Well Being

Here’s What Other People Do In Bed

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A new book called The Normal Bar, out Feb. 5, takes an in-depth look at relationship sex — who's doing it, who's not, where, when, why and how happy it makes them. That last part is key: Unlike most books based on sex surveys, this one also looks at which sexual norms are associated with varying degrees of happiness.

I'm not sure how much stock I put in the authors' research. The Normal Bar is based on findings from an online survey of roughly 100,000 people, according to USA Todayroughly 23% of whom were in the United States. Selection bias, blah blah. Not the most scientific sampling methods.

The group included gay and straight participants, but no singles; though there's really no way to tell who actually took the survey, in theory it only includes adults in relationships.

The american sex questions were only taken by 2,200 respondents, and some questions as few as 600 respondents. USA Today reports a few of co-authors Pepper Schwartz, James Witte and Chrisanna Northrup's findings, including:

  • 40% of people say they have sex three to four times a week
  • 48% of men and 28% of women report having fallen in love at first sight
  • 43% of men and 33% of women say they are keeping a major secret from their partner
  • 44% of men and 29% of women say it bothers them “a lot” that their partner is not more romantic

So: Men confuse lust with love more than women do and we're all a bunch of cheats and liars (having a moderate amount of sex). Got it. [Also: Bros dig romance more than chicks; once and for all can we like goddamn please end this idea that it's women who are the romance-starved ones?]

If you'd like to know more about how often U.S. couples report having sex, here's the weirdly categorized results (so…is ‘rarely' once every two months or once every two years?):

  • 40% of people say they have sex three to four times a week
  • 23% somewhere less than three times a week but more than once a month
  • 13% rarely
  • 8% once a month
  • 7.5% daily
  • 4.5% never

Schwartz, a sociologist at the University of Washington, said while most versions of “normal” look at the average — “if a big clump of people do it, they call it ‘normal' — what they “want(ed) to know is which normal is correlated with happiness.”

Happiness was, of course, entirely self-reported. Of American couples surveyed, 62% were in the ‘happiest' category and 14% were “extremely happy” about their relationships, which … seems high to me (do I just know a lot of discontent people?). The other 24% of couples were “pretty satisfied.”

The authors suggest ways to revive romance so hokey they've become cliches: Sleep naked, hold hands, go on date nights, kiss more often (those who kiss “for affection rather than as part of a sexual act”were more sexually satisfied). Among American respondents, sex was deemed the fourth most important determinant of relationship satisfaction, coming in behind communication, friendship and affection (again, really? I mean, I'm all for affection, but …). Parenting was allegedly the least important factor.

I'm going to end with the only wise thing said in the article, from University of Wisconsin-Madison sociologist John DeLamater (not involved with the book or study):

Probably at best, it tells us something about the white, probably better-educated, somewhat higher-income population in the U.S., which is a population we know a fair amount about already. What we really, really need are studies that look at these diverse groups in the U.S. That would go a long way in addressing the whole issue of ‘normal.' “

The Normal Bar (oh, pardon the pun) seems to set the bar for research pretty low; it might be an interesting read if you're into this sort of thing, but beware taking anything it says about what's sexually “normal” too seriously.