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More partners, but less frequent sex: Large-scale study shines a light on Britain's bedrooms

15,000 people took part in the study, which shows that while people generally have more sexual partners than previous generations, the frequency of sexual encounters has declined.

Image: lovers' feet via Shutterstock

RESULTS OF A major study published today give the most detailed picture yet of people’s sex lives in Britain over the last ten years.

The findings, revealed in medical journal The Lancet, show that while people generally have more sexual partners over their lifetime than previous generations, the frequency of sexual encounters has declined.

Over 15,000 adults aged 16-74 took part in the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, with interviews conducted over a two-year period between 2010 and 2012. Previous studies took place in 1990 and the year 2000.

Compared to the last study, a similar proportion of men (95 per cent) and women (96 per cent) reported ever having at least one opposite-sex partner.

In the 16-44 age group, the average number of partners over a woman’s lifetime has more than doubled since the first survey, from an average of 3.7 in 1990-91 to 7.7 today.

For men, the figure has increased from 8.6 to 11.7, suggesting a narrowing of the gender gap.

The number of men reporting same-sex partners has changed little from 3.6% in the first study to 4.8% this time around. For women, however, the figure has increased four-fold, from 1.8 per cent to 7.9 per cent.

Less frequent

The frequency of sex has fallen over the past decade to just under five times a month for both sexes among 16 to 44 year olds. That’s down from just over six times a month in the previous survey.

According to the authors of the report, “this is explained in part by demographic change with fewer people in the population married or cohabiting and so having less opportunity to have sex, although even among people who live with their partner sexual frequency has declined”.

The number of people reporting heterosexual oral sex in the past year remained constant since the previous survey, at just over three-quarters of men and women under 44. There was an increase in the numbers reporting anal sex in the past year, up from 12 per cent to 17 per cent for men, and from 11 per cent to 15 per cent for women.

According to Professor Kaye Wellings, one of the leaders of the study: “The change in women’s behaviour across the three surveys has been remarkable.”

“In some areas of sexual behaviour we have seen a narrowing of the gender gap, but in others we have seen women overtaking men in the diversity of their behaviour.

“These trends need to be seen against the backdrop of the profound changes in the position of women in society, the norms governing their lifestyles, and media representations of female sexuality.”

The survey has also showed a change in attitudes toward sex over the past two decades.

Whilst previously, fewer than one in four men thought same sex partnerships were ‘not wrong at all,’ that figure is now around 50 per cent.

In women, the increase has been even greater, with two-thirds now saying such relationships are ‘not wrong at all,’ as opposed to 28 per cent in 1990.

For the first time, the survey interviewed people up to age 74 years, with findings showing people continue to have sex into later life. 42 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men aged 65-74 years reported having had at least one opposite sex sexual partner in the previous year.

Read: Johnny’s Back! The latest HSE ad for condoms is pretty funny

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