The Australian Sex Survey: Triumph, Trouble and Tragedy

The Australian Study of Health and Relationships (ASHR) is the most important study of sexual and repro­ductive health in the world, at the moment.

It’s got the biggest genuinely random sample (20,094 men and women aged 16-69, contacted by land lines or mobile phones), and it included questions, including on kink, that other surveys haven’t touched. 

I’m posting this information on the survey results because I had a minor connection with this research, making some suggestions about the questionnaire and the data analysis, particularly about bdsm. But the findings I’m talking about today are about sexual relationships in general.

Triumph: most people are emotionally and sexually satisfied

  • 86% of men and 84% of women found their regular relationship very or extremely emotionally satisfying
  • 88% of men and 76% of women found the sex in the relationship very or extremely physically pleasurable.

That’s the triumphant result of the survey. You can spin the survey results in various ways, and it definitely uncovered some worrying things, especially the amount of sexual coercion directed at women and girls. But the biggest finding, the headline, for me is sex-positive rather than sex-negative.

The great majority of men and women were very or extremely happy with their partner, and with their emotional relationship and their sexual relationship.

The background radiations that permeate our sexual universe are satisfaction and happiness. (And terrible metaphors.)

The trouble

  • On average, people in regular relationships had had sex about 1.4 times a week in the past four weeks.
  • Younger people had sex more often, but even those in their 60s had sex about once a week.
  • That 1.4 times a week is quite a bit less than the frequency of sex found in the previous survey, 10 years earlier. Back then it was 1.8 times a week, on average.

So Australians seem to be having less sex than they were 10 years ago. There are two possible explanations. One is that people are bringing Twitter and Facebook and work emails to bed, spending time with their pads rather than their partners, and falling asleep when they’re exhausted.

Another theory is that there’s less “service sex” happening, where the woman lies back like a floppy dolly and lets the man have a fuck because he wants one and she doesn’t, but she feels like being obliging. Women are doing less of that, because feminism. 

One thing that counts against that second theory is that both women and men want more sex than they’re getting. Most people said they’d like to have sex about 2–4 times a week.

So maybe those people in relationships need to put down the Twitter and the work emails, and talk to each other. Talk about sex. Shoop.

Tragedy: how men get more committed over time, and women get less

There’s one other fact that emerged from these questions. It’s that men get emotionally and sexually happier as their relationship lasts. They start out wary, and become fully committed, and mostly that deepens as the relationship continues.

On the other hand women start out enthusiastic about the relationship and the sex, but are less happy as the relationship lasts longer.

Why? Well, there’s the “la donna e mobile” (women are fickle) theory. Men are slow and steady; women are quick and changeable.

Another theory is that men stop doing the work necessary to sustain the relationship and keep their partner happy. Once the man feels settled, he takes his lover for granted, and assumes that she is settled too.

I’ll let those two theories fight it out. In the kitchen. Throwing things is okay. 

But whatever’s going on, men get happier with their partner, emotionally and sexually, over time, while women get less happy with their partner, over time.

That’s a tragedy for many individuals. To the extent that it’s part of the human condition, it’s a tragic fact about people.

orgiastoicBut to finish, we’ll go back where we started. 

  • 86% of men and 84% of women said they felt that their regular relationship is “very” or “extremely” emotionally satisfying
  • 88% of men and 76% of women found that the sex in the relationship is very or extremely physically pleasurable.

The overwhelming majority of men and women are very to extremely satisfied, sexually and emotionally, with their lover.  That’s good. That’s remarkable. So the big story is triumphant.

Australian Survey of Sex and Relationships: Where does all the pubic hair go?

There’s a wig in a drawer, in a box like a humidor, in one of Britain’s most prestigious educational institutions. I’m not going to say which one, because it’s officially “lost”, St Andrews claims ownership (but not “possession”; they don’t have it), and I don’t want to get anyone into trouble.

The wonderful Nell Gwyn. Google her name and the words "Protestant whore" to find out why the London mob loved her. It's a good story, but it's too off-topic for this post.

The wonderful and absurdly pretty Nell Gwyn. Pubic hair not shown. Google her name and the words “Protestant whore” to find out why the London mob loved her. It’s a good story – she was, famously, witty as well as pretty – but unfortunately it’s way off-topic for this post.

The wig is made of the pubic hair of the mistresses of his Majesty Charles II, the Merrie Monarch. That means there are, or should be, contributions from the unpopular Louise Renée de Penancoët de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth (the Catholic whore, as the mob called her), Barbara Palmer, Elizabeth Killagrew, Lucy Walter, Winifred Wells, the sportingly named Catherine Pegge, Moll Davis and Hortense Mancini, and the legendary Nell Gwyn, his Majesty’s Protestant whore.

I’d hoped it would be a sleek, multicoloured wig, with blonde curls, black curls and Nell Gwyn’s auburn, but time has worked the wrong kind of magic. It’s a dry and far from sleek object, and the colours have faded to a uniform dark-grey mouse color.

Anyway, my point is that Charles II was able to get enough pubic hair from nine mistresses (or major mistresses, anyway) to cover his head and keep his ears warm. These days you wouldn’t get enough pubic hair from nine mistresses to cover the head of the future Charles III on a postage stamp.

There’s been a major pubic deforestation program going on. Here are the Australian figures. 

Women (age range)        Per cent who’ve removed or shaped their pubic hair

16-19                                 78%

20-29                                 74%

30-39                                 67%

40-49                                 49%

50-59                                 25%

60-69                                 11%

Men (age range)             Per cent who’ve removed or shaped their pubic hair

16-19                                 54%

20-29                                 50%

30-39                                 35%

40-49                                 23%

50-59                                 10%

60-69                                   5%


This is a fashion, obviously. There’s likely to be a backlash and a return of pubic hair some time. But it’s interesting to see that pubic grooming has become prevalent with younger men, when it used to be more or less exclusively a female thing. The majority of  guys 16-19 have trimmed or shaved or whatever, while for guys in their 20s it’s a fifty fifty chance either way. That’s kind of remarkable.

Disclosure: I don’t shave. But I trim.

Bdsm quiz!

How many submissive women who’ve practiced bdsm in the last year would it take to make a decent pubic hair wig?

I took a sneak peek at the data on this, so I know the answer. Have a guess!  

The Australian Survey on Sex and Relationships 8: homophobia and (some) men’s double standard

People were asked if they thought (1) sex between two men was wrong, and (2) sex between two women was wrong. 

Most women were pretty clear on this. Neither is wrong, and it makes no difference whether the couple is male or female. 


“Sex between two men is wrong”      13% agreed

Sex between two women is wrong”   13% agreed

Unfortunately, although only a minority of men disapproved of male/male or female/female sex, men weren’t quite as liberal as women. Also, there was a definite double standard between how that minority of male bigots felt about male and female same-sex, er, action.  


“Sex between two men is wrong”        27% agreed

“Sex between two women is wrong”   17% agreed

A seismic shift in attitudes

The good news, though, is that anti-gay and anti-lesbian bigotry is certainly on the way out. Just in the ten years since the first survey, disapproval of sex between two men has fallen by a massive 13% (combining the male and female responses, and doing some rounding).

Disapproval of sex between two women has fallen by 9%. That’s still a huge shift, but the disapproval figures for lesbian sex were already lower than for male homosexual sex. 

Only 1 in 5 Australians now disapprove of male on male sex, and fewer than 1 in 6 Australians disapprove of lesbian sex. 

It looks to me that one of the biggest drivers of this change in recent years was the efforts of the Christian Right in Australia to mobilise public opinion against allowing same-sex couples to marry.

It was a huge own goal. By being so blatantly unpleasant and weirdly obsessive about gays and lesbians, and incoherent in trying to invent non-bigoted reasons for opposing marriage equality, the Australian Christian Lobby drove middle-of-the-road, not very political people away from their own side.

Attitudes would still have changed, but they made the change faster, and greater. It’s good when that happens.

The Australian Survey on Sex and Relationships 7: The subtext of buttsex

Today’s topic is a much more more cheerful one: buttfuckery. It’s getting more popular.  Here are the numbers.

Percentage of women who’ve ever had anal sex, by age

16-19        7%

20-29     18%

30-39     27%

40-49    22%

50-59    18%

60-69    15%

So you can see that the proportion of women who’ve had anal sex increases with age up to the age of 39. After that age, the proportion starts to fall, even though we’re talking about life-long experience and not recent. 

That suggests to me that there was a cultural shift about 30-40 years ago, in which anal sex started to become more acceptable: still a minority activity, but edging into the mainstream. If that’s correct, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the numbers in the next survey, in 2024 or thereabouts.  

Now here’s the men. 

Percentage of men who’ve ever had anal sex, by age

16-19        6%

20-29      23%

30-39      33%

40-49      31%

50-59      25%

60-69     17%

It’s interesting that slightly fewer young men, 16-19, have had anal sex than their female age-mates. That might just be because of those young women having boyfriends a couple of years older, so that those young men show up in the 20-29 group. It’s only a 1% difference, but it’s good to see women taking the lead on this important social trend.

Anyway, from the age of 20 onwards, significantly more men have had buttsex than women. Some of that difference may be from men having buttsex with other men. It could also be that women who like anal sex like sex more in general, and are likely to have more sex, including having anal sex with more than one guy. 

Anyway, I look forward to further improvements in these figures. Team!

The Australian Survey on Sex and Relationships 6: Sexual coercion

I’m still blogging the Australian Survey on Sex and Relationships. Because it’s the largest sample and most comprehensive survey involving genuine random sampling of a large population (over 20,000 people) that’s ever been done, anywhere in the world.

I’m also blogging it because the survey’s research team are still wrestling with their website, and this dodgy blog is still the only place you can currently get this information.

Today’s topic is sexual coercion. That includes rape, which in turn includes forcing someone to give or receive oral sex. It also includes things that are more likely to be categorised, in a court of law, as “indecent assault” rather than as rape, for example groping someone’s genitals without their consent or when they’re underage. 

Sexual coercion

  • Overall, 4% of men and 22% of women had ever been forced or frightened into doing something sexual that they did not want: 2% of men and 12% of women reported that this happened before they turned 17
  • Men and women who had been coerced had poorer physical, psychological, and sexual well-being
  • Few people who had been coerced talked to others about their experiences of sexual coercion, and very few had talked to a professional

So one in 25 men, and over one in five women had experienced sexual coercion. One in eight women had experienced sexual coercion while they were below the age of consent in their State or Territory. 

The survey found that people who’d experienced sexual coercion were likely to have lower rates of sexual and relationship satisfaction, and poorer physical and mental health. 

So we’re talking about horrifyingly high rates of coercion, targeted at women and girls. We are also talking about measurable, real long-term damage to women’s health, lives and relationships. The sample size really leaves no room at all for quibbling about whether the numbers are accurate: this is huge and it is real, and it is bloody horrible. 

The interviewers

It’s interesting that so many people were prepared to talk to the survey interviewers about this, though they’d never talked about it to a friend or parent, or a doctor or counsellor. That’s a real tribute to the people who did the interviewing.

There was a team of women, working from Newcastle. They were trained, but they also had amazing people skills. 

They kept a running tally of the number of marriage proposals they got. Not “at all”; “a day”.  

But that’s not so much because of their awesome people skills. That’s more because they were women who rang up over 20,000 strangers and talked to them about sex.

The Australian Survey on Sex and Relationships 5: Sexual attraction

We’ve seen that many people who identify as heterosexual have still had sex with a partner of their own sex. So 96.7% of men describe themselves as heterosexual, but 6.5% of men have had sex with men. And 96.3% of women describe themselves as heterosexual, but 13.5% of women have had sex with women. 

It’s important to remember that people aren’t lying or mistaken when they say they’re heterosexual, just because they’ve had sex with someone of their own sex. The homosex experience could have been a one-off long ago, or influenced by drink or drugs, or they couldn’t get the sex they wanted so they choose to be got off by someone who wasn’t their preferred partner. We just don’t know. 

A possible explanation for the discrepancy between people’s self-description and their experience is that people identify as het because that’s “normal”, while gay, lesbian or bisexual are “deviant” categories. They said they were het because they didn’t want to be stigmatised. But if that was the reason for identifying as heterosexual, then why wouldn’t they also deny having had same-sex experience? So I don’t think it’s that.

I tend to believe the survey recipients. Over 96% of the population, both male and female, are heterosexual, and some of them, especially women, have had non-heterosexual sex.

Anyway, the third thing to look at is attraction. It turns out that this is the most fluid category of all. 

Men: attraction to women and men

Attracted only to women:         92.8%

Attracted to men and women:  5.8%

Attracted only to men:               1.1%

Attracted to no-one:                0.4%


Women: attraction to men and women

Attracted only to men:               84.8%

Attracted to men and women:  14.2%

Attracted only to women:           0.5%

Attracted to no-one:                   0.5%

The Australian Survey on Sexual Health and Relationships 4: heterosex and homosex experiences

When you ask people their sexual identity, as in heterosexual, gay or lesbian, bisexual or other, almost everybody thinks of themselves as heterosexual. But it’s a slightly different story when you ask people about their sexual experience. 

Men’s sexual experience (life-long) by gender of partner

Only had sex with women:           91.2%

Had sex with men and women:    5.6%

Only had sex with men:            0.9%

Haven’t had sex:                             2.3%

Women’s sexual experience (life-long) by gender of partner

Only had sex with men:                 83.7%

Had sex with men and women:    13.2%

Only had sex with women:              0.3%

Haven’t had sex:                              2.6%


So 5.6% of men have had sex with both men and women, with is much greater than the number who identify as gay, or as bisexual. But fully 13.2% of women have had sex with women and men.

Just 0.9% of men have only had sex with men. That’s not many, but it’s three times as many as women who’ve only had sex with women (0.3%). 

So there’s quite a difference between sexual orientation as an identity, and what people have actually done, sexually.

Still, these are  experiences over a lifetime, so they include men and women who identify as het but occasionally have sex with people of their own sex, but also people who experimented as an adolescent but now only have opposite-sex partners.

And right now I have to work on less interesting things. 

The Australian Survey on Sexual Health and Relationships 3: Sexual identity

“Sexual identity” is how people think of themselves: heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian, or “other”. Identity means how people think of themselves, what they identify themselves as. 

Identity is something fundamental, but it’s different from “sexual experience”, because people can have a sexual encounter with someone who isn’t the sex they usually fuck, without changing the way they “basically” think of themselves. And it’s different from attraction: people can decide that they fancy someone who isn’t the sex they usually lust after, without changing their sexual identity. We’ll be looking at the results for “experience” and “attraction”, too.

Ranting roaring Brian Blessed, for example, identifies as heterosexual. So does, oh, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and (puzzlingly) anti-gay bigot. Ellen Degeneres identifies as lesbian and Allen Ginsberg identified as gay. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and that Drew Barriemore identify as bi. 

The “other” category includes asexual people, people who are attracted by non-living things like machines, and so on. 

 So, this is what men answered. 

MEN: Sexual identity

Heterosexual   96.7%

Gay                  1.9%

Bisexual            1.3%

Other                0.3%


The results for women are quite different.

Women: Sexual identity

Heterosexual   96.3%

Bisexual            2.2%

Lesbian          1.2%

Other              0.2%

So the great majority of both men and women identify themselves as heterosexual. But the men who think of themselves as something other than heterosexual are more likely to think of themselves as gay rather than bisexual.

With women, it’s the other way round. Women who don’t identify as heterosexual are more likely to identify as bisexual rather than as lesbians.

But here’s an interesting thing, when we consider bisexual invisibility. When you combine the men’s and women’s results, you find that 1.7% of the total population identifies as bisexual, while 1.55% identify themselves as gay or lesbian.

This is consistent with the results of the previous survey. More people consider themselves to be bisexual than consider themselves to be gay or lesbian. So bisexuals are invisible because …?

The Australian Survey on Sexual Health and Relationships: 2 Kink

From my point of view, the two most interesting findings are: 

  • 8% had been involved in role playing or dressing up
  • 2% had been involved in BDSM (bondage and discipline, ‘sadomasochism’ or dominance and submission)

In the questionnaire, the examples of “role playing or dressing up” included “doctor/nurse”, “teacher/naughty schoolgirl”. There’s an idea that this may identify a section of the population who do mild bdsm, e.g. tying up, spanking, “command and I’ll obey you” scenarios, but don’t think of what they’re doing as bdsm.

To many people bdsm is what other people, not like them, do using leather hoods, whips and chains. So they’ll pause, while tied to the bed getting spanked, to say, “No thanks, no bdsm for us.” Anyway, their numbers have doubled in the last 10 years, which is remarkable.

Some people have thanked or blamed Christian Grey for the rythmic sounds of spanking drowning out the lawnmowers of suburbia, but there were lots of signs of an upsurge of “sort of vanilla” interest in bdsm anyway. It was in the zeitgeist, maaaaan. 

So the actual number of people who did some sort of bdsm play in the last year is probably higher than 2%. I’m guessing four to six per cent, but that’s just an estimate, and has no basis except “feels about right”. 

There is some more news coming on the bdsm front, but that will come after further data analysis, some time in (I hope in the first half of) 2015.

The Australian Survey on Sexual Health and Relationships: 1 General


This scapegrace website has no connection with any of the organisations involved in the 2nd Australian Survey on Sexual Health and Relationships (ASHR-2). Jerusalem “Jaime” Mortimer isn’t a member of the research team, and has no official connection with any of the organisations involved.

There’s a problem with the ASHR-2 website, which they’re working on as fast as possible. But that means the results aren’t up yet. So I’ve decided to post the highlights in the meantime, since this is now public information. 

1 What is ASHR-2?

The Australian Study of Health and Relationships (ASHR) is our most important study of sexual and repro­ductive health. Conducted once a decade, it gives a snapshot of the sexual health and well-being of the Australian population. The study provides information essential for the development of policy and the delivery of sexual and reproductive health programs across Australia, and for understanding Australia’s sexual culture.

They interviewed 20,094 men and women aged 16–69 between October 2012 and November 2013 using random digit dialling of landline and mobile phones. Computer-assisted interviewing by professional health interviewers tailored the questionnaire to each individual.

It’s the biggest and most comprehensive survey on sexual behavior and attitudes in the world.

Here are some key findings:

First times

  • In the sample as a whole, the median (middle) age at first vaginal intercourse was 17
  • About 50% of people had had intercourse for the first time when aged 16, 17 or 18
  • Although people who were born in the 1940s had first intercourse at a later age than those born in the 1960s and 1970s, there has been no significant decline in the age at first intercourse since the first ASHR survey a decade ago
  • Since the first ASHR survey, the proportion of men who had first intercourse before 16 has gone down from 22% to 19%, and the proportion of women who did so has gone up from 13% to 16%
  • Men (39%) were more likely than women (19%) to have first intercourse with a casual partner
  • The use of protection (condoms or other contraception) at first intercourse has con­tinued to increase. Less than 20% of people used protection at first intercourse during the 1950s, but over 90% did so in the 2000s.
  • Experience of oral sex (cunnilingus or fellatio) has become more common. A decade ago, among people aged 16–59, 79% of men and 67% of women had ever had oral sex, but now 88% of men and 86% of women have done so.
  • People also experience oral sex earlier. Among people under 20, 21% of men and 17% of women had had oral sex before they had intercourse, but this was true of only 3% of men and women in their 60s

How many partners?

  • On average, men said they had had sex (vaginal intercourse, oral sex or manual stimulation) with 18 women
  • On average, women said they had had sex (intercourse, oral or manual) with 8 men
  • The lifetime number of sexual partners (i.e. anyone they had sex with) reported by women has increased since the first ASHR a decade ago
  • Among men in general, the average (mean) number of lifetime male partners was 3, but among gay and bisexual men it was 96, reflecting higher rates of casual sex between men
  • Among women in general, the average (mean) number of lifetime female partners was 0.3, but among the lesbian and bisexual women it was 6.

Sexual practices


  • 72% of men and 42% of women had masturbated in the past year
  • Men were more likely than women to have masturbated in the past 4 weeks
  • Men who masturbated did so more often (on average 6 times in the past 4 weeks) than women (3 times in the past 4 weeks)

At the most recent sexual encounter

  • At the most recent male–female encounter, 73% had sex with a live-in partner, 17% with a regular partner they did not live with, and 8% with a casual or occasional partner
  • 94% of people had vaginal intercourse
  • 82% of men and 73% of women reported manual stimulation of the woman by the man
  • 71% of men and 70% of women reported manual stimulation of the man by the woman
  • 31% of men and 23% of women reported cunnilingus (man’s mouth on woman)
  • 27% of men and 24 of women reported fellatio (woman’s mouth on man)
  • Less than 1% reported anal intercourse
  • 92% of men and 66% of women had an orgasm

In the past year

  • 63% of men and 20% of women had looked at pornography (print, film or online)
  • 15% of men and 21% of women had used a sex toy such as a vibrator or dildo
  • 7% of men and 4% of women had used the internet or a phone app to look for partners

In the past year, among those who had had sex with anyone in the past year

  • 17% had done or received anal stimulation with the fingers
  • 6% had done or received oral anal stimulation (rimming)
  • 8% had been involved in role playing or dressing up
  • 2% had been involved in BDSM (bondage and discipline, ‘sadomasochism’ or dominance and submission)

These questions were not asked of anyone who expressed discomfort with the topic.