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Sex Statistics - What's in a Number?

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Updated April 30, 2013

Everyone wants to know what “normal sexuality” is. How many people only want to have sex once a week, or fantasize about celebrities during sex, or have a certain fondness for chocolate pudding? All different ways of wondering if you’re normal.

One place a lot of people turn to for comfort, is sexual statistics. Sometimes we like statistics because they tell us we’re not alone, sometimes we like them because they let us laugh at others (something most of us do, that we should all try to do less of). Mostly they are fascinating in that they open a window into other people’s sex lives, a window that is firmly shut to us most of the time.

I’m always a bit wary of sex statistics. Here are some reasons to question any sexual statistic you hear:

  • The reliability and validity of sexual surveys can almost always be called into some question.
  • Many of the statistics you hear are taken not from properly done studies, but from marketing firms working for large corporations that want to keep their name in the public’s mind.
  • There is a bias in most sexual survey research in the ways questions are asked, what questions are not asked, who is asking the questions, and lastly who gets to answer the questions. These biases don’t mean that the statistics aren’t interesting and relevant, but they usually mean that they shouldn’t be generalized to the entire population.

The bottom line is that sexuality is incredibly individual, and while it may be comforting to know that 36% of people have sex in the same position or on the same day of the week you do, making decisions about your sexuality based on what others are doing, saying, or feeling, is almost always a bad decision.

All this to say…take your sex stats with a spoon or truck full of salt, and be sure you know where the information is coming from.

If you’re trying to find reliable information online, here are a few good places to start:

National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior a nationally representative study of sexual activities among Americans age 14-94.

The Kinsey Institute
Alfred Kinsey was one of the first great surveyors of American sexual behavior. The Kinsey Institute continues to be a great resource for academic research into human sexual behavior.

National Center for Health Statistics
Here you can find the latest statistics collected by the government for the CDC, including the most recent government sponsored survey information on sexual behavior in the U.S.

There are also several print books that offer detailed information about sexual behavior for the layperson:

Sex in America
This book summarizes the largest sexual behavior survey conducted in the United States since Alfred Kinsey’s groundbreaking research.

The Hite Report on Female Sexuality and The Hite Report on Male Sexuality
These reports have been criticized on a number of fronts, but they caused quite a stir when they were released (particularly the first one on female sexuality) and more than twenty years later they stand as fascinating documents

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