Sex in Australia – Who is Doing What How Often?
This month we will explore sex in Australia: who is doing what activities, and how often from the recently released research the Australian Study of Health and Relationships (ASHR) (1). The Australian Study of Health and Relationships is Australia’s own version of Kinsey’s research in 1940s and 1950s. This is the second time this study has explored sex, sexual health and relationships in Australia and the world’s first longitudinal study of health and relationships.
The study explored the experiences and attitudes of 9,963 men and 10,131 women aged between 16 and 69 years from all states and territories in Australia. According to the study’s authors the sample represents the Australian population based on 2011 census(1).
Embarrassed by Sex
One aspect of sex therapy I am always fascinated with is people’s embarrassment when talking about sex. It is not surprising people are embarrassed when talking about their personal sexual lives – we are taught from a young age that sex is private; personal; something we do not talk about.
Yet, in the ASHR the majority of participants reported they were not embarrassed. Women reported more embarrassment than men, with 52.4% of women indicating they were not embarrassed compared with 64.9% of men. Extreme embarrassment was registered by 12.6% of women and only 7.2% of men.
These people also know they are anonymous. Whereas sitting with sex therapist talking about sex is not so anonymous (yet confidential!) (1)
What are People Doing?
Participants’ most recent sexual encounter was more likely to be with a regular partner (89.1%) than with a non-regular partner (10%). Vaginal intercourse was the most common activity with 92.4% of women and 95.4% of men reporting vaginal intercourse in their most recent sexual encounter. Vaginal intercourse remains the common sexual activity when compared with the 2003 study (93.6% vs. 92.2% in 2003) (2).
Manual Stimulation – Partner Masturbation
Men were more likely to masturbate their partner than women. Eighty-two percent of men reported they used manual stimulation of their partner, while 73% of women reported manual stimulation by their partner in the most recent encounter. Manual stimulation of the man by his partner was reported in 71% of encounters for men and 70% of encounters for women (2). Partner masturbation (manual stimulation) is a common sexual activity in people’s sexpertoires.
Oral sex is not as common as vaginal or manual stimulation by a partner. It occurs in around a quarter to a third of encounters. Cunnilingus (orals ex on a woman) was reported by around a third of men (31.2%) and 23% of women (2). Fellatio (Oral sex on a man) was included in the most recent encounter for 27% of the men and just under a quarter of the women (24%). Oral sex occurs more frequently in in 2014 (86.8%) than in 2003 (78.7%) when the first study was reported (2).
Anal intercourse occurred in the most recent sexual encounter for just over 1% of men and less than one percent for women (0.4%) (2). This is a least common sexual activity reported by (heterosexual) couples in their most recent sexual encounter. Yet, more people reported anal intercourse in this second study (26.3%) than the first study in 2003 (20.9%) (2).
How often are People Having Sex?
The average frequency of sex in 2014 was 1.44 times per week for men and women (3). This is a decline since 2003 where people were having sex 1.84 times per week(4). Around a third of people (27.7% women; 31.5% men) reported sex less than once per week in the last four weeks.
Approximately a quarter of respondents (24.2% men; 25.7% women) indicated sex at least once per week. One in five participants (21.5% women; 20.5% men) reported sex 2-3 times per week, with less than 5% reporting sex 4-6 per week (4.7% men; 4.2% women). Daily sex was reported for 1.7% men and 1.8% of women (3).
People in their twenties reported most frequent sex as 2.1 times per week and this declined with age, so older people reporting less frequent sex (3).
Satisfaction in Relationships
Approximately one third of participants reported extreme relationship satisfaction: 29.1% of women and 36% of men. Men (86.2%) were more likely than women (83.7%) to report extreme or very high levels of emotional satisfaction in their relationships. Less than one percent of participants reported their relationship as not at all satisfying (men 0.4%; women 0.8%) (3).
Men (87.6%) were more likely than women (76.3%) to report sex as extremely or very satisfying. Again less than one percent of the respondents indicated sex was not at all pleasurable (0.39% women; 0.4% men) (3).
Sex in Australia – What do we know
Couples are having sex around once per week and this has declined in the past 10 years. When couples do have sex, they are likely to engage in manual stimulation of their partner and have vaginal intercourse. Oral sex is part of the sexual repertoire and anal sex although increasing is not as frequent as some people might like to think. People reported they are experiencing emotional and physical satisfaction in their relationships.
Sex is an important part of any relationship. Sex provides partners with a feeling of connection and being desired. Sex can help soothe and relax people. Sex can be fun. A healthy sex life is part of any healthy relationship.
Many people come to see me and say their relationship is perfect but we are not having sex. I always ask couples in this situation how often they think they should be having sex. Many people answer with three to four times per week. When I ask why they think this, I am often told because that is how often everyone else does it. Well the average number of times is much less than the three to four times a week, with most people having sex only once per week. So if you are having sex about once per week you are experiencing a sex life most Australians are experiencing.
When I work with couples around the amount of sex they are not having, I spend time exploring where and why the sex has gone. For some people it is a time factor; for others they simply have forgotten how to “get it on”. Through therapy I work with couples who want to improve their sexual relationship. The benefit is a better relationship.
I hope you have had fun reading about Australians sex life. Remember a healthy life includes a healthy sex life. And a healthy sex life is sane, (con)sensual and safe.
Dr Christopher Fox is a Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist at Sex Life Therapy in Melbourne. He has clinics in East Melbourne and Frankston.
1. Richters J, Badcock PB, Simpson JM, Shellard D, Rissel C, de Visser RO, et al. Design and methods of the Second Australian Study of Health and Relationships. Sexual Health. 2014;11(5):383-96.
2. Rissel C, Badcock PB, Smith AMA, Richters J, de Visser RO, Grulich AE, et al. Heterosexual experience and recent heterosexual encounters among Australian adults: the Second Australian Study of Health and Relationships. Sexual Health. 2014;11(5):416-26.
3. Badcock PB, Smith AMA, Richters J, Rissel C, de Visser RO, Simpson JM, et al. Characteristics of heterosexual regular relationships among a representative sample of adults: the Second Australian Study of Health and Relationships. Sexual Health. 2014;11(5):427-38.
4. Rissel CE, Richters J, Grulich AE, de Visser RO, Smith AMA. Sex in Australia: Selected characteristics of regular sexual relationships. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 2003;27(2):124-30.
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