What Are Sexual Norms?
Ever wonder if you’re sexually “normal?” You may be curious how often others have sex, or what types of sexual activity they have. Don’t be embarrassed—it’s perfectly natural to wonder about sexual behavior and how you fit in.
Our individual preferences vary greatly and fluctuate throughout our lives. Societal attitudes change over time. We’re more open to discussing sexual behavior these days, but in many respects it’s still a very private matter. There’s some interesting data, but it’s wise not to get too caught up in the concept of normal.
How often do most people have sex? That depends on what you consider to be sex. Statistics vary, depending on whether you’re talking about vaginal intercourse, oral sex, or mutual masturbation. Marital status, age, and health also make a difference. The only thing that really matters is your own satisfaction, and that of your partner.
According to the National Opinion Research Center, people aged 18 to 29 have sex about 84 times a year. In their 40s, most people drop off to 63 times a year, and by age 70 and up, it’s about 10 times.
Your Sexual Repertoire
The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB) revealed that Americans between the ages of 14 and 94 have quite a repertoire. It’s almost never about just one sex act. In fact, survey respondents reported more than 40 combinations of sex acts. Vaginal intercourse is the most common behavior, but oral sex and/or partnered masturbation are also popular.
Who’s Using a Condom?
According to NSSHB, vaginal intercourse is condom-protected 25 percent of the time in the U.S., and 33 percent of the time among single people in the U.S. They also found that black and Hispanic Americans have a higher rate of condom use than whites and other groups. The lowest rate of condom use is among people over age 40.
In general, condom users say intercourse is just as pleasurable with one as without one.
Oh, That Elusive Orgasm!
Approximately 85 percent of men say their partner had an orgasm the last time they had sex. Only 64 percent of women say they had an orgasm.
For men, vaginal intercourse is the most common way to orgasm.
Women orgasm more often when oral sex or some other stimulation is included. According to Harvard Medical School, a norm for female sexual response is qualitative and difficult to measure.
Approximately seven percent of females and eight percent of males identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, according to the NSSHB. However, the number of people who say they’ve had sexual relations with someone of the same gender is higher than that.
Historically, prevailing social attitudes have often made it difficult for people to identify themselves as homosexuals. In recent years, however, more gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are inclined to “come out” and speak of their same-sex preferences.
Sexual Development in Children
Children develop at their own rate. Your child may fall outside the normal range of development, but this may be OK.
From birth to five years of age, curious children explore their own bodies. By five years, most children ask questions about body parts and functions, gender differences, and where babies come from.
From six to 10 years of age, children become modest about their bodies and more curious about adult sexuality. They begin talking about sex with their peers and engage in some form of masturbation.
With the onset of puberty at 11 or 12 years, children become aware of sexual desires.
Despite all the talk to the contrary, most teenagers are not having frequent sex. The NSSHB survey asked 17-year-old males if they’d had sex in the previous year. Forty percent said they had, but only 27 percent said they had in the previous three months. According to The Kinsey Institute, by the time we reach our late teens, about 75 percent of us have had intercourse at least once.
Sex Is Not Just for the Young
According to a study commissioned by AARP, people over age 45 say sexual activity is a very important part of their lives and has a direct impact on quality of life. About half of all study participants reported having sexual intercourse at least once a week. They also enjoy touching, caressing, and hugging. They like sex and say they would not be pleased to give it up.
Among older Americans who no longer have sexual relations, declining health is a common culprit.
Those Other Behaviors
Lots of people are reluctant to talk candidly about their sexual activities. That’s why real numbers are hard to come by. Suffice it to say that a fair number of us indulge in other sexual behaviors, including:
- erotic fantasy and/or role playing
- bondage, domination, and submission
- anal sex
It all comes down to the personal preferences of consenting adults.
There was a time, not so long ago, when one simply didn’t discuss sex in polite company. Now it’s hard to avoid the subject. It’s easier than ever to talk about it, ask questions, and seek professional advice. Although once taboo subjects, people now speak more openly about masturbation, homosexuality, and bisexuality. Still, what people do in the privacy of their own homes, and what they will admit to, may be two different things.
Don’t worry about measuring up to others. The only measuring standard you need is your own.
- American Sexual Behavior: Trends, Socio-Demographic Differences, and Risk Behavior (2006, March). National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago. Retrieved June 27, 2013, from http://www3.norc.org/NR/rdonlyres/2663F09F-2E74-436E-AC81-6FFBF288E183/0/AmericanSexualBehavior2006.pdf
- Defining Normal Sexual Behaviors in Kids. (2009, September). Children’s Hospital Colorado. Retrieved June 26, 2013, from http://www.childrenscolorado.org/wellness/info/news/73450.aspx
- Frequently Asked Sexuality Questions to the Kinsey Institute. (n.d.). The Kinsey Institute. Retrieved June 27, 2013, from http://www.kinseyinstitute.org/resources/FAQ.html
- Klein, M. (2013, April 4). The End of Normal Sex. Social acceptance of same-gender sex, non-monogamy, & S/M will liberate us all. Psychology Today. Retrieved June 26, 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sexual-intelligence/201304/the-end-normal-sex
- National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB). (n.d.). Indiana University. Retrieved June 26, 2013, from http://www.nationalsexstudy.indiana.edu
- Sexual Behavior and Children: When Is It a Problem and What To Do About It. (n.d.). Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress. Retrieved June 26, 2013, from http://depts.washington.edu/hcsats/PDF/infobrochures/sexual_behavior.pdf
- Sexuality at Midlife and Beyond. Update of Attitudes and Behaviors. (2005, May). AARP. Retrieved June 26, 2013, from http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/general/2004_sexuality.pdf
- What is female sexual dysfunction? (n.d.). Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School. Retrieved June 26, 2013, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/What_is_female_sexual_dysfunction.htm