Hi Dr. Nick | Issue 05
Birds, Bees, and Boring Statistics
So last week we began the sex talk from a healthcare point of view, and raised the fact that most people start having sex a lot later than you’d expect from high school banter. Before we plunge deep into the moist cavern of sexually transmitted icky things, I wanted to spend a bit more time talking about what’s “normal” in sex. Now, before you get your hopes up and your lube out, this isn’t going to be a blow-by-blow of how sex happens. I’m not going to be giving sexual tips and tricks in this column, and if you ask my exes I’m sure they’d tell you why.
Heretics have accused me of taking a long time to get to the point. In psychiatry we call that “circumstantiality,” in Critic we call that a “word count.” To buck the trend, I’ll get to the climax of the column prematurely: if you’re both adult humans, and you’re both consenting on a continued basis, what you’re doing is normal.
It doesn’t matter if you’re only interested in non-penetrative mutual touching in a monogamous relationship or love having pregnant Dutch women fisting you on webcam; if it’s what you and your partner want to do then it’s fine provided that A) You know what you’re getting yourself into, and B) You minimise the risks involved in whatever you’re doing.
So what are you getting yourself into? Well, despite medicine’s claim to be all accepting and unashamed, we don’t really research sex that well, so it’s difficult to give numbers on what to expect. We only really research things like “risky” sex and negative outcomes associated with sex (unintended teen pregnancy, sexual abuse, sexually transmitted infections, etc.) as researching those makes you sound “medical” rather than “prying.” Anecdotal evidence from sexual health workers suggests there is a massive range in what people are doing and how they do it but, in the same way that we don’t trust schoolyard banter, we don’t like relying on anecdotes in health.
What we do know from New Zealand studies is that around 66 per cent of university students’ last sexual contact occurred within a “steady relationship.” In contrast to tall tales from O’ Week, only three per cent of women and 11 per cent of men had “just met” the last person they had sex with. 32 per cent had been drinking when they had sex. Just over half of students used a condom in their last sexual encounter. Condom use decreased when in a long-term relationship, but worryingly also decreased as number of sexual partners ever increased; only 42 per cent of people with nine or more sexual partners in the last 12 months had used a condom in their last encounter.
Less than 20 per cent of New Zealand men (all ages) are circumcised, with numbers significantly lower in younger age groups. The most relevant study to the current university cohort (a 1991 study) reported newborn circumcision rates of around seven per cent, though with significant differences between ethnic and cultural groups. Approximately 3.5 per cent of New Zealand males report a sexual preference for males and females, or males alone. Around 3.1 per cent of females report a preference for both sexes equally or the same sex preferentially. Fewer women report being exclusively attracted to the same sex than their male counterparts (0.1 per cent versus two per cent).
We’ll talk about minimising risk next week (condoms are your friends), but a big piece of advice now: talk to your partner. Open discussions and respect for boundaries are essential to harm minimisation. But as a few extra titbits to close with a bang: you can pick up STIs through oral, anything that vibrates will burrow its way up a colon, and “No” always means “No,” regardless of what has been said or done before it.