The first-ever study of sex around the globe has unearthed some facts that surprised even the researchers. Try these: Humans are not having sex at an earlier age, married folks do it more than swinging singles, and sluttiness does not cause sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
The study is part of a groundbreaking—and sure to be controversial—series on sexual and reproductive health conducted by the prestigious British medical journal "The Lancet." The researchers, who analyzed data from 1 million people in 59 countries, announced that they welcomed having their expectations overturned. "[Accurate] information about sexual behavior is essential to inform preventive strategies and to correct myths in public perceptions," they wrote in the November 2 issue.
"There's always a tendency to think that things are going to 'hell in a hand basket,'" Columbia University public health expert Richard Parker said after praising the report. "A lot of what we think about trends in sexual behavior are basically knee-jerk, impressionistic conclusions that we make, rather than because we looked at the data." Yet with annual STD rates at 340 million, unintended pregnancies at 80 million, and unsafe abortions at 19 million, the planet's sexual and reproductive health is going to hell in a hand basket, according to "The Lancet." And they lay the blame squarely at the feet of fundamentalist religions worldwide, whose numbers, power, and influence are increasing from Mecca to Washington, DC. As leader of the world's only superpower, the abstinence-only Bush administration earns the nastiest tongue-lashing.
Here are the extensive study's highlights:
Expectation: That higher numbers of young people are having sex at an earlier age than a decade ago.
Reality: First sex remains steady, taking place at the same age—between 15 and 19—and at the same rates.
Expectation: That young single men and women are the most sexually active.
Reality: Married men and women reported having more sex in the previous four weeks than others. Sex among the unmarried is "sporadic," with both men and women averaging no more than two partners in the past year.
Expectation: That the fewer sex partners you have, the lower your STD rate.
Reality: Education, poverty, discrimination, and the availability of condoms all affect STD rates more than promiscuity. Marriage, in particular, confers no special protection against disease s in the developing world, especially for women, who have one of the world's fastest-rising rates of HIV.
Faced with these surprising results, "The Lancet" authors came up with some surprising conclusions. They argue, for example, that family planning, including contraception and abortion, is a more important priority than AIDS, because controlling population, while less direct, would be a more effective way to address the root causes of HIV than condoms and cocktails.
As for the world's estimated 60 million homos and other men who have sex with men (MSMs), what's not surprising is that the data are few and far between, researchers say. Global homophobia has made same-sex sexual activity the most stigmatized and least studied of sexual issues. No research at all has ever been conducted on MSMs in Africa or the Middle East (except Israel).
Although "The Lancet" does not specify any expectation about man-on-man activity, allow RealJock to share its own:
Expectation: Most males of the species have had at least one sexual experience with a fellow man.
Reality: "Estimates of lifetime prevalence of sexual intercourse between men ranged from 3 to 5% in east Asia, 6 to 12% in south and southeast Asia, 6 to 15% in Europe, and 6 to 20% for Latin [and North] America," they wrote. No estimates of oral sex were available, however.
So, are you surprised?