Freaky, kinky, bizarre, abnormal, weird, disturbing … Do those terms describe your sex life? If you're like most people, then probably not.
I’ve been answering people’s questions about sex and relationships for years, with the most popular question, by far: "Am I normal?"
When it comes to sexual expression, people are very curious and concerned about just how well they fit in with the "average" Joe when it comes to their sexual desires, fantasies, practices, etc.
So it is with great glee that the popular press likes to crank out sex questionnaires or the latest sex/relationship survey data. It knows that readers jump on publications that can help them sort through whether or not they’re normal or maybe just a little risqué when it comes to what pleasures them sexually.
While I would warn anyone to take any results with a grain of salt, we can learn a lot about what people are into, or not, from the info a well-conducted survey gathers about people’s sexual attitudes, behaviors and values.
Surveys help to debunk myths, like this one: "Men think about sex every seven seconds." According to the Kinsey report Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 54 percent of men think about sex every day or several times a day; 43 percent think about it a few times a week or month; and 4 percent think of it less than once a month. With just under 50 percent of men not thinking about sex once a day, one sex thought every 7 seconds is a bit of a stretch, isn’t it?
Surveys allow us to better assess stereotypes, for better or for worse. For example, is "No, dear, not tonight," the most overused phrase by American women? It turns out that when a woman enters a secure relationship, her sex drive does take a nosedive.
A German study found that four years into a secure relationship, fewer than half of female participants desired regular sex. After 20 years, only 20 percent wanted sex on a regular basis. A male’s libido, on the other hand, stayed steady no matter how long they’d been in a relationship.
Other cool things surveys tell us:
— How long is the average sexual encounter? According to a Psychology Today article, it’s 3 to 10 minutes.
— What is your favorite sexual position? A survey by Marie Claire and Esquire magazines found that men are into rear entry, while women like missionary best.
— How many times per week are people having sex? Of the more than 1,700 people 21 to 49 years old who were surveyed by Long Island-based market research company Beta Research Corp., 90 percent of American men and 94 percent of women are having sex up to five times per week. (Note: it’s the "up to" part of that survey that makes for the high percentages. Plus, sexually active people may be likelier to participate in this kind of survey).
Surveys sound the alarm on what lovers are really doing, getting answers to questions like: Have you ever cheated? According to The New England Journal of Medicine, 68 percent of men and 59 percent of women have been involved with a person about whom their significant other does not know.
Surveys can help you to become a better lover, digging up the dirt on topics like: What do you want more of in bed? Men tend to want more oral sex while women could use more erotic massages. Have you ever answered a work call or e-mail while having sex? Appallingly, 12 percent of men and 7 percent of women said that they have, indeed, answered a call or e-mail while having sex.
Surveys reveal others’ best-kept sexual secrets, like:
— What is the average amount of time people surf the Internet looking at porn? Of the 17 percent of women who admit to looking at online porn, the average time spent is 1.5 hours per week. The average for men was about an hour longer, with guys more than two times as likely to surf at work.
— Have you ever told a lie in order to have sex? A study of 665 Southern California college students in The New England Journal of Medicine found that 34 percent of men and 10 percent of women have told a lie to have sex. It also found that 47 percent of men and 42 percent of women would understate the number of partners they’ve had in order to convince someone to be intimate. Yikes!
Finally, surveys make for juicy reading, like Bernice Kramer’s "Are You Normal about Sex, Love, & Relationships," which highlights research around eyebrow-raising thoughts, like:
— Is it OK for married people to flirt? Fifty-six percent of respondents said that it’s OK.
— Can you recall the names of every person with whom you’ve had sex? Half of the people who responded could not recall the first and last name of every person with whom they’ve had sex.
— Can you imagine going through life without having sex? Eleven percent of people can, and without any regrets!
— Have you ever been in love? People fall in love an average of six times in their lifetime, with one in four falling in love 10 times. Three out of every four Americans believe in the notion that there is one true love for us out there.
With few things "atypical" at the end of the day when it comes to sexuality, a huge part of being a resource on sex is to diffuse people’s worries that there’s nothing wrong with them — that they are perfectly normal for being sexual, as that is a major component of our being human.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. So be careful in using any survey in sizing up your sexual self, as sexuality is highly individual.
In the Know: The Latest Sex News …
— Are lesbians and bisexuals smarter than heterosexual women? Researchers at the University of Warwick, in conjunction with BBC, collected data on more than 198,000 people ages 20 to 65 and found, as expected, that men outperformed women on tests such as mentally rotating objects, or matching up objects with their mirror image, while women outdid men on verbal dexterity tests and remembering where objects are located.
Interestingly enough, key differences were found when it came to sexual orientation, with lesbians and bisexual women performing better on tasks such as mental rotation than heterosexual women.
— When are women most interested in high-risk sex? A Kinsey Institute study suggests women are more attracted to the thought of sex with masculine, high-risk men (high-risk defined by issues such as number of sexual partners and typical condom-use patterns) during ovulation, when they’re most likely to conceive.
During this time, women’s brains showed more activity in the areas related to reward and risk-taking. Brain responses linked to inhibition and risk evaluation also were weaker during ovulation.
— The sweet smell of sex? Your brain's "nerve zero," or the cranial nerve, may be the key to sexual attraction. According to R. Douglas Fields, an adjunct professor of neuroscience at the University of Maryland, the nerve zero may transmit sex pheromones, which generally are detected via smell to the brain.
What does this mean to you? Your sense of smell may affect your sexual behavior and choice of sexual partner. Academics are, however, waiting for good evidence confirming such.
Note: In my December article titled, "Sex Your Way to Better Health," I mentioned that one study found that sex may help with the prevention of endometriosis. A number of women with endometriosis expressed outrage that this research was being drawn upon because they found it flawed. The research was conducted by Kliman, Meaddough et al. (2002) and originally published in Gynecologic & Obstetric Investigation.
I have been in contact with my professional resources trying to find out why this information is being circulated if it is so questionable. In the meantime, I encourage you to judge the situation for yourself, especially since this issue certainly highlights the need for more research, funding and support around women’s reproductive health problems in general. For more information regarding this study, click here.
Dr. Yvonne Kristín Fulbright is a sex educator, relationship expert, columnist and founder of Sexuality Source Inc. She is the author of several books including, "Touch Me There! A Hands-On Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots."