Only 25 per cent of people in their twenties had sex more than 10 times a month. 62 per cent of young women and 36 per cent of young men disapproved of one-night stands. Only three quarters of men had experienced oral sex.

Sexual Behaviour in Britain, 1994

"ionce went nearly a year without sex," Josh Somerton, a 24-year-old junior doctor, admits sheepishly. "No one would shag me." Recent surveys of the sexual behaviour of the young herald a new morality. But statistics, it seems, fail to reflect the licentiousness and lasciviousness of those questioned. Twentysomethings may only be doing it 10 times a month, but not for want of trying.

My own spot survey of an entirely unrepresentative sample of unmarried 23- to 30-year-olds showed that lack of opportunity is the most common reason for celibacy. And, although everyone did disapprove of one-night stands, in not a single case did this mean that on at least one occasion they themselves had not woken up hungover, naked, not alone and deeply remorseful. As to the quarter of men who have not experienced oral sex - not yet. A friend of mine recently left his girlfriend because she was not enthusiastic enough about it.

Alice Cohen, a 23-year-old television researcher, "lost her virginity" (it has always struck me as a no-lose situation) at 16 to her boyfriend Ben. "At least I think I did. It was so embarrassing it took us both years to get over it. The next relationship he was in they couldn't do it at all without role-playing. He'd say things like 'Take dictation, Miss Clark', and then they'd do it in these weird personae.

"I have slept with seven people altogether and my only real attempt to have a one-night stand was with my current boyfriend, who I'm living with a year later. Pathetic really. I've never done anything terribly outrageous, unfortunately. Someone once asked me if he could do something vile, and I said OK, as long as he didn't tell anyone. 'What's the point then?' he asked. I think a lot of people are just totting up experiences to show off about."

Some have totted up more than others. "When did you lose your virginity?" I ask John Lyle, a 29-year-old accountant. "Which one?" he replies. John's first sexual experience was when he was 11. "A friend and I were both ill at the same time and we were in the sick bay. We sort of fancied each other and he knew exactly what he wanted to do. I remember what it felt like - quite nice, actually. I did it to him too. Then when I was 17 I lost my other virginity to a woman who was 39 and had a son at my school. She seduced me and then we had an affair for years. I was faithful to her throughout university." Since then John has slept with 10 people and has sex with his girlfriend of six months nearly every day.

Every day seems to be the approximate norm for people in a relationship and the blissful ideal of the single. Clara Harris, 25, a producer of commercial videos, has been with Giles for a year: "We have sex pretty much every day and if we don't I get very irritable. I am only happy when I have a healthy sex life. When I haven't got a boyfriend I think about it all the time." In fact, it was difficult to find anyone who didn't think obsessively about sex, or the lack of it.

Paul Leith, 26, who works at the Foreign Office, describes it as "absolutely vital" to his well-being. "I haven't had any for two months and I'm getting really desperate. I would like to be having sex all day every day. Whenever I have had the opportunity I have done exactly that. If I am completely honest I would have to say it is more important than my career. I would probably sleep with just about anyone at the moment. I try and tell myself that isn't true but it is."

Corrine Berkney, a 27-year-old lecturer in economics, is about to leave her job and the country to join her boyfriend in India - for sex. "I miss him, but I mostly miss the sex. I once had sex with him while I was on the phone to my Mum. He came up behind me and I couldn't just put the phone down. We once had sex with me wrapped in clingfilm. We do use condoms but sometimes we forget. That was why I got pregnant." She had an abortion. "Well, we were doing it about three times a night every night and it was always me saying, 'Excuse me a second!' "

Berkney says she has slept with 20 people and lost her virginity under a tree on Hampstead Heath when she was 13. "I was really stoned," she says. "In the end perhaps my work is more important, though. I have made more sacrifices there, really."

Alan James, a 29-year-old television producer, was the only person who got moral on me. "From 11 to 15 I was always getting drunk at parties and nearly having sex with people. Then when I was 15 I looked at the lives of people around me and realised that I wanted something different. I stopped drinking and taking drugs and, because I equated sex with that kind of behaviour, I rarely did it. I have had sex with three people all of whom I loved deeply. Even when you are not doing it you are defined by it, though. I fancy nearly everyone I meet, I am so undersexed! I recently stopped masturbating, too, because I don't think it is right, but I have been having a lot of wet dreams since."

The unfettered sex obsession of everyone I spoke to, including many who didn't make it into this article, was overwhelming. There seems to be a clear distinction, in the minds of all twentysomethings, between sex and love, and while everyone is looking for love, most seem happy to settle for sex.

"It is all very well to be in love," says Josh Somerton, "but no love can outlast poor sex."