Sexual Expectations and Realities in Marriage

Who out there thinks they’re having too much sex?

The answer appears to be: nearly no one (under age 40, that is). Analyses involving new nationally-representative data on 18-39-year-olds, results from which I’ve highlighted in previous blog posts, suggests that very few young adults in America think they themselves are oversexed. Respondents were asked, “Are you content with the amount of sex you are having?” To which 50 percent replied “yes,” 43 percent said, “no, I’d prefer more,” and only 3 percent said, “no, I’d prefer less.”

An additional 4 percent refused to answer the question, which admittedly might have struck some as being irrelevant to them or presumptive of their own sexual activity. (That happens sometimes in survey research, and in that case it makes sense to pass on the question.) Indeed, plenty of people in the dataset aren’t even in relationships; the question could strike them as odd, or not. So what about the ones that are in relationships? And even more specifically, what about the ones that are married?

Well, it turns out—of course—marriage doesn’t completely take care of the sex drive. As if I expected it to. (I’m trying not to make this blog post personal.) It turns out that 53 percent of married young Americans are quite content with their frequency of sex, while 43 percent wish for more and only 2.1 percent wish for less.

Given the historically-strong gender connection with sex drive, what do the numbers look like when we split them by male and female? Well, your grandmother probably could’ve predicted this one. About 61 percent of married women are content with the extent of bedroom activity they’re experiencing, compared with 44 percent of married men. It should be noted that only 7/10th of one percent of married men are complaining about too much sex. It’s just an uncommon gripe. More women than men, but only 3.3 percent total, voice such a concern. It turns out that 54 percent of married young men would appreciate more sex, but so would 34 percent of married young women.  Those are numbers worth noting. To be sure, life and busy-ness can get in the way—and marital problems will often either concern sex or become intertwined with it. But it’s notable that many married (18-39-year-old) men and women wish to be intimate with their spouse more often than they are. I guess that’s good, and certainly better than the other way around.

So far I’ve said nothing about this group’s reported actual sexual frequency, which varies widely:

— 19 percent reported no sex in the past two weeks

— 16 percent reported once in the past two weeks

— 16 percent said twice

— 13 percent said three times

— 10 percent said four

— 15 percent said 5-6

— 6 percent said 7-10 times

— 4 percent of married young adults reported 11 or more times in the past two weeks.

[Cue the irritation of some, and the blessed “Oh, I’m normal” response of others.]

To be sure, there’s a nearly linear association between the two variables:

— 91 percent of the (11+ timers) said “yes” when asked if they were content with the amount of sex they’re having. (The nerve of those other nine percent…!)

That number dips to 86 percent (among 7-10 timers), then 66 percent, 65 percent, 61, 40, 41, and down to 37 percent among those married young Americans who reported no sex in the past two weeks. The most notable dip in contentment here–from a majority that’s content to a minority that is–appears between those who say “3 times” and those who say twice (in two weeks).

The same numbers among men only: 85 percent of the male 11+ timers said “yes,” they’re content. The same (85 percent) among male 7-10 timers, then down to 66 percent, 60 percent, 44 percent, 30 percent, 36 percent, and only 21 percent of married men who’ve not had sex in the past week say they are content with the amount of sex they’ve been having. The most notable decline here is from “4 times” to “3 times” (in two weeks).  This reminds me of the Woody Allen film in which his character responds to a therapist’s question about his sex life, saying, “We almost never have sex, like, only two or three times a week.” Diane Keaton, his partner, responds independently to the same question, “We’re always having sex, like, two or three times a week!” (In fact, 54 percent of married women who said “zero times” to the frequency question also said that “yes” they were content with how often they have sex.) In general, young women appear far more content with their married sex lives than the men. Not a shock, I know.

I’m pressed for time—given this is a holiday weekend—so I won’t add more commentary to these numbers. There are of course other variables to consider–like how long you’ve been married–and other predictors of sexual contentedness that a short blog post cannot accommodate, but that invariably readers will wonder about. Wonder away.


On Memorial Day, here’s to those who have served, especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. We are grateful.

Poverty and the “Model Minority”

As Asian Pacific American Heritage Month draws to a close during this election year, I wanted to draw attention to the issue of poverty as it remains quite significant in light of the recent recession. Believe it or not, poverty is a real issue for Asian Americans. I write this with the understanding that many Americans hold to an onerous stereotype sometimes described as the model minority myth.  

The myth asserts that certain minorities are so exemplary in their socioeconomic achievements that they stand apart in contrast to those “other minorities” who don’t share the same degree of material success. Asian Americans are described as being today’s model minority. The singular number is intentional as American society likes to keep race and ethnicity simple: apparently all Asian Americans are alike in their successes. How do we know this? The Census! When you see Census figures based on race, it sure looks like Asian Americans do stand out. In the past 2 censuses they showed above average incomes. What accounts for this remarkable feat? [Read more…]

Religious Affiliation and the Frequency of Orgasms

A apropos of nothing, here are some data about religion and sex. They come from the National Health and Social Life Survey (NHSLS). This study, was conducted by Edward Laumann, of the University of Chicago, in 1994, so it’s getting a bit old, but it remains a great study on the topic. It collected data from 3,400+ people nationwide on just about every aspect of sexual behavior. Fortunately, for my purposes, it also collected data on religious affiliation.

From the NHSLS, here are the percentage of respondents who report “always having an orgasm” when they have sex with their primary partner.

79%, Catholics
75%, no religious affiliation
75%, conservative protestants
73%, mainline protestants
66%, other religion

33%, conservative protestants
27%, mainline protestants
27%, Catholics
22%, no religious affiliation
There isn’t a lot of difference for men, but there looks to be a religious effect for women.
Maybe this explains why women tend to be much more religious than men?

Three Things I Love about Teaching Sociology of Religion Online

Part 3 in a Series on Teaching Sociology of Religion Online.

Here I am again, spending my “free” time thinking how much I love teaching sociology of religion online. I’m relaxing at home, with my new MacBook Air on my lap, which is charging my Iphone, and listening to a podcast from Professor Anthony Gill’s Research on Religion Podcast series on my iPad. (FYI…I turned off my 4th Apple product–my iPod–so I can hear the Podcast on my iPad).

Front CoverFirst, now that I have overcome my initial technical challenges and anxieties, teaching online is fun. In Martin Seligman’s book Flourish, he recounts how teaching positive psychology made him realize that learning is deeper when it is engaging. I delivered my second ever online lecture this week, and I was in the flow (to borrow Seligman’s colloquial term for one dimension of flourishing–engagement). In my online lecture, my video and audio streamed live to 15 students while they watched a screen streaming the course website which I spent many hours designing. As I scrolled seamlessly through my carefully constructed website, it seemed beautiful. Engaging. Fun.

Second, my favorite new teaching tool is called a module in Sakai (my course management system). Rather than organizing my syllabus chronologically, as I have always done previously, I designed my online course to based on modules, where each module corresponds to a specific learning goal, and the content of each learning goal is presented through text, audio and video. To give you an example, Module 2 is called Classical Sociological Theories of Religion and the goal is to learn to compare and contrast the theories and concepts of religion from Emile Durkheim (Module 2.1), Max Weber (Module 2.2) and Karl Marx (Module 2.3). For Module 2.1 (Durkheim), all the content I deliver to students is one place online–lecture notes, power point slides, readings, links to podcasts and embedded You Tube videos. The Modules tool presents a complete online outline of all the course materials I provide them, and students can click through them sequentially, jump around in any order they like, or click the printer icon and print all the contents of any module . One student liked it so much she exclaimed, “Wow, I wish all my professors taught this way!”

Rather than presenting my material chronologically like I had previously, now I’ve created a separate module (Module 3) for contemporary trends in American religion and for important ways that religious beliefs and practices intersect with society and politics (Module 4). As I lectured online on Weber this week, I opened up the Modules page and scrolled up and down it, explaining to students that I expected them to a) be able to compare Weber to Durkheim and Marx (Module 2) and b) to analyze contemporary trends in American religion (Module 3) and how religion influences social change and politics (Module 3). So our learning objectives for any give day can combine content from a variety of modules which do not have to be chronologically ordered. I’ve always explained to students verbally how different sections of course content relate to each other in various ways, but to explain it verbally while I showed them visually using the Modules tool was engaging and fun.

Third, as discussed in this TedEx lecture by Villanova Law Professor Michele Piston, recorded lectures facilitate content delivery, thereby creating more opportunities for professors to use their time with students to interact about content rather than deliver content.

YouTube Preview Image

I use online lectures to facilitate content delivery in two ways. If students can listen to an online lecture on their own time, then our live (or synchronous) time online can be interactive–discussions, clarifications, and applications. If lectures are recorded, then students who have a legitimate excuse for missing a lecture can go back and hear it. One student in my summer class already had an unexpected emergency and missed one lecture I delivered live (synchronously) online. When I showed her how to see the video recording online–with my face talking and the power point slides rolling, my notations appearing and students’ chat messages popping up, she exclaimed “Get outta here! How cool! Is that really the first time you ever did that? What other courses do you teach?”

I often tell my friends and family about my class lectures and discussions, but I’ve never been able to show them. Why not share some of my online lectures with others? As I recounted in my previous post, my first recorded Power Point lecture was amazingly beautiful but the file was so big I couldn’t share it by internet or email! (The perfect can be the enemy of the good). A friend who is an engineer looked at my recorded presentation and immediately told me that the quality of my voice recording was so high that I could have broadcast my Power Point narrated lecture on megachurches to an entire megachurch… But since all I need is audio quality for individuals to hear on their computers, she suggested I turn down the audio quality and save tons of space. I also learned from her that when I get excited, the volume of my voice gets so loud the microphone can’t handle it and the recording is scratched. Students always rate me high on enthusiasm, and now I have my mic and my video recordings allow me to see myself as others see me and hear me, which can only make me a better lecturer.

As my friend gave me technical tips on how to record presentations, she also listened eagerly to my lecture on megachurches playing on my MacBook Air. She stared at the pictures, scrolled back and forth across slides, examined the graphs, and asked me questions. That is exactly the reaction I wanted! If I can lecture on megachurches to undergrad students, why can’t I share that with my friends and family? The final reason I like recorded lectures is that they allow me to engage broad audiences in my teaching, generating dialogue that will make me a better scholar and teacher. Before you get too excited about seeing my lectures, however, I have to try a new program that will tone down my volume, save me space, and allow me to post lectures online. Alas, my second attempt to record a narrated lecture and upload it to You Tube didn’t work either. But as soon as I’ve figured it out how to put the lectures online, I’ll be sure to let you know!

Finally, as Professor Pistone points out in her lecture, streamlining the delivery of my lectures to my students will open up many new ways for me to interact with my students. Next week, for example, I will try to give my students voice recorded feedback on drafts of their paper using Adobe. I’ll keep trying my online teaching tools and continue to write about here.

The Centrality of Sex and the Failure of Unstable Relationships

[An excerpt from Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying]

Why do so many emerging-adult sexual relationships fail? Reasons of course are manifold, and for many it’s simply part of the script of sex, college (for some), and the natural course of modern relationships. Relationships fail, then, because at some point they’re supposed to. Sex columnist Dan Savage reminds his readers that “every relationship fails until one doesn’t.” While certainly true at face value, this is an observation that can become an imperative: people commence relationships, anxiously awaiting the sure signs of their fatal condition.

The reasons that Americans of all ages could give for their failed relationships are numerous, but one problem may uniquely plague emerging-adult relationships. It’s the role of sex (rather than solely its presence): many couples lack a clear, shared, and suitable role for the sex they experience within a romantic relationship, especially when sex is introduced early. Many testify that sex is often difficult to talk about, in part because the partners are still getting to know each other and deep conversation is considered too intimate. Yet sex becomes a clear goal and new priority–the elephant in the corner that demands attention when they’re together. It acquires an increasingly central role in the relationship while at the same time other aspects of the relationship remain immature. Compare this to the greater sense of security that a shared residence and bed entail. Having sex with one’s college boyfriend in his dorm room, only to wander home later, can be an emotionally unsatisfying sensation for many women, for good reason. Some eventually solve this dilemma by moving in together. And for many that seems a welcome–if only slightly more secure–step.

But when the habit of going out for dinner, a film, and dessert trails rather than precedes sex, even simple conversations take on a strange aura. After all, such a couple knows more about what each other looks like naked than what each other thinks about school, work, politics, religion, family, or future plans–life in general. Writing in New York magazine, Third-wave feminist writer Naomi Wolf wonders if we haven’t gotten the order of sex and familiarity mixed up:

“Why have sex right away?” a boy with tousled hair and Bambi eyes was explaining. “Things are always a little tense and uncomfortable when you just start seeing someone,” he said. “I prefer to have sex right away just to get it over with. You know it’s going to happen anyway, and it gets rid of the tension.” “Isn’t the tension kind of fun?” I asked. “Doesn’t that also get rid of the mystery?” “Mystery?” He looked at me blankly. And then, without hesitating, he replied: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Sex has no mystery.”

To imagine staying up late into the night feasting on a wide-ranging conversation now strikes many as something one does after commencing a sexual relationship, not before. Thus one hallmark of the classic hookup scenario is silence. Talking is perceived as potentially ruinous to the moment. When did talking get to be so sacred? When did honest, verbal communication outpace the meeting of penis and vagina in its degree of intimacy?

Apart from relationship security, familiarity, and a shared domicile, sex has a difficult time playing a supportive role in fostering intimacy and building love. Instead, it wants to be the lead character. But when left to sustain a relationship, sex typically falters. Katie, a college student from Tennessee, sensed this in her relationship with Daniel, a man with whom she was in a four-year, long-distance relationship (he lived in Arkansas). Only in the past year did the two begin having sex, and–lacking
as they were in physical proximity–Katie quickly sensed something suboptimal about it for two reasons, her own moral qualms about premarital sex notwithstanding.
First, sex within their sporadic interactions began to claim a place and priority that outstripped its natural boundaries. In most marriages and cohabitations, even in the honeymoon phase, sex plays a supporting role to the mundane activities of normal life. In a relationship where two people are not sharing lots of normal life activities–a scenario common among young adults–sex can quickly take center stage.

Katie summarized this bluntly: “I felt like I was dating his dick.” Their bonding typically ended with Daniel’s inevitable departure. Katie detected that something was clearly amiss and after several months told Daniel she couldn’t do it anymore. Most such romantic relationships do not give up sex without breaking apart, and theirs was no different; the relationship ended. Daniel rapidly became sexually active with another woman, while Katie struggled to make sense of it all, wondered about her future, and wrestled with guilt, resolving not to misplace the role of sex again. Keeping that resolution, however, is difficult, since the atmosphere in which contemporary relationships form among emerging adults is heavy with early sexual expectation. Eight months later, Katie and Daniel were back together.