Britons are having sex from their teens
until well into their 70s and experimenting with experiences and techniques
once dismissed as deviant, according to a major series of scientific studies of
But while people may have expanded their
sexual repertoire over the past decade, both men and women also told
researchers they were having sex less often. "People are working very hard,
they are very busy," said Kaye Wellings of the London School of Hygiene
& Tropical Medicine, when asked why she thought people had reported a drop
off in average frequency.
The studies, published in The Lancet
medical journal, were based on a national survey of sexual attitudes and
lifestyles, the first of its kind to get data from people up to the age of 74. One
study also found one in 10 women and one in 70 men said they had been forced to
have sex against their will at least once since the age of 13 – a problem that
British authorities needed to address urgently, the researchers said.
"We need to start thinking about sex
differently – sexual health is not merely the absence of disease, but the
ability to have pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free from
coercion," said Wellings, who co-led the series and presented the findings
at a briefing in London.
Improving the quality of people's sexual
experiences and relationships was also important for their broader health, the
researchers added. "Men and women who enjoy an active sex life are fitter,
have lower rates of depressive symptoms and improved cardiovascular health as
compared to those who do not," she and fellow researchers wrote in a
commentary on the results.
Biggest examinations of sexual behaviour
The studies surveyed and analysed data from
more than 15 000 people aged 16 to 74. They also drew on similar surveys
conducted in 1990 and 2000, making them among the biggest and most
comprehensive examinations of sexual behaviour undertaken in a single country.
Around 57% of men aged between 65 and 74
said they had vaginal sex within the past year, with 30% reporting having had
oral sex and 3% having had anal sex.
A smaller proportion of women in the same
age group reported having active and varied sex lives, but in younger age
groups the changes in sexual behaviour were more striking among women than
One of the most dramatic findings was an
increase from 4% in the 1990 survey to 16% in the current survey in the
proportion of women reporting ever having had sex with another woman.
This change coincides with more tolerance
in general of same-sex relationships, the researchers said, although they noted
that the studies also found people are becoming less tolerant of married
partners having extra-marital sex.
Moving with the times
The researchers said the surveys showed
Britons in general were moving with the times in term of sex, reflecting a
global context in which the separation of sexual activity from reproduction is
well under way.
Sexual behaviours that are not essential to
conception – including masturbation, oral and anal sex, same sex practices and
sex in groups "have become easier to discuss and have gained greater
acceptance," they said. "In many cultural contexts, what was once seen
as deviance or perversion is increasingly referred to as diversity."