Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female still rank among the bestselling science books of all time.
People are fascinated by sex. The sex lives of movie stars, athletes, and politicians are discussed ad nauseam in tabloids, TV shows, and celebrity gossip columns. On the Internet, sex makes up 12 percent of all websites, 25 percent of all search engine requests, and 35 percent of all file downloads2. Sex stores sell sex products for every lifestyle. Viagra and Cialis are blockbuster drugs.
But how much do people actually know about sex? What’s the average number of partners in a lifetime? How often do people have sex? If you’ve ever wondered about questions like these, you’ve come to the right article. Let’s throw open the bedroom doors, and learn the secrets of sex.
Sex by Numbers
Most Americans under the age of 40 have sex about once a week3. About 10 percent are celibate, and another 10 percent have sex more than four times a week. Over the age of 40, men have sex about 2–3 times a month, compared to once a month for women. About 25 percent of people over the age of 40 are celibate.
Despite the “no sex after marriage” jokes you may have heard, married people actually have more sex than singles. About 88 percent of married people have sex at least once a month, compared to 49 percent of unmarried people4. Similarly, only 6 percent of married couples had no sex in the past year, versus 43 percent of singles. Young couples in their first year of marriage have the most sex. This “honeymoon effect” decreases over time because the novelty wears off, and there is less of an expectation to have lots of sex. The table below shows the average frequency of sex for married couples in different age groups.
People have less sex as they grow older. Between the ages of 65–74, 50 percent of married couples have sex at least once a month5. This drops to 25 percent by the age of 75. Old age lowers libido and physical performance. Among sexually-active seniors, about 50 percent report at least one bothersome sexual problem. The most common problems for women are low desire (43 percent), decreased vaginal lubrication (39 percent), and inability to climax (34 percent). About 37 percent of men have erectile difficulties.
Sex in old age has lots of health benefits. In women, orgasms help maintain muscle tone, and reduce the incidence of urinary incontinence. In Sweden, a study of 70-year-olds found that sexually active seniors had better mental health, experienced less anxiety, and woke up less frequently during the night6.
Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain was one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He’s the only player to have scored 100 points in a single NBA game7. In his autobiography, he claimed to have slept with 20,000 women (this works out to eight women a week from age 15 until his death at age 63). Near the end of his life, Wilt offered these words of wisdom, “Having a thousand different ladies is pretty cool…[but] I've found out that having one woman a thousand different times is much more satisfying.”
Wilt is a statistical anomaly. Most men will never match his sexual record, no matter how hard they try. How many partners do people usually have? Under the age of 40, 73 percent of men and 85 percent of women had one partner or less in the past year8. Only 11 percent of men and 3 percent of women had four or more partners. Over the age of 40, 93 percent of men and 97 percent of women had one partner or less in the past year.
Over the course of a lifetime, the average man has 14 partners by the age of 40, while the average woman has seven partners. With all of this sleeping around, it’s not surprising that 27 percent of women and 47 percent of men have engaged in casual sex at least once.
Despite the prohibition on sex before marriage, Catholics and Conservative Protestants average about nine partners by the age of 40, compared to 13 partners for non-religious individuals. People have an average of 15 partners if they start having sex before the age of 17, compared to six partners for those who wait until they are older.
In terms of homosexual activity, 2.3 percent of men had a gay partner in the past year, and 1.5 percent of women had a lesbian partner3. About 0.5 percent of men and women identified themselves as bisexual.
Perhaps the most sexually-active person in history was Genghis Khan, the Mongol leader who ruled most of Asia in the 12th century. Less than 50 years after his death, medieval scholars were already reporting that his descendants numbered in the tens of thousands. In modern times, DNA testing has revealed that 16 million men, or 0.5 percent of all the men in the world, are descended from Genghis and his prolific family9.
There’s a story about President Calvin Coolidge and his wife touring an Iowa egg farm. The First Lady noticed a rooster romancing a hen. She asked the farmer, “Does he do that often?”
The farmer replied, “Yes. In fact, he does it dozens of times a day.”
Mrs. Coolidge turned to an aide, and whispered, “Someone should tell that to the President.”
Overhearing his wife’s conversation, the president asked the farmer, “Same hen every time?”
“No sir, a different hen each time.”
President Coolidge replied, “Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge!”
Believe it or not, there are researchers who specialize in the study of casual sex. They define a “hookup” as a sexual encounter between strangers or brief acquaintances. Hookups usually last a single night, and may or may not involve sexual intercourse. In a survey from an unnamed public college in the Northeastern United States, 75 percent of men and 84 percent of women said they had participated in a hookup11. On average, students had participated in 10 hookups. Fifty-five percent of the encounters were with strangers. The most common situations leading up to a hookup were: flirting (43 percent), drinking alcohol (32 percent), hanging out and talking (30 percent), and attending parties (21 percent).
After a hookup, the most common feelings were: regretful or disappointed (35 percent), good or happy (27 percent), satisfied (20 percent), and confused or unsure (11 percent). There was a mix of positive and negative emotions. One girl said, “I felt an excited rush, I knew what I did was stupid, but it was exhilarating.”
Men are more likely to agree to casual sex than women. In a study from the University of Michigan, attractive male and female experimenters approached students on a college campus, and asked one of three randomly selected questions12:
In Papua New Guinea, anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski reported that some Trobriand Island women were considered so ugly that they were absolutely forbidden to have sex13. But somehow, they still managed to have children. The Trobrianders believed that this was conclusive proof of the miracle of virgin birth.
What makes people attractive for one-night stands? Researchers from the University of Colorado assembled profiles of male and female candidates, including photos and personality descriptions14. College students were asked to rate the attractiveness of candidates for one-night stands. Women preferred candidate males with broad shoulders and dominant personalities, while men preferred candidate females with attractive faces and slim bodies. In terms of personality, it made no difference if males were described as nice guys or selfish jerks, whereas females were less attractive for one-night stands if they were described as kind, considerate, and helpful.
Sex on Vacation
Spring Break and Mardi Gras are notorious for crazy parties and girls gone wild. There’s something about alcohol and being on vacation that loosens people’s inhibitions. In the holiday region of Torbay in South Devon, England, researchers surveyed young single tourists about their sexual activities on vacation15. Results showed that 24 percent of tourists had sex with at least one partner, while another 33 percent had sexual contact without intercourse. As usual, men were more likely to have casual sex than women. Almost 70 percent of men had sexual encounters, compared to 44 percent of women.
It’s one thing to have casual sex; it’s much more serious to have an affair. Adultery is a betrayal of trust that’s condemned by men and women. Nevertheless, lust overpowers loyalty more often than you might think. Forty-four percent of men and 24 percent of women admit to having cheated on a partner16. For women, affairs are highly emotional—less than 2 percent had sex without any emotional involvement.
According to researchers at Deakin University in Australia, the best predictor of a cheater is someone who has cheated in the past. Other predictors include women who are unconcerned about what others think, and men who hold the attitude that cheating is acceptable.
Women often get pregnant during affairs. Researchers estimate that 10 percent of all children are not biologically related to the person they think is their father17. As long as humans have hormones, there will always be cheaters.
Why Have Sex?
Conventional thought holds that women trade sex for love, while men prefer sex with no strings attached. To test this belief, researchers from the University of Texas asked people why they had sex18. They collected a total of 715 reasons from people of all ages. For men and women, the top reasons were attraction, pleasure, and feeling good. Also, both genders said they used sex to show love and affection. The table below lists the top 10 reasons for having sex.
Tune In, Turn On
To have good sex, you need to know what turns your partner on. Researchers from the Kinsey Institute conducted focus groups with women to find out what they really wanted19. Top arousal enhancers included feeling comfortable and positive about their bodies; feeling accepted; and feeling desired and appreciated by their partner. Arousal inhibitors included concerns about reputation, fear of unwanted pregnancy, and feeling used for sex.
Women enjoyed being “surprised” or “overpowered” by their partners. They also preferred lovers who spent lots of time on foreplay, and were attentive to their sexual needs. Turn-offs included groping, grabbing, making genital contact too fast, being too polite, and verbally asking for sex. It’s not sexy when a guy walks into the bedroom and says, “Honey, can we please have sex now?”
In focus groups with men, the top arousal enhancers were feeling confident, successful, and desired20. Men want to feel like a king in the bedroom. Not surprisingly, men were also aroused by being with an attractive partner. Attributes of attractive partners included physical beauty, intelligence, and nice smell.
Some men were turned off by sexually experienced women because they were afraid of “not measuring up,” while others were aroused by the thought that their partner had been with multiple men. Most men, especially older ones, believed that a strong emotional connection was a big contributor to sexual arousal.
The Big “O”
In the movie When Harry Met Sally, there is a scene in a deli when Meg Ryan demonstrates how easy it is for a woman to fake an orgasm (much to the astonishment of the other diners). It’s not just Meg who’s faking it. Finnish researchers discovered that 92 percent of men, but only 56 percent of women, had an orgasm the last time they had sex21. Only 6 percent of women always have an orgasm during sex, compared to 53 percent of men. Depending on the study, American women achieve orgasm 40–80 percent of the time, regardless of stimulation method. Surprisingly, 4–10 percent of women have never experienced an orgasm.
Master of Your Domain
Masturbation is an easy way to pleasure yourself (and cheaper than a date). According to a survey of college students, most people start masturbating around age 13–1422. In the past month, 61 percent of men and 27 percent of women masturbated at least once. On average, men masturbated once a week, and women about 2–3 times a month.
Despite what your parents may have told you, masturbation is normal and perfectly safe. It does not cause blindness, insanity, acne, or hairy palms23. Scientists have found no differences in sexual behavior or sexual satisfaction for masturbators compared to non-masturbators. And it isn’t just for singles. Sixty-eight percent of married women and 72 percent of married men regularly masturbate.
Two is Better than One
Although masturbation feels good, penile-vaginal sex is measurably better. In a study from the University of Paisley, Scottish researchers showed that prolactin levels were 400 percent higher after sexual intercourse compared to masturbation24. Prolactin is a hormone that’s released after orgasm. It’s responsible for the feeling of sexual satisfaction.
In another study from the University of Paisley, researchers measured people’s blood pressure responses to stress after masturbation, oral sex, and sexual intercourse25. The lowest blood pressure responses were seen after penile-vaginal sex. There’s no substitute for the real thing.
Men use pornography more often than women when they masturbate26. Men are also more attracted to hardcore sex scenes with no emotional involvement. Most women find pornography boring or even repulsive. They’re also more likely to favor restrictions on its use. Feminists argue that pornography lowers women’s self esteem, wrecks marriages, and encourages men to objectify women.
Like masturbation, pornography’s negative effects are often exaggerated or unfounded. In a Danish study, researchers found that 98 percent of men and 80 percent of women had used pornography at some time in their lives27. Sixty-eight percent of men and 18 percent of women used pornography at least once a week. The average time was 81 minutes for men, and 22 minutes for women. Both men and women reported little or no negative effects from using pornography. Instead, people who used pornography experienced small improvements in their sex lives, attitudes towards sex, and life in general.
Many people are uncomfortable talking about sex, especially with their kids. It’s easy to leave sex education to teachers and schools. But discussing safe sex is the responsibility of every parent. When’s the right time? It’s around the age of 10 because this is when kids first develop feelings of attraction and sexual awareness28. Around the age of 11 for girls and 12 for boys, the physical changes of puberty occur, such as facial hair and deep voice for boys, and breasts and hips for girls.
In the United States, the average teenager starts having sex at age 15, although 26 percent have sex before 1429. Most kids have vaginal sex before oral sex. For boys, 66 percent have vaginal sex first, 18 percent have vaginal and oral sex at the same age, and 11 percent have oral sex first. Predictors of early sex include cigarette and marijuana use, and relationships with older partners.
Abstinence programs do not work, despite the claims of some religious groups and right-wing conservatives. In a report commissioned by Congress, researchers followed over 2,000 high-school students for 5 years30. They found that abstinence programs did not delay teenagers from having sex, and did not decrease the number of partners. In contrast, sex education was associated with a 71 percent decrease in the number of boys having sex before the age of 15. For girls, there was a 59 percent reduction in early sex. Sex education also increased the rate of abstinence, and increased the likelihood that teenagers used contraception when they first had sex31.
Safe sex includes using a condom, and getting tested regularly. It’s important to practice safe sex because there are a lot of Americans who are infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Statistics show that 50 percent of sexually active people are infected by an STD by the age of 2532. Testing is necessary because symptoms are not always visible.
The table below shows the incidence and prevalence for common STDs in the United States32,33,34. The incidence of a disease is the number of new cases diagnosed in a year. Prevalence refers to the total number of individuals living with the disease.
There is overwhelming evidence that condoms significantly reduce the risk of STDs, including HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes. Unfortunately, condoms break or are used incorrectly 13 percent of the time35. Also, many people find it difficult or inconvenient to always use a condom. That’s why you should insist on regular STD testing for you and your partner. The good news is that all STDs are treatable or even curable if they’re diagnosed in time.
Erik von Markovik may be the world’s greatest pickup artist, but he didn’t lose his virginity until the age of 2136. In high school, Erik was a failure at attracting the ladies. The only attractive women he met were in comic books. Driven by sexual frustration, he practiced approaching women and trying to pick them up.
Ten years and thousands of approaches later, Erik realized that most women followed predictable patterns of behavior. Based on his field experience, Erik developed a system of seduction routines and techniques he called the Mystery Method37. “A woman, by the time she’s 23 years old, if she’s a beautiful young lady, she’s going to have been hit on a good 7,500 times,” says Erik. “So we have to approach differently. We can’t approach saying, ‘Wow, I like you, do you like me?’”
In the seduction stage, foreplay sets the stage for sex. Often, the woman will put up last-minute resistance because she doesn’t want to feel promiscuous. The man should acknowledge the resistance, and even agree with it. The woman might say, “We should stop…” The man should agree and say, “Yes, you’re right, we’re going too fast.” Then stop the foreplay, and wait a bit before restarting. If done properly, the woman will drop her token resistance, and rationalize later that she was overwhelmed by passion. Whatever happens, always remember that “no means no.”
Based on Erik’s teachings, pickup groups have sprung up in major cities around the world. The Bristol Lair website maintains a list of groups: http://www.bristollair.com/lairlist/. Group members improve their game by critiquing each other’s performance as they approach women in bars, nightclubs, and on the street. The Mystery Method is devastatingly effective. I’ve watched friends transform themselves from awkward geeks into guys who routinely pick up the hottest girls. It’s hard to believe, but it really works.
The Mystery Method is useful for more than just picking up girls. The theories and techniques are applicable to any social interaction, from friendship to business to interacting with strangers. It’s like social kung fu. You disarm your opponents with charm and wit by using their force against them.
According to Wired magazine, “Sex is a virus that infects new technology first.” It seems only natural that Internet users are experimenting with cybersex, an online activity where people talk dirty and masturbate. In a Swedish study, 33 percent of Internet users said they had engaged in cybersex39. Seventy-two percent of encounters took place in chat rooms, followed by 52 percent with instant messaging services.
Cybersex isn’t just for geeks—it may actually help you get more partners in real life. Men who engaged in cybersex had an average of five offline sex partners, compared to two partners for men not having cybersex. In addition to more partners, cybersex is convenient, anonymous, and practically free. As people spend more time online, cybersex and other virtual sex activities will probably become even more popular.
Second Life (www.secondlife.com) is an online virtual world where residents socialize, participate in group activities, and even have virtual sex. Tiffany Widdershins is the owner of a virtual bordello in Second Life40. She says, “This is the place that guys and ladies do the stuff that they secretly want to try in real life, but likely never will. I think it’s because it has no real-life consequences.” According to Tiffany, the reason why people pay for virtual sex is because virtual escorts are better at it. “90% of sex is mental…and in fact 100% of virtual sex is mental…so a professional here has to be a terrific manipulator of words and experience.”
Tiffany has four golden rules for her escorts. She believes a woman can get anything she wants from a man by applying them properly.
Rule #1: Men cannot abide a damsel in distress if it’s in his power to rescue her.
Rule #2: If a man is given a problem he’s able to solve, he will solve it.
Rule #3: Despite protests to the contrary, men love women who call them on their crap.
Rule #4: Men do what they’re told to do, not what they’re asked to do.
In the future, maybe sex will be like going to your favorite restaurant. You’ll enjoy your favorite meal, pay the bill, and let someone else wash the dishes. How many people will cook their own food if someone else can do it better for them?
Copyright © 2009 by Paul Lem, M.D.
Buy the book at www.MasterLifeFaster.com