Statistics are not the only measure of a happy relationship says Anne Chilton
There is no doubt that over the last 20 years other people’s sex lives have forced their way into our awareness more than at any other time in history. In magazines, online, TV, even on your mobile phone, there has been an explosion of sexual material, catering for every predilection and desire.
If quantity and variety were the things to measure our sexual lives by then we might be thinking that everyone was having a rare old time. But do statistics and attitudinal responses from the real world confirm that virtual sexual frenzy?
The latest National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) survey on sexual attitudes and lifestyles in the UK has just been published. The anonymous survey asked over 15,000 people aged 16-74 about their attitudes towards sex, as well as their actual sexual behaviour and the difficulties they experience. People are actually having less sex with a partner than they were 20 years ago, reducing, for the age group 16-44, from 5 times a week in 1990 to around three times a week now. However, alongside this we can also note that there has been a rise in the number of sexual partners people are engaging with, this has increased by around a third for men, from an average of eight and a half partners in 1990 to about 11 and a half now. For women though here has been an almost doubling of sexual partners in the past 20 years from just fewer than four to nearly eight. So, whilst the number of times we have sex might have reduced we seem to be doing it with more people.
Same sex experiences on the increase
Variety and experimentation with different sexual practices, including same sex experiences also seems to be on the increase with rises in oral or anal intercourse both being recorded. We have sex sooner, with around a third of those surveyed having their first sexual experience before the age of 16. At the other end of the spectrum though more than half of men and around 40 per cent of women aged 65 to 74 are also having sex. Whilst sexual activity amongst the young might be expected the latter figure maybe challenges attitudes that suggest sex stops when we fill in the application for our bus passes.
So are we all having a good time? Well, to an extent – over 60 per cent of people said they were satisfied with their sex lives, however nearly 50 per cent of people had also experienced some degree of sexual difficulty which had lasted for three or more months within the preceding year.
Yet the survey indicated that very few, less that 20 per cent of people with sexual difficulties sought any help.
Increased confidence and reduced stress
Well that’s a shame really as it’s well-researched that a satisfying sexual relationship, and by that we mean one that is satisfying to both, which might mean a relationship which is sensual and satisfying without penetration or multiple orgasms, enhances our feelings of wellbeing. It increases our confidence and reduces stress.
Where then can the average person get reliable information and help if they do have sexual difficulties? At Relationships Scotland we see hundreds of couples and individuals a year who are concerned or worried not only about their sex life but also the impact it has on their relationships. People who find themselves avoiding relationships or intimacy within a long-term partnership because they fear they might have to perform and that it won’t pass muster.
Sex though isn’t just about performance or statistics. What these surveys don’t tell us about is the comfort and intimacy that just being physically close to someone can bring. The sense of connection in our most intimate relationships isn’t just about orgasm, sometimes it’s just squidgy tummy to floppy breasts closeness that gives us a feeling of wellbeing, that sense of being connected to another person.
• Anne Chilton is the lead tutor on the Certificate in Couple Counselling course delivered by Relationships Scotland and part of the Corporate Management Team within the organisation as well as an experienced relationship counsellor and sex therapist.