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11 October 2010
Survey highlights diversity of Americans' sex lives
by George Atkinson

The findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior provide a fascinating glimpse into contemporary Americans' sexual behaviors, patterns of condom use and the percentage of Americans participating in same-sex encounters.

The survey was carried out by researchers from the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and is one of the most comprehensive studies on these topics in almost two decades, taking in the experiences and behaviors of 5,865 adolescents and adults aged 14 to 94.

"This survey is one of the most expansive nationally representative studies of sexual behavior and condom use ever conducted, given the 80-year span of ages," said Michael Reece, director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion (CSHP).

"People are often curious about others' sex lives," added Debby Herbenick, associate director of the CSHP. "They want to know how often men and women in different age groups have sex, the types of sex they engage in, and whether they are enjoying it or experiencing sexual difficulties. Our data provide answers to these common sex questions and demonstrate how sex has changed in the nearly 20 years since the last study of its kind."

Key findings of the study include:

  • One-in-four acts of vaginal intercourse are condom protected in the U.S.

  • Condom use is higher among black and Hispanic Americans than among white Americans and those from other racial groups.

  • Somewhat mysteriously, around 85 percent of men report that their partner had an orgasm at the most recent sexual event; although only 64 percent of women report having had an orgasm at their most recent sexual event.

  • Nearly 15 percent of women in their 30s reported having performed oral sex on another woman at least once in their lifetime

  • The reported rate of anal sex has increased dramatically, effectively doubling since the last survey was carried out in 1988. Nearly 50 percent of 25 to 29 year-old women have had anal sex at least once in their lifetimes.

  • Men are more likely to orgasm when sex includes vaginal intercourse but women are more likely to orgasm when they engage in a variety of sex acts and when oral sex is included.

  • While about 7 percent of adult women and 8 percent of men identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, the proportion of individuals in the U.S. who have had same-gender sexual interactions at some point in their lives is higher.

  • Nearly 90 percent of men aged 30 to 39 have performed oral sex on a woman, 69 percent of them in the past year.

  • Of the 14 to 16 year-old boys and girls surveyed, only about 10 percent said they were engaging in any kind of sexual activity with a partner, whereas 62 percent of boys, and 40 percent of girls were happy to admit to masturbating on their own during the past year.

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Source: Indiana University

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