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What Your Neighbors are Doing in the Bedroom

By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | October 5, 2010 |

By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | October 5, 2010 |

Yesterday the first results of the recent National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior were published in a special issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine. This comprehensive survey of sexual activity in the United States is the first of it’s kind in almost two decades (the last such report was conducted in 1992). Sexual behaviors such as masturbation, oral, vaginal, and anal sex, as well as condom usage, were analyzed for 5865 adults and adolescents (2936 men and 2929 women), ranging from 14-94 years in age. Unlike many studies on sexual health, the sample for this research was not composed of college volunteers but was generated using random phone numbers and addresses. The subjects of the study include representative proportions of black and Hispanic Americans, come from all regions of the US, and have a range of financial and educational backgrounds. While the study is likely skewed by people willing to respond to the surveys, it nevertheless has an impressively large and diverse sample. The result is a detailed analysis of what American citizens are doing in the bedroom (and likely to get more detailed in the future as the data is further analyzed).

With regard to sexual behaviors, the study asked men and women whether they had masturbated solo, masturbated with a partner, given oral (to a man or woman), received oral (from a man or woman), or engaged in vaginal or anal intercourse (both penetrative and receptive for men) within the last month, year, or over the course of their entire lifetime. (Strangely the survey does not make a distinction between masturbating in the presence of a partner and receiving or giving manual stimulation.) For the sake of simplicity I’m going to focus on the “last month” category, since there’s no way I could describe all the data from this study here. Not surprisingly, the survey found that the majority of men masturbate. 42% of adolescents aged 14-15 reported masturbating within the last month. That number increases to 60-68% for the 16-49 year old range, and then decreases with age to a mere 27.9% of those in the 70+ age group. Partnered sexual activities (including same-sex encounters) show a similar pattern of increase from age 14 to 39, followed by a drop off after age 40. For example, the number of men who reported engaging in vaginal intercourse within the last month started at 7.9% in the 14-15 year old age range, increased steadily to 74% in the 30s, and then decreased to 28.2% for those over 70. Encouragingly (from a female perspective) men reported giving oral at roughly the same rates as they received it (roughly 20-40% among adult men).

There’s still some disparity in the sexual equality of the sexes, though. Women reported masturbating at lower rates than men - only 24% in the 14-15 age group and 38.6% at the peak age range of 30-39. Unlike men, who reported roughly constant rates of masturbation from age 16-49, the percent of women who reported masturbating within the last month increased with age, up to the 30s, after which the frequencies decreased to 11.5% of women over age 70. Women reported engaging in vaginal and anal sex at roughly the same proportions as men, with the same age relationship. Unlike men, women reported giving more oral than they received at all age ranges (which might mean the reciprocity implied by the statistics from the men is partly imaginary, or may reflect a difference in what men and women regard as oral sex i.e. a few flicks of the tongue before sticking your dick in doesn’t count). Among adolescents, both boys and girls, masturbation was the most common sexual activity, with both oral and vaginal sex reported at significantly lower rates (about 6-8%). In older age groups, vaginal sex was the most common sexual activity. With regard to sexual satisfaction, 85% of men reported that their partner had an orgasm during their last sexual encounter, while only 64% of women reported that they achieved orgasm, which implies that women still feel the need to fake it at least some of the time. Men were more likely to orgasm from vaginal sex, while women were more likely to orgasm when engaging in multiple sexual activities, including oral. (Guys, take note. You’re on the right track, but it wouldn’t hurt to make absolutely sure she’s getting enough cunnilingus.) On the sexual orientation front, more men and women reported in engaging in same-gender sexual activities than identified as gay or bisexual.

Another major focus of the study was condom using. Surprisingly, the most responsible group with respect to regularly wrapping it up was adolescent men, 79.1% of whom reported using condoms during their last ten sexual encounters. Adolescent women reported condom usage at lower rates - only 58.1%. In contrast, only 28% of men and 26.7% of women in the adult age range with the highest condom usage, ages 25-29, reported using condoms during their last ten sexual encounters. For adults over 50 the numbers drop to below 10%. Some of this drop off is due to people who are involved in monogamous relationships - not surprisingly singles were more likely to use condoms than people who were in a relationship or married, but unfortunately even among single adults the numbers are low, only 46.7% used condoms regularly. Other variables that influenced condom usage included the use of contraceptive, education level (people with bachelor’s degrees were more likely to use them), and race (blacks and Hispanics were more likely to use condoms than whites).

The take-home of the survey results is that adults and adolescents in America engage in a wide variety of sexual activities and remain sexually active into old age (though things do drop off in frequency). Additionally, the data indicates adolescents aren’t having sex are terrifying rates and are actually being fairly responsible with respect to condom usage when they do have sex, a practice that sexually active adults would do well to emulate.

Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she’s had a little whiskey.

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