How average is your sex life?

Bags of bonking (and other) data show normal is relative

Last week was a fairly average week – and Wednesday a fairly average day. Hardly surprising, since Wednesday was actually World Statistics Day.

This was, however, no ordinary statistics day. Sponsored by the UN, it was the very first such day, dedicated, according to the official site, to encouraging "the international community to work with the United Nations to enable all countries to meet their statistical needs".

In the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) took this as an opportunity to celebrate – or at least, to highlight – the average Briton.

According to their site, "the ‘average’ British man is 38 years and four months old and has 41 years left to live. If he works full time, he works 39 hours per week and earns £28,270 a year. He is educated up to A-Level standard. If he lives in England, he is 175.3cm tall and weighs 83.6kg".

The average woman, meanwhile, is "40 years and seven months old and has 42 years left to live. If she works full time, she works 34 hours a week, earns £22,151 a year, and is educated up to GCSE A*-C level. If she lives in England or Wales, she will have 1.96 children during her lifetime. If she lives in England, she is 161.6cm tall and weighs 70.2kg".

We can only praise the ONS for their dedication to the cause and the enthusiasm of the UK's National Statistician, Jil Matheson. Matheson pointed out that statistics are useful for many things, including helping doctors treat people most at risk from "bird flu", tackling fuel poverty, and helping the Ministry of Defence aid the recovery of injured armed forces personnel.

On the other hand, statistics can also shine a light on some of the more intriguing aspects of our lifestyle. For starters, there is the Durex annual sex survey which, despite some major methodological flaws, has a growing reputation as providing a regular insight into our sexual well-being across the globe.

Back in 2003, Durex revealed that people have sex an average of 127 times a year and that three-quarters of those polled are happy with their sex lives. The survey also revealed that Eastern Europeans (Hungarians, Bulgarians, and Russians) are the most sexually active at an average of 150 sexual encounters a year – although Russians were also cited as the least happy - while those living in Thailand, China, and Vietnam were the most contented with their sex life.

Americans "came" low on the frequency list in 2003. The average US adult had sex 118 times a year, according to the survey. Forty-eight per cent of women admitted to faking an orgasm.

Updated results can be found on a nifty roll-over application on Durex’s website, which suggests some change. Those least satisfied with their sex lives appear to be the Japanese, closely followed by the French. The UK does not fare brilliantly on either the frequency or satisfaction results.

This approach has not satisfied sex educator and agony aunt, Dr Petra Boyton, who criticised it on a number of grounds, including the fact that it confused sexual well-being with sexual frequency and, by being based online, was likely to skew the results toward those likely to be found online.

Still, from a near complete absence of any data on the subject in the first half of the 20th century, when most thinking about sexual experience was based on the prejudices of middle-aged white charlatans such as Freud, we have moved to a near embarrassment of figures. The first crack in the dam appeared through the two Kinsey reports on human sexual behaviour, released in 1948 and 1953.

That work continues today through the Kinsey Institute, whose FAQ provides the passing researcher in this subject with insights into a whole host of answers – from average penis size (5 inches to 7 inches in the US when erect) to frequency, satisfaction and use of internet porn. Sadly, even with Durex’s methodology in question, it appears to be about right when it comes to the female orgasm, which happens a lot less then the male one – and far more often alone and unaided.

There is the bizarre: the fact that the average Telegraph journalist thinks about sex at least 30 times every day, or 10,950 times a year. This is about three times the frequency at which the average Guardian journalist does. Indie journalists came out as least likely to be sex-obsessed: Daily Mail ones the most.

There is the embarrassing, as courtesy of Sugar magazine, we learn that the average love-making session (excluding foreplay) endures for just 7.3 minutes.

Last but by no means least is the downright scary. UK’s leading online supplier of sex toys, Lovehoney, reveals that eight out of 10 women consider themselves good in bed (as opposed to six out of 10 men), that women are more likely to spend their dosh on vibrators - and that the Jessica Rabbit 2.0 Vibrator is still the most popular product they buy.

The serious message from all of the above is that data can set you free. In the first half of the 20th century, based on a near-complete absence of data, female masturbation and homosexuality alike were classified as mental disorders. We have moved a long way from there, although homosexuality was only removed from the Diagnostic Standards Manual in 1987 and there are moves afoot to re-stigmatise female masturbation by branding it as a type of hyperactivity (basically saying that women have a disorder if they do it too much!).

Still, with each year, more and more activities once thought abnormal are being re-classified as OK - and for that we have statistics to thank! ®

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