relating to sex, relationships and counselling. He is divorced and has one daughter. He is a keen skier and mountain biker. More Posts