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The overall picture is of a nation sexually at ease with itself, unprudish (if perhaps rejecting the free-love amorality of the 1960s era), yet apparently too busy and too tired to actually have much sex in practice. Because when it comes to finding out what people do in bed, scientific history is laced with statistical controversy.
The two Kinsey reports, which in 1948 examined the sexual behaviour of American men and, in 1953, American women, set the foundations for more than half a century of sex surveys.
It is easy to get the impression that everyone is having sex almost all the time yet, as the survey shows, that is clearly not the case.
“There is an intense verbosity about sex,” Dr Wellings says, “but we mustn’t confuse that with action.” It will be interesting to see what numbers Natsal 4 throws up in 2023.
She explains that this was really a shorthand for saying how busy and stressed we have become.
“We work more, and we’ve lost the structured schedule to the day when there was a time for family, a time for relationships and a time for work.” The report also found that while, on the one hand, we have become more sexually adventurous and certainly more accepting of homosexuality, at the same time we have become more judgmental about infidelity.
After publication, Kinsey was attacked for using dodgy statistics and, in particular, reporting bias (his sample was self-selecting).
The trouble with trying to find out about people’s sex lives is that you have to rely on their integrity.
“We have to accept the probability of a bit of reporting bias there,” adds Dr Wellings.
As for the decrease in sexual activity, this has been noted in other studies – including those in the US and Japan – suggesting that this is a phenomenon of modern life, and not something uniquely British.
“It’s also worth saying that it’s actually quite difficult to lie in the Natsal interview.