Take a minute to think about when you had sex for the first time, how much sex you have, and whether you think other people are doing it more or less than you. Chances are, you're more normal than you think.
First of all, before you start to feel self conscious, however much you have sex is fine. We're not here to judge. And to the young folks reading this: You're not a bad person if you've done it already, and you're not a prude or somehow cursed if you keep your pants on until another stage in your life. We're about to see that there's a huge range in what's normal.
That said, if you're having a lot of unprotected sex and you're at risk of STIs or pregnancy, then the issue is the lack of protection, not the amount of sex. And if you're not happy with the relationship you're in, the amount of sex you're having might be a factor, but don't judge yourself (or your partner) based solely on that one thing.
You need to look at that relationship in a big-picture way. Are you happy? Why or why not?
Where Does This Data Come From?
Anyway. Back to comparing ourselves to others. This is tricky to do, because you can ask people in surveys, but how do you know they're telling the truth? One of our best sources of information is the National Survey of Family Growth, administered by the US government's National Center for Health Statistics to get a handle on all kinds of issues related to sex and reproductive health.
In Australia we had a similar study run back in October 2012 - November 2013, with over 20,000 men and women participating. The results reviled some interesting insights to the sex life of the average Australian, with information on first times, amount of partners, sexual practices, masturbation, rate of sexual encounters and overall satisfaction being covered.
When Do People Start Having Sex?
Similar to our mates over in the U.S. the median age of first intercourse was 17 years old. This is when someone considered their 'virginity' to have been lost, mostly from vaginal penetration with a penis.
About 50 per cent of the population had intercourse for the first time between the ages of 16 and 18.
While the results found that those born in the 1940s first had intercourse at a later age than those born in the 60s and 70s, there has been no continual decline in the age of experiencing sexual intercourse since the survey started running in the early 2000's.
Men were more likely than women to have engaged in sexual intercourse with a casual partner (39 per cent to 19 per cent).
The use of protection has been going up in numbers since the 1950s (only 20%), with over 90 per cent of participants using a form of contraception when losing their virginity. Hurray for sexual education!
How Many Sex Partners Do Adults Have?
On average men claimed to have had sexual relations with at least 18 women, while women claimed to have on average only been with 8 men. For women this number has increased for the first time in a decade.
For those in same sex relationships; Men had an average of 3 lifetime male partners, but among gay and bisexual men the rate of casual sexual partners was around 96 - the highest of the groupings. Bisexual or gay women had an average of 0.3 lifetime female partners, but had an average of 6 casual sexual partners.
As for why straight women and men were not asked the difference in numbers between life partners and casual hook ups the study does not say.
As for rates on self love the survey found that 72 per cent of men and 42 per cent of women had masturbated during the period of October 2012 to November 2013. It also found that men were more likely to have masturbated in the past 4 weeks than women. Men were also found to masturbate far more often than women, with men averaging 6 times over a 4 week period and women only 3 times in a 4 week period.
How Often Do People Have Sex?
According to the survey, it appears that over the past decade a mixture of changes have occurred since the first survey in 2001-2002.
Australians appear to have more permissive attitudes towards homosexuality, but have an even stronger sense of expectations of sexual exclusivity in relationships.
People are also having sex in ways that may provide between protection against STIs and unintended pregnancy, which correlates with the uptick in contraceptive use over the past decade.
The big kicker is that it appears that Australians are having sex less frequently, but that have broader repertoires of sexual practice. This means that while they may not be having sex as often, things like oral and stimulation aren't off the table.
Women are also having way more sex than they used to. The report indicates the number of partners and range of sexual practices for women were becoming closer to men's, suggesting the double standard stigma slowly being lifted around females exploring themselves
For any of these acts, there are plenty of people who do the thing and plenty who don't do the thing; so no shame in being in either category.
How Do We Know If People Are Telling the Truth?
You would probably reveal different things about your sexual history to a close friend than a casual one. You might be more willing to be honest on an anonymous web survey - but then again, you might also be more likely to make shit up for fun.
I ended up searching for a lot of sex-related statistics as I researched this piece, and discovered something unsettling about the results. When I looked for information about how often people have sex, I found plenty of articles assuming I wanted to know how often people should have sex.
You should have sex whenever you please. There's no shame in doing it a lot or a little! People in unhappy relationships are more likely to have sex less than once a week; but among happy couples, more sex won't make you happier.
And if you're having sex less often but you're totally fine with it, that's between you and your partner(s) - it's none of anybody else's business.
Additional reporting by Olivia Harris.