Another day, another survey. This one shows some of the latest results from the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL) and focuses on young people in Britain aged 16-21. The headline story is that young people are just as likely as older ones to suffer problems in their sex life and they need help and support with their ‘sexual function’, alongside info about avoiding pregnancy and STIs.
A summary of the results can be found in this article, which at the time of writing was trending as the most popular read on the Guardian, even trumping the Trump, or British politics for once. So it’s clear we like to read and talk about sex. But it seems to me that the main problems with the young and sex, are pressure and lack of communication. We like reading about it and talking about it, but with friends, neighbours, hairdressers, or possibly anyone other than the person we are having sex with.
Look at the results: overall, over 44% of young women and over 33% of young men, have experienced at least one problem that affected their sex life for a few months. The most common problem for females was reaching climax (quelle surprise) at over 21%, followed by lack of enjoyment, pain, dryness, anxiety and a worrying 8% with no arousal at all. Perhaps not a high figure, but if 8% of young women are having sex without any interest, then WHY?
For young men, the most common problem was premature ejaculation, with 13%. This was followed by difficulty reaching climax, getting & keeping an erection, lack of enjoyment and almost 5% had anxiety. So there are similar problems for both sexes, with greater dissatisfaction overall amongst women. Where LGBT young people fit into this I’m not sure. Perhaps they are among the satisfied group.
What has surprised the researchers is that these things are so prevalent amongst the young. Maybe it’s been a long time since most of the researchers have been in their late teens. It’s easy to look back from middle age and imagine that in this, far more liberal millennium, where anything goes and everything is discussed openly in the media, the youth of today are happily shagging like rabbits. And that they are able to discuss their likes and dislikes with their partner. After all, we’ve all read enough articles about sexual empowerment with advice about ‘gently guiding your partner’s hands…etc’.
Some cultures and religions still have taboos about pre-marital sex, or attach shame to the practice, but they are in the minority in the Western world these days. So in theory, young people growing up now should be free of these judgements. Yet the survey seems to suggest otherwise. I suspect that the anxiety and lack of enjoyment comes from a combination of inexperience, and concerns that they’re not doing it like a porn star.
There have got to be some benefits to growing up in a less permissive time. For example, only once in a blue moon did we see semi-naked women or men on our four channels of TV. We still had hang ups about our bodies, but we weren’t confronted by glistening, tanned bodies with washboard abs and thigh gaps you could drive a truck through, every other day. Pornography was reduced to glimpses of men’s mags in the newsagents (or their dad’s secret stash of Playboy) or page three in the ‘news’paper. The women we saw generally had very big breasts, but apart from that, they looked fairly average.
Everyone starts out a virgin who doesn’t really know what they’re doing. In the 80s, we didn’t have online porn to give us instruction, false though it may be, of what it’s like to have sex. So we just went about it anyway and of course we worried about whether we were doing it right. But at least we weren’t given the following formula, from most hetero porn: woman removes all clothing pronto, headless man comes into view, and either gives her nipples a quick flick (or she does it herself), then the action generally proceeds into a very long period of woman giving a blow job. Then he gives her baldy fanjo a close-up inspection, before he spends some time penetrating both holes. Despite receiving almost no clitoral stimulation, the woman is screaming with pleasure. It often ends with withdrawal and ejaculation into her grateful (but often bored looking) face.
This may be fun for adults acting out a porn-style fantasy but it’s not a recipe for young people to create mutually enjoyable, satisfying sex. It makes me glad I learned by fumbling around in the dark, or reading the Kama Sutra, which is so old fashioned, it doesn’t even come up in google search until you type the full phrase. No wonder young people are anxious. Anal sex isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, including many men, yet it seems it’s expected as a standard part of the repertoire for young people these days. The thought of it would have given my teenage self some anxiety too, given most young people need to feel normal, that they fit in, and that they are not prudish freaks.
So what do we do about this? The researcher states that we need to do more in sex education to talk about the emotional side of sex. To learn about mutual respect and how to say no to things we don’t like or want. To talk about pleasure and gender equality. I agree, and it does seem that there is a shift towards this in schools. But why is this the school’s responsibility? There is too much pressure on the education system as it is. Ultimately, it’s the job of parents or carers to bring up boys who see women as more than glory holes, and girls who feel confident enough to say no, or yes when they want to. And that applies whether they are gay, straight or anything else.
Adults who want a fulfilling sex life and want the same for their grown up children, have got a duty to educate themselves and to learn how to talk about it. Most of the issues identified in the survey can be resolved by the ability to talk to one’s partner. Or by lube, or a check-up at the doctor if pain is involved. Some of it will only come from getting a bit older. Because the truth is, that despite our bodies becoming more wobbly and less traditionally attractive as we age, sex gets better. We benefit from experience and in most cases, a number of different lovers. And whatever other madness is going on with our hormones, older women have orgasms more easily. Result.
Most of all, when you’re proper grown up, it’s so much easier to be upfront about things. Sex is an amazing thing, but it’s not life or death. If you can take it a bit less seriously and laugh with your lover at all its squelches and squirts, then you can talk about it too. And if you’re still not getting the sex you want, whatever age you are, start talking about it. Maybe the next generation can grow up without the same fears, expectations and anxieties that we did.
Until next time,