a chorus of disapproval, and just a whimper of desire

SEX , DRUGS, AND ROCK 'N' ROLLWe disdain other people's sex lives but a re disappointed with our own: is there any hope for the British lover? The Independent on Sunday / MORI sex survey reveals all; plus, below, are 'intimate' opinion polls all mouth and no trousers?
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why do shy people agree to take part in sex surveys? Surely they must guess that some of the questions are going to be a bit - ahem - personal. Up to a quarter of our sample acted the shrinking violet over some of the questions posed. We presented people aged between 16 and 54 with a list of sexual issues and asked them which they would personally consider distasteful or morally wrong, and which they had personally tried. The issues were: having sex on a first date, having sex without love, having sex with someone who is married to someone else, sex with someone of the same sex, masturbation, using pornography, couples living together who are not married, oral sex, group sex, sex in a public place, anal sex, sado-masochism, using sex aids, gay men kissing in the street, lesbian women kissing in the street and women taking the lead in sex. We also asked how often they had had sex in the preceding week, and how they would improve their sex lives. The results were then analysed according to the respondents' age, gender, sexual orientation, voting habits and marital status.

Adultery, a good, solid, classical transgression, is still top of the disapproval list. Having sex with someone married to someone else is perceived as the greatest sexual sin - 46 per cent find it morally wrong. Bubbling under are sado-masochism (45 per cent) and anal sex (43 per cent). 45 per cent would find gay men kissing in the street offensive (42 per cent for lesbians). Having sex with someone of the same sex rates in the same league (40 per cent disapprove). Which all seems fairly prissy: in fact, all but eight per cent of the sample found something to disapprove of on the list, though 16 per cent refused to say what exactly.

Most of the respondents preferred to tut-tut from a safe distance: the most outre sexual experience most were prepared to admit to was oral sex (41 per cent), followed by masturbation (37 per cent). Owning up to anything more risque was the preserve of a brave few: 2 per cent had tried sado- masochistic sex, and 6 per cent had tried anal sex. A daring 27 per cent had had sex where the woman in the partnership made the running. Apparently this level of sexual adventure is not totally gratifying: 29 per cent think that having more sex would improve their sex lives, and 22 per cent think that more adventurous sex would improve things (though the large number who disapprove of anything a bit strange could make that a tall order). And a sad 39 per cent knew of nothing that would improve matters.

The young are not necessarily more open-minded than the old. On issues of principle such as committing adultery, having sex without love or having sex on a first date, the youngest age groups (16- to 24-year-olds) and the oldest (45-54) are the groups that are likely to disapprove most strongly. Perhaps the young are still starry-eyed and idealistic about sex; while the older ones have found out long since that the whole gruesome business isn't worth the bother unless you're truly prepared to Commit Your All.

However, once you've found your suitably single partner, got over the first one-on-one trip to the cinema, and, of course, fallen in lurve, younger people are likely to get up to a lot more than older ones. Nearly twice as many people aged 45 plus (25 per cent) than the teenagers in the sample (13 per cent) disapprove of oral sex. Similarly, only 27 per cent of 16- to 19- year-olds think using pornography is wrong, while 41 per cent of the over-45s find it distasteful. People in their early twenties are more enthusiastic than older ones about sex in public places (29 per cent disapproval to 57 per cent): presumably they are more likely to have no option but the bus shelter. The young are also less alarmed by the prospect of group sex.

Younger age groups are more tolerant than older ones when it comes to having sex with someone of the same sex. Still, 34 per cent of 16- to 19-year-olds find homosexuality distasteful, as do 44 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds, and nearly half of the over-45s. Gay men kissing in the street drew the most thundering denunciation of the survey: a peppery 57 per cent of the over-45s would avert their gaze.

The gap between women and men is the greatest divide in the whole survey: perhaps a little alarming given that 85 per cent of the sample would describe themselves as heterosexual. Women are considerably more disapproving than men when it comes to having sex on first dates (45 per cent of women disapprove, and only 27 per cent of men), having sex without love (39 per cent of women disapprove, and 23 per cent of men), using pornography (37 per cent of women disapprove, and 21 per cent of men), and group sex (43 per cent of women would not appreciate stripping off on the shag pile and letting the neighbours join in, but only 29 per cent of men would be similarly tight-lipped).

Men also claim to have a much more energetic sexual repertoire than women: at least twice as many say they have had sex on a first date (men 43 per cent, women 20 per cent), group sex (men 11 per cent, women 3 per cent) or sex in a public place (men 23 per cent, women 11 per cent). Who are they doing all this with? If the 11 per cent of men who have had group sex have coped with only 3 per cent of women joining in, there must have been a lot of long pauses. Men are also more likely to have masturbated (men 50 per cent, women 24 per cent) or used porn (men 36 per cent, women 10 per cent).

A third of respondents had had a sexually barren week prior to being interviewed: only 18 per cent had had sex three times or more.

Men display more enthusiasm for suggesting ways to pep up their sex lives. 38 per cent of them would like more sex, and 8 per cent would like to have more sexual partners, presumably in the hopes that quantity would lead to quality. 29 per cent would like to be more adventurous in bed. Only 21 per cent of women want more sex, only 16 per cent would like to swing excitedly from the chandelier smeared with ice-cream, and only 1 per cent would like more partners to join them.

As for political persuasions: Liberal Democrats are rather less likely than Labour or Conservative voters to make a pass on a first date. Labour voters in general are the most tolerant (or permissive, depending on your point of view) except when it comes to using sex aids and masturbating. There are marginally more Lib Dem wankers and Tory whip-wielders about, but it's a close thing: in general, sexual morality seems to transcend party politics.

8 MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 1,017 people aged 16-54 at 73 sampling points throughout Great Britain. Interviews were conducted face-to-face, in home on 19-20 December 1995

Men also claim to have a much more energetic sexual repertoire than women: at least twice as many say they have had sex on a first date (men 43 per cent, women 20 per cent), group sex (men 11 per cent, women 3 per cent) or sex in a public place (men 23 per cent, women 11 per cent). Who are they doing all this with? If the 11 per cent of men who have had group sex have coped with only 3 per cent of women joining in, there must have been a lot of long pauses. Men are also more likely to have masturbated (men 50 per cent, women 24 per cent) or used porn (men 36 per cent, women 10 per cent).

A third of respondents had had a sexually barren week prior to being interviewed: only 18 per cent had had sex three times or more.

Men display more enthusiasm for suggesting ways to pep up their sex lives. 38 per cent of them would like more sex, and 8 per cent would like to have more sexual partners, presumably in the hopes that quantity would lead to quality. 29 per cent would like to be more adventurous in bed. Only 21 per cent of women want more sex, only 16 per cent would like to swing excitedly from the chandelier smeared with ice-cream, and only 1 per cent would like more partners to join them.

As for political persuasions: Liberal Democrats are rather less likely than Labour or Conservative voters to make a pass on a first date. Labour voters in general are the most tolerant (or permissive, depending on your point of view) except when it comes to using sex aids and masturbating. There are marginally more Lib Dem wankers and Tory whip-wielders about, but it's a close thing: in general, sexual morality seems to transcend party politics.

8 MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 1,017 people aged 16-54 at 73 sampling points throughout Great Britain. Interviews were conducted face-to-face, in home on 19-20 December 1995

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