Updated 28 November 2016

Young parents, poor sex lives

The Great SA Sex Survey has revealed some dismal news: the average man’s sex life declines steadily from age 24; and having babies in your 20s ruins your sex life for decades.


Biologically speaking, women are best equipped to have babies when they are young – in their early 20s. Financial, career and other considerations, however, mean an ever-growing percentage of women postpone pregnancy.

Now the 2009 Great South African Sex Survey has revealed another reason to put off having children: parents who start a family later report a much happier sex life.

Health24’s Sex Survey, which ran for five weeks over the 2008/9 holiday season, attracted 11 181 completed questionnaires. The responses were weighted using the latest variables from Statistics SA’s General Household Survey, meaning the statistics are representative of the habits and attitudes of 2,6 million urban metro adults, aged 20 years and older, who earn R2 500 a month or more.

How women aged 35 to 45 rated their sex lives was cross-tabulated with the age of their youngest child. It emerged that the happiest women were those with children under the age of three. The group that was least happy with their sex life? Those whose children were teenagers, meaning they had them in their early 20s.

One’s sex life is a fair barometer of general happiness in life, and also of one’s sense of self, and self-liking. So this statistic is significant. It suggests that the wait-a-bit advice – wait until you’re more established, wait until you’re more yourself before you diffuse your life into that of a baby’s – is more than sensible. Having babies in your early 20s, it seems, can fracture your essential sense of your self, and have repercussions for decades.

The only blip on the pleasure graph was among women under 35 who had a child less than a year old: these women were still really loving their sex lives. Still only 52% of them insisted they enjoyed sex “all the time”, compared to 60% of their sisters who postpones babies.

This pattern was repeated by male respondents, though among men there isn’t even the little relief of happy sex when the child is still a toddler.

The conclusion? Postpone babies until you’re in your mid-30s. Your gynae might not like it, but you’ll be a lot happier at bedtime.

In other findings:

- Men might also be alarmed to hear that the survey suggests they face a steady decline in sexual enjoyment: the proportion saying they enjoy sex with their primary partner “all the time” drops markedly with age, from around 60% in the 20-24 age group to 35% in the over 50 age group. Women’s enjoyment, on the other hand, peaks in the 35-39 age group, with the 45-49 group being the least likely (30%) to say they enjoy sex “all the time”.

- How important is sex in your life? Both men and women are most likely to say it is “very” or “extremely” important if they’re in their second marriages (presumably having learned some hard lessons the first time around). Least focused on sex? Men who’re uninvolved, and have never been married; and divorced women who’re currently uninvolved. Women, generally, are less adamant about the significance of sex in their lives.

- The best sex, the Great South African Sex Survey reveals, happens when men are in new relationships after an ended marriage. Men in their first marriages are least likely of all men to rave about having their best sex ever. Women are happier when there’s a ring on their finger: those in their first marriages are doing OK (51% say they’re having their best sex ever) but 63% those in their second marriages are having the time of their lives, they say.

(Heather Parker, Health24, February 2009


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