More sex please, we’re British (but we still don’t like infidelity)

More commitment to monogamy than a generation ago – but one-night stands are OK

Britain has become increasingly  open-minded about sex in the past generation but less tolerant of infidelity, research has revealed.

As a nation, British people are now more accepting of sex before marriage, same-sex relationships and one-night stands than they were in the 1980s. But the concepts of monogamy and faithfulness are more deeply entrenched than ever, with just one person in 10 supportive of partners who are unfaithful.

Laura Watt, a sociology researcher at the University of Manchester, analysed data going back to 1990 from the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, which was set up to study the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. She discovered that the number of respondents aged between 18 and 30 – the age group most likely to reveal changing sexual behaviour – who felt that casual sex was wrong fell dramatically from more than six in 10 to just 37 per cent in a decade.

Attitudes towards gay partnerships changed even more markedly, with opposition nearly halving in the same period and acceptance of same-sex relationships rising to around 70 per cent. By contrast, nearly nine in 10 people said it was wrong for a married person to have sex with someone other than their spouse, with more people saying it could never be justified in any circumstances.

Around eight in 10 people felt it was wrong for people to have more than one partner if they were living with someone – up 4 per cent during the same period. And there was a growing insistence on monogamy within relationships even when couples were not co-habiting. The number opposing the idea of multiple partners in this type of union rose by 7 per cent.

Ms Watt said the studies and other research she carried out among young people in Preston, showed a revolution in young Britons’ attitudes towards relationships. She said the liberal changes in mainstream values were reflected in the Government’s policies. The Tories, who introduced the much-derided Section 28 rule in 1988 that banned the promotion of same-sex relationships by local authorities, have since apologised and legislated in favour of gay marriage. But while we are more liberal about many things, playing away is not one of them.

“The findings are contradictory,” Ms Watt said. “Young Britons are still extremely conservative when it comes to having more than one partner at once, with almost all in this age group viewing it as always or mostly wrong.”

Britons still idealise having one faithful partner, according to the findings, even if that did not necessarily mean being married. A “rebel group” of just 6.4 per cent said they would consider having an open relationship. Ms Watt said: “It could be that people have a problem with non-monogamy because it can be seen to involve lying. I just think there is a real jealousy issue. We just don’t like the idea that whoever is sleeping with us is sleeping with someone else. We are one of the few species that is monogamous.”

Harry Benson, of the Marriage Foundation, a think-tank, said the hardening of support for stable exclusive relationships could be a backlash against soaring divorce rates in the 1960s and 1970s. “Everybody wants stable love,” he said. “It may be that we have a whole generation and more who have grown up experiencing the result of family breakdown. They have seen their parents split up and they don’t want it to happen to them.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One Direction's Zayn Malik gazes at a bouquet of flowers in the 'Night Changes' music video
people
News
people
News
'Free the Nipple' film screening after party with We Are The XX, New York, America - 04 Feb 2014
news
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May