Sunday, February 11, 2001
Who has more sex? How many sexual partners have most people had? What's the perfect foreplay? And are couples out there in suburbia really swapping partners at dinner parties? Social Affairs Reporter Clarissa Bye investigates.By Clarissa Bye
Sydney Morning Herald
What people get up to
When sex expert and author Rosie King first began counselling about sex in the 1980s, her female clients wanted to know how to achieve orgasm.
"Now, they want G-spot orgasms, female ejaculation, multiple orgasms, preferably all of them at once, over and over," Dr King said. "They want the trifecta."
Expectations have greatly increased since the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, yet basic human physiology remains the same, Dr King said. Hence what she calls the "pharmacologising of sex" in order to improve performance, she views as a worrying trend.
When pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey did his original research in the United States in the 1940s, 75 per cent of men ejaculated within two minutes.
"The majority of those men didn't think it was a problem and neither did their partners," said Dr King, who treats couples at the Australian Centre for Sexual Health at St Luke's Hospital in Sydney.
When men are now asked how long they think intercourse should last, they reply between 10 and 15 minutes.
"The pressure to perform is much greater," noted Dr King.
It's a trend Tempo columnist and psychologist Toby Green has also written about in her book The Men's Room (Random House, $25.20).
"It's ironic, but years ago it used to be that women were frigid - that was the phrase used," Dr Green said. "Now impotence is in the air. Just take a look at all those ads for the men's sexual clinics. Guys are having a tough time getting it up."
It's her belief that it is the post-1960s sexually liberated woman, uninhibited about asking for exactly what she wants, who puts men on the spot.
"I mean, men used to say, 'Wouldn't it be wonderful to have the woman do this and that', but now, when it's happening, it's just not working. Men psychologically want to feel like the hunter, not the hunted."
Dr King said the old myths about sex - such as masturbation causes blindness, men are victims of their lust or that women don't enjoy sex - have simply been swapped with new ones.
According to Dr King, new myths include the belief everybody must want and enjoy sex, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Another is that sex is an Olympian sport where everybody goes for gold on every occasion.
Well then, just how much is normal?
According to a recent global sex survey, the amount of sex you have can vary depending where you live. A survey of 18,000 people from 27 countries carried out by condom manufacturer Durex last year found Australians pretty close to average in the world ranking table. With an average 98 sessions a year (not quite twice a week), we are ahead of New Zealand's 86 times, but well below the US (132), Russia (122), France (121) and Britain (109). As the survey is based on self-reporting, maybe the most honest nation is simply Japan, whose subjects reported having sex just 37 times a year.
Young Australian adults usually have sex for the first time at age 17 and four months, while US teenagers start a year earlier - 16 and four months.
If you're aged between 25 and 34, you're more likely to be having sex than any other age group. They set the pace at an average 113 times a year, compared with 89 times for the 16 to 20-year-olds.
But calculating the average amount of sex for couples into weekly sessions of three times a week can be misleading, said Dr King, author of Good Loving, Great Sex (Random House, $18.60).
"People can get uptight about their sense of entitlement to sex," she said. "It's a bit like salaries - everyone thinks everyone else is getting more than they are."
Instead, it's more akin to what she calls a "binge/fast" sexual frequency. Rather than a set two or three times a week, couples go for a couple or several weeks without sex, because they are busy, stressed or barely have time alone together.
But when the conditions are right, they are much more likely to be sexually active and may have sex two or three days in a row. She also points out that sex frequency changes during the relationship and that couples shouldn't use the high amount of sex they enjoy at the start as a yardstick forever after.
But married couples still come out engaging in more sex than singles, with the global survey showing that unmarried couples living together have the most sex, 146 times a year, followed by married couples (98) and then singles (49).
The most common problem seen at the Australian Centre for Sexual Health is "desire discrepancy", where one partner seeks more sex than the other. Often when men say they want more sex, they are really saying they want more love and affection. "It's easier to ask for sex than emotional comfort," Dr King said. Yet the reverse tends to be true for women, so that "while men need sex to become intimate, women tend to need intimacy to desire sex".
Author and sex educator Jo-Anne Baker, who gives sex advice on the new Australian women's website called womenzone.com.au, said the internet had "really changed the dating game".
"In the past they would never have gone to a bar, but now they can make friends in the chat rooms or meet through the dating services," Ms Baker said.
Some other trends she has seen over the past decade include the creation of an entire new genre of "erotic videos" for women, which basically are like normal movies, with a lot of sex thrown in.
She also points to the fact that department stores now sell a range of very sexy lingerie, such as corsets, g-strings and so on, which were much more specialised 20 years ago. "Madonna really made that fetish stuff mainstream," she said.
Viagra for women has also been touted as the next big thing to happen as a sex trend, but Dr King has her doubts. Despite being involved in the international clinical trials of Viagra research for women, she's wary about the concept of "pharmacological help" for women.
"Women's sexuality is a lot more complicated than popping a pill," she said. "And no amount of medication can make up for an unhappy relationship, poor sexual technique or a tired, exhausted, stressed-out woman."
Generally, women don't need to "perform" as such during sex, according to Dr King. It's more a case of women wanting pleasure, sensation and feeling.
"A pill will not provide that," she said. "Viagra simply enhances the natural process of sexual arousal. There is no pill yet that will create sexual arousal. But there is one sure aphrodisiac - love."
The question about what constitutes ideal foreplay in the global sex survey highlights the difference between men and women. The top answer for men was oral sex. For women, the top choice was split equally between touching/feeling, kissing and a romantic dinner.
Another finding from the survey was that for women, the average number of men they'll have sex with over their lifetime is 4.6. This compares with a claimed 11.7 for men.
However, almost four in 10 married people have only ever had one partner, compared with 19pc of single people.
Those figures may change in the future. According to the Eros Foundation "swinging couples", or partner swapping, is on the increase in Australia.
Spokesman Robbie Swan said the spread of the swingers' parties over the past five to six years meant that it had become established in ordinary suburbs across Sydney, as well as regional towns.
While swingers' parties have been around since the late 1960s and 1970s, Ms Baker said the advent of AIDS in the 1980s had stopped it during that decade. She believes the younger generation now has an attitude (not necessarily accurate), that AIDS is an older person's problem, that it's under control. "Safe sex [condoms] is now also mainstream," she said.
Swan said swinging was a suburban phenomenon: "They are basically suburban couples, middle-educated people, often in their 30s with two kids, although it's not limited to that age group, married in the suburbs."
He said the partner swapping happened at discreet dinner parties, swingers' clubs in the cities, or just couples who advertise through the half a dozen or so adult magazines specialising in this field in Australia.
Swan points to the 20,000 or so original advertisements in those magazines each month, advertising for couples to join them, as evidence of the trend. "The interesting thing for many is that they like to establish a friendship first. It doesn't have to be a deep friendship but they want to meet over dinner and have a drink and get to know the people.
"Looks are not the most important thing. They are looking for people who've got a similar interest and personality, so they feel happy about it."
He said the swingers' clubs varied, from RSL or leagues club type places to boutique-style upmarket parties.
"Our feeling is being open and being involved in swinging is a more honest ground for a relationship. That will in turn provide a happier and stronger relationship," he said.
Dr King is more cautious about the long-term effects on relationships. She said sex can mean different things to different people.
For some, it's a recreational activity, not unlike a good meal and watching a movie. For couples who both hold that sort of view, swingers' clubs wouldn't necessarily spell trouble.
But for another couple, where one partner sees sex as a deep emotional sharing and expression of commitment, then "there would be problems".
What people get up to
LAWRENCE, 27, broke up from a long-term girlfriend two years ago and is happy to enjoy short-term relationships for the time being. He's also just started going to a swingers' club based in Sydney's Surry Hills, where for just over $100, he attends an evening of food, drink and sex with strangers.
"It's great fun," he said. "Sometimes I've spent over $800 taking a girl out to dinners, taxis, flowers, movies, whatever, over several weeks before getting to first base, so it's very good value."
MICHELLE, 34, is just recovering from the birth of her first baby and is contemplating a breast enlargement. She and her husband also sometimes use the video camera during sex. "I just think it [cosmetic surgery] will lift my own confidence," she said.
"Our sex life is a bit up and down at the moment, with the baby, but I really want to do something for myself and my husband is keen."
As for the video camera: "We know it's private and no-one else is ever going to see it, so it's just part of the fun".
BRUCE, 42, has never married, although he's had various girlfriends over the years. Last year he decided to list his personal details on an internet dating service. Rosie, 29, answered his ad and, although she's married, they get along very well and have sex several times a week. In fact she's given him a mobile phone so they can get together whenever possible. "I'm having the time of my life," he said. "It's the best thing I ever did."
RAYLENE, 28, has been married four years. She and her husband send raunchy e-mails to each other. Both work in offices where they are free to e-mail what they like. "It started out as a joke, but we just had more and more fun," she said. "It's a private thing, and I quickly flick between screens if someone comes up behind me. He likes to describe what he's going to do to me when we get home. We laugh about it being virtual sex."
MARIA, 43, wanted to spark up her sex life after 20 years of marriage. She went to a city firm that specialises in doing sensual photographs and had one taken of herself wearing black lace underwear. She gave it to her husband Bob, also 43, for his birthday.
"He said it was nice, but I don't really know if it really did turn him on or not. He didn't really say much more about it. Still, they did a good job of making me look sexy."
JACK, 37, divorced, thinks the advent of mobile phones had changed people's sex lives. "Now you can always catch someone. If they're already out in the city, you can arrange to meet up somewhere," he said. "Also, you can leave personal and very sexy messages on the answering machine, knowing the only person who is going to hear it is the woman you meant it for."
Copyright © 2000. The Sydney Morning Herald