21st Century Sex

During the height of his White House sex scandal, President Bill Clinton famously declared that he did not have sex with Monica Lewinsky. Most skeptics dismissed his comments as pure lies, and felt vindicated when he later admitted to an inappropriate relationship with the intern.

But the most recent survey of sexual behavior in the United States — one of the most comprehensive in the last 20 years — suggests that we might have to give our former Commander-in-Chief the benefit of the doubt.

How can that possibly be? Turns out, we prude Americans are downright creative when it comes to the bedroom. When asked about their last sexual encounter, a remarkable 41 different combinations of activities were elicited from study participants (3990 individuals between age 18 and 59). And in general, we engage in a number of primary sexual behaviors.

In short, “having sex” has a wide range of interpretations in our country today.

What else can we glean from the 140 pages of reports, graphs, and commentary (sorry, no photos) that make up this impressive piece of research (generously underwritten by the makers of Trojans condoms)?

For one, it appears that variety is indeed the spice of life. Both sexes were more likely to achieve orgasm if they engaged in a greater number of sexual behaviors.

Unfortunately, what is unclear is whether a larger repertoire of sexual activities cause orgasm in both sexes or represent mere associations. Perhaps those who engage in a greater variety of sexual behaviors do so because they already achieve orgasm more frequently, are less sexually inhibited, or simply have larger sexual appetites.

Other surprising findings:

  • Despite their reputation for philandering, men reported more pleasurable sex, more frequent orgasm, and fewer erectile problems with a relationship partner than with a nonrelationship partner.
  • Conversely, women reported more frequent orgasm when paired with a nonrelationship partner.
  • Including vaginal intercourse increased the likelihood of male orgasm more than any other behavior.
  • Women, on the contrary, had several activities associated with orgasm, including giving and receiving oral sex, and vaginal intercourse.
  • Men who received oral sex during their most recent partnered event did not report higher rates of orgasm.
  • Teens are having sex more frequently than any of us parents would like — 40% of males age 17 reported intercourse in the past year. But the good news: 80% used a condom, versus 53% in 1988.

Lastly, a word of caution: while the data are tantalizing in their revelations, they reflect associations only. Due to the study design, we can’t authoritatively say that certain sex behaviors will cause partners to experience orgasm more (or less) frequently, or produce more (or less) enjoyable sex.

But that’s OK, in my opinion. Maybe this is an opportunity for couples to engage in their own research. After all, sex is a normal, healthy part of life at all ages. As our former Surgeon General, Dr. Jocelyn Elders, states in her introduction, “A sexually healthy society must be our new goal for the 21st century.”

Now all we need is for Trojans to provide personal sponsorships.

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