Behind America’s bedroom doors

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Indiana University partnered with Church & Dwight Co. Inc., the maker of Trojan Brand Condoms, to measure rates such as condom use, masturbation and anal sex. Photo by Brittany McGrail / Brittany.mcgrail@marquette.edu

Everyone has questions about sex, but few actually ask them. How much is too much? Is it normal to do that? Should I be worried about my partner’s foot fetish?

Now, there are finally some answers.

In October, Indiana University published the largest national sex survey since Alfred Kinsey’s surveys of 1948 and 1953. The survey yielded new information as well as information that supported what was already known.

The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior asked a random sample of 5,865 people ages 14 to 94 about their sex lives.

In the past few decades people have seemingly been more willing to talk about sex, allowing more accurate information to be obtained about people’s sexual activities.

Marquette is also trying to increase dialogue on campus concerning sex. The university’s Gender Resource Task Force is working to open a Gender Resource Center on campus between 2011 and 2012 to give students a welcoming place to talk about sex. Marquette University Student Government is bringing Dr. Drew Pinsky, a board-certified internist and addiction specialist currently starring in VH1’s “Sex Rehab,” to speak to students in the Alumni Memorial Union Ballrooms, Thursday at 8 p.m.

Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion partnered with Church & Dwight Co. Inc., the maker of Trojan Brand sexual health products, for the survey. They found that younger generations use condoms more often than their elders and although men masturbate more than women, women still masturbate often.

Practicing safe sex

One of the largest endeavors the sexual education community has undertaken in the past few decades is the promotion of practicing safe sex. “Sex ed” classes have sprung up around the country and have had a significant effect on sexual health.

The survey found that while 79 percent of men ages 14 to 17 wore condoms during the past 10 vaginal intercourse experiences, only 45 percent of those aged 18 to 24 used condoms. This number continues to decline as age increases, with 5 percent of men 61 years and older using condoms, according to the survey.

Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to use condoms while having vaginal sex than white Americans. Black adolescent males ages 14 to 17 reported using condoms during 92 percent of their sexual encounters, while Hispanics in the same age group reported wearing condoms in 100 percent of their sexual encounters. White adolescent males of the same age bracket used condoms only 69 percent of the time.

Dr. Debby Herbenick, a human sexuality expert at Indiana University and one of the six people heading the survey, said young people use condoms more than before due to recent changes in society.

“Schools, parents, movies, television and others are creating this norm for them,” Herbenick said. “It’s a big change from 20 or 30 years ago. Now we have to provide the same education and motivation for older people.”These data figures suggest the sexual awareness classes enacted in recent years are working nationwide. Ed de St. Aubin, a Marquette psychology professor who teaches the human sexuality course, said he believes kids today get a complete and comprehensive education in sex, whereas previously it may have been lacking.

“In places like retirement homes, it’s actually common to have STIs being passed,” de St. Aubin said. “They’ve never been exposed to the risks. It’s hard to put together a sex ed program for widows and widowers in a retirement home who have only ever had sex with one partner, especially since it was so taboo to talk about (sex) years ago.”

Pinsky said one other factor that causes a decline in condom use with age would be the unlikelihood of conception.

Masturbation trends

Sex experts have long believed that men masturbate more than women, but there has never been concrete data until now.

“Masturbation was really taboo,” Pinsky said.  “In the ’70s and ’80s, it was not commonplace to talk about it.  There’s been a gigantic shift since then, and I’ve seen a change.”

Pinsky, de St. Aubin and Herbenick all said the results confirmed the common assumption that men masturbate more often than women.

What researchers found surprising was the frequency that women masturbate. 84 percent of men ages 25 to 29 masturbated in the past year, compared to 72 percent of women.

63 percent of men ages 20 to 24 have masturbated within the last month, compared to 44 percent of women. While there is a big discrepancy between men and women, the results show a significant number of women masturbate.

“Sometimes men are still treated poorly because of their masturbation,” Herbenick said. “A lot of partners try to make them feel badly. One thing that the data shows (is) it’s incredibly common, especially for men, no matter if they are in a relationship or not. It’s a common form of male expression. So, hopefully girlfriends stop taking it personally that men continue to masturbate while in a relationship.”

While many people feel men’s greater interest in sex is unique to culture in American society, Pinsky said because it is cross-cultural and not just an American phenomenon, the degrees of sexual interest must be a biological difference between men and women.

De St. Aubin said although the desire to masturbate is biological, the survey shows many women masturbate even though they are not biologically predisposed to do it.

“Masturbation in some ways is the greatest indicator of sexual interest,” de St. Aubin said. “Men start masturbating earlier and will still be likely to do so with or without a partner, whereas women usually stop when they have a partner.”

De St. Aubin said this greater desire for sex could be due to levels of testosterone in men.

“Men, on most measures of erotophilia (sexual interest) — cross-culturally and across the world — score higher than women,” de St. Aubin said. “Men fantasize more about (sex), are more likely to have it with a person they are unfamiliar with. So I do suspect it’s biological.”

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