Most sex studies may have no application to your marriage.

August 6, 2011

in Sexuality

Sex survey © Baz777 | Dreamstime.com

I have long said that most sex studies are not applicable to the average married couple, much less a married couple trying to follow Jesus. At last, I have a study to support this – gotta love the irony! Are women who volunteer for sexual response studies representative of women in general? found that women who had taken part in lab studies, and women who said they would not take part in such studies, answered a questionnaire differently. In other words, women who are willing to engage in sexual behaviour while wired up, or while being observed, are not the same as women who are unwilling to do those things.

While this study looked at women willing to engage in sex research in a lab, there are similar concerns about sex survey results. A study can only be applied to the general population if the study participants are an accurate cross section of the general public. It’s not uncommon for those who take sex survey to be younger, more sexually liberal, and married for a shorter time then the population as a whole. In part this is due to bad sampling (like when the entire sample group comes from the readers of a magazine, or those who go to a particular web site) and in part it is because those who are more “sexually liberal” (read more promiscuous) are more likely to fill out a sex survey than those who are more sexually conservative.

Even if the study population is representative of the population as a whole, that does not make it valid for you. A significant percentage of our population is single (never married, living together, separated, divorced or widowed) and as a group their sexual choices do not match those of monogamous married couples. Add “Christian morality” and you get even more discrepancies.

The bottom line is that few sex surveys, and even fewer sex research projects, are drawing from a population that is similar to the primary readership of this blog. As such, those surveys and studies may not be applicable to you.

One more thought – even if the study population is valid for you and your bride, does that make what it finds a goal for you? The average caloric intake in the USofA is far higher than is healthy – trying to match the findings of a survey of daily calories consumed would be a bad plan. Average or “normal” is just a mathematical truth; it does not mean the finding is healthy, good, moral, or a worthwhile goal.

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7 comments
J (Hot, Holy & Humorous)
J (Hot, Holy & Humorous)

I have considered posting a survey on my blog, but of course that would give limited results as well. Polling people who are willing to read about sex skews results. Ultimately, it's like parents tell kids: Regardless of what anyone else is doing, we are setting our standards according to God's commands and desires for us. Healthy sexuality is not what the world says; it's what God says it is because He created it. That's where I'm aiming (and hoping to get a lot of others to shoot for it too!). Great post!

Bill
Bill

Why don't you and your wife do a survey. My wife reads her blog and would respond in an open and honest fashion.

The Generous Husband
The Generous Husband

@John - I agree with you that there are well done studies out there, but I fear they have become the exception. Any study not peer reviewed is almost certainly full of problems - problems which are not pointed out because there is no review. Still, even if a study is well done and actually represents the population as a whole, who does it apply to? Ask 1000 people who are a true cross section how often they have sex and you get an average which includes everyone from people who are celibate by choice to those who are having sex with anyone who is willing. Such a study is far to broad to be of any use in looking at what is happening to distinct populations. OTOH, of you survey 1000 couples married 10+ years, then you have a study that is of some use in understanding that population. If you further break that down to separate those who are not having sex by mutual choice, and those where one spouse wants sex and the other refuses, you have even better data. One problem with what we get is that sex research is driven by two things - disease prevention, and marketing drugs aimed at dealing with sexual problems. I'm not opposed to either of these, but they certainly skew the results. And, as you pointed out, the motives and worldview of those doing the study are going to bleed through - especially in less well done studies. I've done a lot of these tests, and usually there are at least a few questions for which none of the choices is even remotely accurate for me. Other times the questions assume something - like assuming you watch porn - or "How many partners have you had", with the lowest choice being 1-4. Then there are questions that are useless because they are not qualified - if the question is "Do you regret the first time you had sex" and there has been no option to indicate if your first time was the wedding night, 15 in the back seat of a car, or when you were too drunk to know it was happening, then the question is useless.

John
John

I agree with your bottom line. In many areas it can be useful to compare yourself to the norm, but the norm isn't what you should do, it's just what other people are doing. The survey instrument may also not reflect the interests of a particular reader. For example, it seems common in those surveys to ask about the age of the respondent's first sexual experience. In many instances, these occur during the teens. Personally, I'd like to see a follow up question "do you regret it?" However, I disagree with some of your thoughts on surveys in general. Top survey firms and think tanks use methodologies that accounts for the response problem you mentioned. Top journals will vet articles to make sure that authors do the same. Where one runs into trouble is research from the third tier. They may be legit, or they may have an ax to grind. Or, they may be trying to raise their profile by producing startling results. So, research from the third tier that confirm our hopes or biases needs to be read cum grano salis, just as we read research that contradicts our hopes and biases.

Mikie
Mikie

One book I have read that seemed to have done much more valid research into Sex (from the man's perspective) was "The Sexual Man" by Archibald D. Hart. He talks about some of these same issues with what you read about sex in secular studies, but he had then gone on to do his own research over many years! And he related it to other studies too. Wasn't sure if you'd read it yourself and what you thought of it. Mike ps Happy for you to edit my post and put an affiliate link to the book on Amazon if you wish.

John
John

@TGH: I haven't really read the results of sex surveys so I'll take your word for it about the quality. It isn't necessarily surprising; sloppy, mediocre work exists everywhere because it's easier. You're clearly interested in different issues than surveys conducted in association with disease prevention efforts or pharma companies. I can imagine you are a little frustrated at the fact that surveys don't focus on your issues. You're right about my 'regret' question. It could be done correctly as follows: 1) At what age was your first sexual experience? 2) Was this on your wedding night? 3) If not, do you regret not waiting?

The Generous Husband
The Generous Husband

@Mike - I agree, The Sexual Man (aff link) is a great book. I'd like to see it updated and re-released, but it actually is still very relevant. (Thanks for the edit permission!)

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