BMJ 2010;341:c5491 Article by Janice Hopkins Tanne
A major survey of sexual behaviour among Americans has shown that while most men said they had an orgasm during their last sexual encounter and 85% believed that their partner had also had an orgasm, only 64% of women said they had experienced an orgasm.
The study of nearly 6000 men and women aged between 14 and 94 also found that penetrative sex was most common among men aged 25 to 39 years and women aged 20 to 29 and declined progressively among older age groups. However, between 20% and 30% of men and women remained sexually active well into their 80s.
Masturbation was common throughout life, and during adolescence and over the age of 70 it was more common than sexual activity with a partner. Oral sex was practised by more than half the men and women aged 18 to 49 in the past year, either giving, receiving, or both, show the findings. But same sex sexual behaviour was relatively uncommon among men and women, show the results, which were published in nine papers in a supplement to the Journal of Sexual Medicine:
The researchers, who were mainly from the University of Indiana, source of the Kinsey reports on sexual behaviour in 1948 and 1953, said it was necessary to document sexual behaviour in the population because much has changed since the last such survey in 1992.
Oral and anal sex have become more widely practised; the internet has influenced sexual behaviour; abstinence only sex education has received more than $1.5bn (£0.9bn; €1.1bn) in federal funding, with “equivocal evidence of efficacy”; oral drugs for erectile dysfunction have become widely prescribed; and attitudes towards same sex relationships have become more liberal.
One of the research team, Michael Reece, said that data on sexual behaviour and condom use are important because of the continuing epidemics of HIV and AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, and unintended pregnancy, especially among adolescents.
Debra Herbenick, another of the researchers, said that people’s definition of “having sex” varies. “Some people consider sex to be vaginal intercourse, and some people consider anal sex or oral sex to be sex,” she said. “We asked people about the most recent time they had had sex. We asked them to describe the behaviours that occurred during that event. We asked about partnered masturbation and rubbing genitals together. We asked about giving oral sex, receiving oral sex, vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse . . . We found there were a total of 41 combinations.”
The study was funded by Church & Dwight Company, the maker of Trojan condoms, although the researchers said that scientific integrity has been maintained throughout the research.
Among the study’s other findings were:
- More than 20% of men aged 25-49 and women aged 20-39 had anal sex during the past year.
- A third of women but only 5% of men reported experiencing pain during their most recent sexual event.
- The frequency of condom use during the past 10 vaginal intercourse events was 22% among men and 18% among women. Adolescent men reported 79% condom use during the past 10 vaginal intercourse events, compared with 58% of women.
- Anal intercourse and same sex sexual activities were less common among black and Hispanic people throughout their lives.
- Great diversity of sexual behaviours may occur during a single sexual event among adults, with a total of 41 combinations of sexual behaviours represented.
- The greater the number of behaviours, the greater the likelihood of orgasm.
- Age is related to greater difficulty with erections and lubrication. However, men’s orgasm is facilitated by sex with a spouse or regular partner, while women’s orgasm is facilitated by various sexual behaviours.
- About 7% of women and 8% of men identified themselves as other than heterosexual (gay, lesbian, or bisexual).