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7 Secrets Scientists Know About the Sex Lives of Ordinary People

Tech Insider logo Tech Insider 2016-06-20 Sarah Kramer


Let's talk about sex.

Everyone's interested, but it can be taboo to discuss the most intimate details of your bedroom in social situations. So how do we learn about sex?

The answer is science.

Sex researchers get wide berth to ask people the down-and-dirty details of their sex lives.

A quick caveat: Sex research is tricky because people lie, from inflating their sexual prowess to downplaying their most shameful (or just stigmatized) secrets. And researchers often rely on samples that are not terribly diverse. 

Still, sex scientists learn more about your neighbors and friends than you probably would ever want to. Here's what they know.

1) Most people are kinkier than you think they are.

A study in the Journal of Sex Research found that at least a third of survey respondents engaged in some kind of behavior we usually think of as "kinky."

Most popular were voyeurism (watching others have sex), fetishism (getting turned on by inanimate, non-sexual objects), and extended exhibitionism (having sex somewhere you could be caught).

Men and women were also found to be equally adventurous in bed.

2) Plenty of people experiment with their sexuality — even if they don't identify as gay.

In the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, only 7% of women and 8% of men identified themselves as something "other than heterosexual."

But when researchers asked if respondents had homosexual experiences, more that that said they had a same-sex hookup at some point in their lives.

Another study that found that one in 10 self-identifying straight men in New York City were having sex with men. And a report from Florida State University found that 11% of women surveyed said they'd had same-sex experiences in their lifetimes.

It's worth noting that as long as homosexuality is still stigmatized in some communities, these numbers probably under-represent what goes on in real life. 

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3) She might not come as often as he thinks she does.

The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior also found that when they asked men if their partner had an orgasm last time that they had sex, 85% said yes.

But when the researchers asked women if they came the last time they had sex, only 64% said they had. (The gap is too big to only be attributed to men who had orgasms with other men.)

4) Men and women have similar fantasies.

Despite stereotypes, men and women actually fantasize about many of the same things, according to a 2014 study about sexual fantasies in the Journal of Sexual Medicine

While the top three fantasies for each gender varied slightly, there are definitely a few areas of overlap: 82.3% of male respondents, for example, listed the fantasy "having sex in an unusual place," like the office or a public restroom, while 81.7% of women said the same.

Fantasies about oral sex were hands-down the most popular among men, and third-most popular among women.

There are other happy coincidences, too: 76.4% of men, for example, fantasize about masturbating their partner, while 71.4% of women want to be masturbated by their partner. That's symbiosis if we've ever heard it.

5) No one seems to know what "having sex" is.

A 2010 study in the journal Sexual Health showed there’s a huge variation in what people consider having "had sex." Almost everyone agreed that vaginal intercourse was definitely sex, but only 80% of respondents said that anal sex counted, and almost a third of participants disagreed that oral sex is sex.

Opinions on, uh, "manual stimulation" (with a partner), were split — almost half of those on the receiving end said they considered it sex, while just 45% of givers agreed.

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6) Friends with benefits actually works (sometimes).

 In 2015, researchers asked 300 college kids (an admittedly small sample) about sleeping with their friends.

Most of the partnerships didn't have fairy-tale endings, but they weren't total disasters, either.

About 50% of the students said that they stayed as close or became closer to their friend, even once the benefits stopped.

7) Everyone is sexting.

With the advent of smartphones, sending racy photos to your partner(s) is easier than ever. At least 88% of heterosexual adults report having sexted at some point in their lives — 82% in the last year. (The results came from an unpublished study presented at a conference last year, so we'll need more research to back up these numbers.)

Most of those surveyed said they sent a sexy snapshot or sweet nothings to committed partners, but 43% said they'd also sent them to casual partners.

Bonus fact: The kids are alright.

Despite widespread hand-wringing about youthful indiscretions in a sexualized culture, the national survey found that teenagers are practicing safer sex in more committed relationships than previous generations.

So now that you know the kids aren't in trouble, go ahead and party on. Everybody else is.

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