I love reading the newspaper because there is so much smutty stuff in it. And that's not even counting the department store lingerie ads. Most of dirty stuff is usually crime associated, so there's a certain "Ewww!" factor associated with the typical run of stories about teachers seducing students, guys soliciting FBI agents over the internet, and governors knocking up their secretaries.
This week a major survey of American sexual habits was released. I stay away from surveys taken by magazines that are sold at supermarket checkout lines because I know the statistics are completely demographically invalid. I've never met any women that read Cosmopolitan, let alone share 101 great bedroom tips with them. And I know there aren't enough straight readers of Details to come up with a sample size that would pass any chi-square test.
This study was conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, which sounds very credible. The best part about reading new reports on sex studies is noting the facts that different news groups want to emphasize. Obviously, they want to emphasize the stats that will make you want to read the article.
The AP newswire as carried by the Baltimore Sun went all Lesbian Chic by trumpeting that 11 percent of women between 18 and 44 and 14 percent of women under 30 have had a same-sex encounter at least once in their life. That's almost disappointingly low for those of us whose knowledge of female openness to experimentation comes from Forum letters. Especially when reading the find print and finding that what qualifies as a same sex experience for women is left to the respondent's interpretation, as opposed to the much more detailed breakdown for male-on-male action.
The Washington Post instead focused on the teenage oral sex rate of 50% that rises to 70% for 18 and 19 year olds. And the breakdown between males and females isn't as one-sided as stereotypes would have you believe. Good to know college students are finding more than one way to get busy.
The New York Times had the least sensationalistic headline, but hits both the bisexual and teen-sex parts of the survey pretty hard. They had graphs showing that a typical 15-year old has a 3 in 4 chance of being a virgin, but only 1 in 4 shot of staying pure until the age of 20. And guys have to wait a little longer than gals to get lucky. All this is based on the assumption that teenagers tell the truth to anybody, and survey takers in particular, about their sex lives.
As a painfully straight married guy in his 40's, none of this had much relevance to me until I found buried in the report that 80% of the people surveyed had one or fewer sexual partners in the last year. I guess that just isn't sexy enough to put in a headline.
Update: The online edition of the Times did not include the very cool graphs, so I have scanned them. Click on the image to see the full size version.
Update 2:(9/22/05) if you think my post or the articles it links are too graphic, Slate has an article on the parts of the study the mainstream media are ignoring. Don't say I didn't warn you.
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