Secure, relaxed... and starting early

Teenage sex in the 21st century
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The Independent Online

Over the last month, 'The Independent' has been asking readers about their attitudes to sex and sexual behaviour in the modern world. An unprecedented 2,000 people responded to our online questionnaire - and each day this week, our celebrated advice columnist will be analysing the results.

Over the last month, 'The Independent' has been asking readers about their attitudes to sex and sexual behaviour in the modern world. An unprecedented 2,000 people responded to our online questionnaire - and each day this week, our celebrated advice columnist will be analysing the results.

The young are having a ball - that's the conclusion of our sex survey. No question, the under twenties are having a whole load more sex than any of the rest of us.

First of all, they're becoming sexual - and doing something about it - much earlier than we used to. Nearly half - 44 per cent - have had a sexual partner before 16, the legal age of consent. (Only 15 per cent of everyone else lost their virginity so young.) Second, they have sex more often - a quarter of them have sex every day. (But if you're over 20, don't worry. Most people in long-term relationships only have sex once or twice a week.) Although they can't clock up the same number of partners as older people (there hasn't been the time), they're not doing too badly, with the majority having had five partners by the time they're 20.

Not only do the very young have far more one-night stands than everyone else (16 per cent will have an astonishing 10 one-night stands a year), but one in four will sleep with someone on their first date if they fancy them. They talk about sex more openly with friends and other adults than other groups, and generally they think sex is just fine and dandy. They seem secure and relaxed, hardly suffer any sexual problems, and 58 per cent were so confident that they didn't even suffer any anxieties that other people might be having better sex lives than themselves.

What was odd, and rather touching, was that with this high sexual activity went a little bit of idealism. Good looks were far more important to the under-twenties than to anyone else - indeed, a quarter of them thought looks the most important thing in a sexual partner (only 12 per cent of adults thought this). Generally, they're more faithful than older people, too, and are more likely to believe that love is important for sex to be good. "Sex is great, but being with the person you love means a whole lot more," wrote one young man.

And they're not terribly sexually adventurous, either. For an under-twenty, just having sex is interesting and exciting enough. They didn't have experience of things like sado-masochism or fantasy sex. Indeed, reading the resultsof the survey, you were left with a feeling that the under-twenties were like a whole bunch of sexy Tiggers, bounding around, full of joy and enthusiasm.

But responsible Tiggers. Twice as many under-twenties practised safe sex when not in a long-term relationship than other groups. And liberal Tiggers, too. There were more bi-sexuals and gays in the under-twenty age group - 16 per cent. (One wrote: "I think everyone is bi-sexual to some degree, but not everyone realises it.") And nearly a quarter believed women should always take the initiative when it came to sex.

Those who think there's too much sex in the media, too, will have to put up with more for a long time. A high proportion - 14 per cent - of the under-twenties believed there was too little media attention paid to sex. Amazing.

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