POLL: American Sex Survey

ByABC News
October 11, 2004, 6:25 PM

Oct. 21, 2004 -- Sometimes, it's just about sex.

Usually not: The vast majority of Americans are monogamous and happy about it, expressing satisfaction with their sex lives and a broad preference for emotional commitment in sexual relationships. Most by far prefer marriage to the single life.

But there's more to sex in America in 2004 than that 1950s picture suggests. A groundbreaking ABC News "Primetime Live" survey finds a range of eye-popping sexual activities, fantasies and attitudes in this country, confirming some conventional wisdom, exploding some myths -- and venturing where few scientific surveys have gone before.

Among the results: Fifty-seven percent of Americans have had sex outdoors or in a public place. Half talk with their partners about their sexual fantasies. Forty-two percent call themselves sexually adventurous. Twenty-nine percent have had sex on a first date, and about as many have had an "unexpected sexual encounter with someone new." Fifteen percent of men -- and three in 10 single men age 30 and older -- have paid for sex. About half of women say they've faked an orgasm.

Two-thirds of sexually active Americans sometimes "wear something sexy" to enhancetheir sex lives, and 30 percent say they and their partner have watched sexually explicitvideos. One in five -- around 40 million people -- say they've looked at porn Web sites.As many, men and women about equally, have had "rebound" sex to get over a failedrelationship.

In some cases, where activity is less common, fantasy takes over. Among people who aremarried or living in a committed relationship (or formerly married), 16 percent havecheated on their partner (nearly twice as many men as women) -- while more, 30 percent,have fantasized about it. Fourteen percent of adults (and twice as many single men) havehad sex in a threesome, while an additional 21 percent have fantasized about that. Twelvepercent have had sex at their workplace, and it's been a fantasy for one in 10 more.

There are other signs of yearning: Among the 55 percent who describe their sexualactivity as "traditional," about three in 10 would like to be more adventurous. And more-- four in 10, especially men -- would like more adventurousness in their partners.

The survey also finds huge differences in sexual attitudes between men and women. Itunderscores the wages of sin: Divorced or separated men are twice as likely to have beenunfaithful in their marriage. And it demolishes the notion that singles are swinging: Evenamong young singles (under 30), nearly half aren't dating at all, and among those whoare dating, eight in 10 are dating one person exclusively. Monogamy, again, rules theroost.

Moreover, the survey finds that satisfaction with sex does matter. A statistical analysisidentifies some of the factors independently related to satisfaction with sex, marriage andlife more broadly. Among other findings, it shows that activities such as discussingfantasies with a partner contribute to an exciting sex life, that an exciting sex lifecontributes to a happy marriage and that a happy marriage contributes to life satisfaction.

These and other findings in this random-sample telephone poll of 1,501 adults paint aremarkable and intimate portrait of sex in America in the 21st century. Many of the frankand personal questions, from foreplay to fantasy, have rarely if ever been asked before ina representative national survey. Other results comport with previous sex research. The survey is the basis for an exclusive report on sexual attitudes and behavior for the ABC News program "Primetime Live" that aired on Thursday, Oct. 21 at 10 p.m. ET. A second program, based on a separate survey of sexual attitudes and behavior among teenagers, will air at a later date.

If women are from Venus, men are -- well -- men. Seventy percent of men think about sex every day -- double the rate among women. Indeed, 43 percent of men think about sex several times a day; just 13 percent of women do that. Eighty-three percent of men enjoy sex "a great deal"; that falls to 59 percent of women. Women, though, are equally likely to express satisfaction with their sex lives.

Overall, women report an average of six sex partners in their lifetimes; men, 20. But abetter gauge of sexual activity for most people is the median, the midpoint between thehigh and low: Women report a median of three sex partners; men, a median of eight.

The averages are higher because a small number of individuals -- especially men -- reporta very large number of partners. Five percent of the men in this sample reported havinghad 99 or more sex partners, including four who reported 200, three who reported 300and one who reported 400. Among women, one percent reported 99 or more partners; thehigh was 100 (reported by two women).

While there are differences between the sexes, the data are internally coherent; for example, people who report more sex partners, men and women alike, are more apt to describe themselves as adventurous sexually and to say they enjoy sex a great deal.

In another difference between the sexes, 42 percent of men report having had had sex on a first date; that drops to 17 percent of women. Again the data are coherent; women who report having had first-date sex also are much more likely to call themselves sexually adventurous, and they report many more sex partners across their lives -- an average of 19, compared with an average of four for other women.

A third of adults would like to have more sex than they do now -- but more men, aboutfour in 10, than women, 28 percent. Men, as noted, are more apt to have cheated, muchmore apt to fantasize about it, and more than twice as likely as women to say it'sacceptable to have casual sex without an emotional relationship -- "just doing it for thesex." (That's OK with 35 percent of men, compared with 15 percent of women.)

Women also are about half as likely as men to say they've had sex in a threesome,unexpectedly with someone new, or at work; and they're less likely to fantasize aboutthese. A third of men have fantasized about a threesome and 20 percent have fantasizedabout an unexpected encounter; it's nine and 10 percent of women, respectively.

Women are more conservative about sex in other ways. They're more apt than men to saythere's too much sex on TV, 84 percent to 62 percent. They're less likely than men tocondone sex before marriage, 54 to 68 percent. And 61 percent of sexually active women,compared with 50 percent of men, call themselves sexually traditional, not adventurous.

In other personal predilections, men are twice as likely as women to sleep in the nude (31 percent of men, 14 percent of women), and women are much more likely to prefer to have sex with the lights off (51 percent of women, 27 percent of men).

In the online realm, men are more than three times as likely as women to have looked at asexually explicit Web site, and doing so spikes among men under 30. Relatively few --but 11 percent of young men -- have participated in sex chat rooms. Women are muchmore likely to regard either of these activities as "being unfaithful."