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Sex and the Studies

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Time Magazine, August 1953
  • Time Magazine, August 1953

A few years back, Indianapolis turned heads and made headlines when Men's Health named our city the 'Most Sexually Active' in the United States.

According to the survey, Indy's condom sales, live birth rates and adult toy sales all added up to a whole lot of sex, more sex than folks in any other city are having, apparently.

The Midwest did well in the Men's Health survey. So well, in fact, the magazine noted "that the stretch of I-74 linking Indianapolis to fourth-place Cincinnati should hereafter be known as America's Sex Drive."

New findings in a June 2011 study conducted on behalf of Trojan condoms and released as the "U.S. Sex Census" shine even more light on the sexual habits of Midwesterners. The survey found people here are having more sex than just about anywhere else in the country—an average of 125 times a year (or 2.4 times per week). Only the Northeast had a slight higher rate of copulation occurrences with 130 per annum.

The good news, according to Trojan's Sex Census? Seventy-six percent of Americans report "very high levels of sexual satisfaction." The bad news? Sixty-three percent of us still wish we were getting laid more often.

The Trojan study also revealed a good news/bad news conclusion whether you are married or single. For married couples, sexual satisfaction was reportedly higher (82 percent) but sexual frequency was lower than average (109 times per year). Singles, on the other hand, are having more sex (130 times a year), but it's not quite as good (71 percent satisfied).

SEX AND SCIENCE

While surveys about America's sexual habits are entertaining, they are often shaky in terms of actual research. In most cases, the validity of the science behind studies like those reported by Men's Health and Trojan is predictably less important than the headline.

As former Surgeon General of the United States Dr. Joycelyn Elders wrote recently, "In order for our national conversations about sex to have merit, they need to be rooted in fact—or at least as close to fact as one can possible get when discussing the most intimate of human relationships. It is difficult to have ubiquitous conversations about sexuality and sex for pleasure in the absence of accurate data about the actual sexual experiences that are common."

"We have a sexually dysfunctional society because of our limited views of sexuality and our lack of knowledge and understanding concerning the complexities and joys of humanity," Elders continues. "Talk concerning procreation is not enough, because it neither addresses accurately the varied sexuality of Americans nor the broad range of sexual practice."

Facts about sex are, indeed, difficult to come by. For those interested in genuine studies of human sexuality little has changed since the 1950s when researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson noted that most of the difficulties in studying America's sexual habits and attitudes stemmed from fear -- "fear of public opinion, fear of religious intolerance, fear of political pressure, and, above all, fear of bigotry and prejudice—as much within as without the professional world."

So rare, in fact, are the type of comprehensive and contemporary studies of American sexual behavior that only three are considered with any seriousness by scholars. What Alfred Kinsey began at his Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University in the 1940s and 1950s was surpassed in scope and scientific merit only by a 1990s University of Chicago study. The third, and perhaps most impressive, was released last October by the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University.

'Kinsey and Indiana University will always be regarded as the place that opened the door, long closed to thorough and careful scientific research in the field," writes Dr. Irwin Goldstein, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Sexual Medicine which published the study.

"At a time when we can have nudity on HBO but cannot use the names of our genitals on the evening news, there remains a need to continue research on sexual health"

Writing in the introduction of the study, Dr. Elders stresses, "Studies in the area of sexuality, sexual health, and responsible sexual behaviors are critical to our understanding of what must be done to revolutionize sexual health in America."

Perhaps more importantly, Elders says what so few others are willing to say publicly and professionally: "Sex is for more than procreation once or twice in life; sex is also for a lifetime of pleasure.

"While this is not news to anyone, it is not part of our national conversation. We have finally included masturbation on our national conversation and as a result stopped checking our hands for growing hair. Now it is time to include sex and sexuality as pleasurable and natural in open fresh conversations about the human condition."

DEFUNDING THE 'PORNO PIT'

Not all Indiana residents appreciate the scientific research into human sexuality conducted at IU Bloomington, whether it was the Kinsey research of the last century or the current scholarship of today. Nearly every year, Republican legislators introduce bills to defund, if not shut it down entirely.

"I went down to that place and toured it," Rep. Woody Burton (R-Greenwood) told reporters last fall. "It's just a pit. It's just a porno pit. They've got rooms where they take the college students in and show them pornography and do things to them. It's just disgusting; and they sit there and try to tell you it's just science.

"They perform sex," Burton explained. "They have a room and they send a girl in and insert a thing in her and measure her sexual stimulation. They have another room for boys. They have displays of all the sex toys throughout history, and they act like that's OK. I said this is trash, and they resented my saying it."

Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana also supports the measure and frequently asks other legislators to join Burton's efforts.

"We have battled with Indiana's legislature for years to stop supplying money to Indiana University for the Kinsey Institute," Clark said last fall.

"The Kinsey Institute has shaped the policies of SIECUS and Planned Parenthood, and their version of sex education has now infiltrated our schools. The other side wears that as a badge of honor. We view that as a badge of shame."

THE RESULTS ARE IN

Findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior conducted by the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University were published in the October 2010 issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine as a series of nine separate articles.

The study asked nearly 6,000 respondents between the ages of 14 and 94 questions about their sexual attitudes and behaviors. As with most surveys, the process is not perfect, the results are based on self-reporting which inevitable leads to some questions about accuracy.

"While we believe that the NSSHB provides a valuable snapshot of sexual health and sexual behaviors for an expansive range of the United States," the authors state in the introduction, "studies of this nature inherently have limitations."

One of the most prominent limitations of the study is that it pertains almost exclusively to heterosexual sex and sexual behaviors. While some of the questions did address same-gender sex acts, the responses were minimal and inconclusive beyond the generalization that a small portion of Americans report engaging in same-sex sex acts.

That said, there is a lot that the survey did reveal.

Masturbation
The most frequent sex act that men engage in throughout their lifetime is masturbation. With the exception of those under 15 and over 70, the majority of men surveyed reported masturbating within the past month, with the highest percentage of monthly masturbators (94 percent) between the ages of 25-29. For women, the results are slightly lower. Forty percent of women in all age groups, (except those over 70), reported masturbating in the past year and 20 percent in past month.

Oral sex
While younger and older women seem to be doing a lot more giving than receiving orally, the majority of adult Americans are doing both. More than 80 percent of men between the ages of 25-49 report receiving oral sex from a female and doing the same for her in their lifetime, with recipients topping out at 90 percent around age 30. For women, the results are nearly the same. Between the ages of 20 and 69, more than 80 percent of women report receiving oral sex from a man and nearly the same number report they also gave oral sex.

Anal sex
Anal penetration remains the least reported sex act across all age groups, but not necessarily uncommon. Nearly 40 percent of women ages 20-50 report receiving a penis their anus during their lifetime, dropping to 35 percent for women in their 50s, 30 percent for those in their 60s, and just over 20 percent for those over seventy. The results are only slightly higher (about five percent) for men in each age group who report inserting a penis into a woman's anus in their lifetime.

Vaginal intercourse
While men report a wider variety of sexual activity, vaginal intercourse remains the most common sex women have had in the past month. The frequency diminishes as women grow older, however. By age 50, only 18.5 percent of women report having vaginal intercourse in the past month, compared to 44 percent of men. By age 60, only 13 percent of women report monthly vaginal sex and 39 percent of men. The number plummets to just under 3 percent of women over 70 saying they have had vaginal sex in the past month, compared to 28 percent of men the same age.

Condom use
Turns out men are more safe-sex conscious than women, according to the study, though neither is as good as one would hope. While unmarried adults and adolescents use condoms more often, only 24.7 percent of men and 21.8 percent of women report using them during their most recent vaginal intercourse and even fewer during anal sex. Teens, however, use condoms the most frequently with nearly 80 percent of adolescent males (14-17) reporting they used condoms during their past 10 instances of vaginal intercourse and 58.1 percent of girls.

Diversity rules
Men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 show a tremendous amount of sexual diversity, according to the study, with a total of 41 combinations of sexual behaviors reported as part of sexual activity by respondents. Not surprisingly, the more types of sex that take place during the sexual encounter directly affects the number of orgasms that occur. "Women tend to be less easily orgasmic than men and more variable in ther sexual response," according to researchers. "In addition, women who engage in a greater number of sexual behaviors may be more likely to experience multiple orgasms."

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