Why You Shouldn't Trust Sex Surveys Dr. Read explains the truth behind sex surveys and why you shouldn't base your sex life according to them. BY DR. TRINA READ
Even when based on good science, survey numbers can be manipulated.
“ Sadly, most of what is presented by the media is riddled with inaccuracies, reporter bias or skewed data.”
A recent survey showed that couples who were together for 10 years or more with multiple children have great sex at least three times per week. Of those couples, 79 percent are absolutely satisfied with their sex life and wouldn’t change a thing.
Do you believe these numbers?
I made them up—but if I hadn’t told you, would you have stopped to question their validity, or simply believed that because they were in an article they were the absolute truth?
In our grandparent’s day, rules around sexual conduct were pretty black and white. Today, however, the issues are less clear. How much sex is normal? How many sexual partners are proper before marriage? Is it OK that I never feel like sex, or conversely that I want sex all the time? Because of this, people tend to cling to sex surveys as a way to compare what they are doing to the rest of society. Sex surveys have become the tail that wags the "what’s sexuality fact" dog. Sadly, most of what is presented by the media is riddled with inaccuracies, reporter bias or skewed data. And it most likely comes at the cost of your sexual happiness.
Let’s look at how sex surveys become societal sex "fact." The media is always interested in the next "sex-sells" sensational headline. Knowing this, companies looking to cash in on free publicity commission a sex survey. Many of these surveys are done online, which means the accuracy of the data is severely compromised. A big reason is people fudge their answers: if they’re having sex once a month, on a survey they might say they are having sex once a week. Results become so skewed that most of these surveys would never hold up to any scientific scrutiny.
Then, typically, a public relations team goes through the finished survey results and cherry-picks a few tantalizing tidbits. They then spin those tidbits with dynamic, fun wording that will catch the attention of the press. A press release is sent out en masse and reporters then contact me or my counterparts for comments to give this latest shiny survey credibility.
Most reporters want to present an accurate piece. Still, they usually have a long list of deadlines to meet and simply don’t have time to read the complete survey or research paper. Or, perhaps, the reporter already has an angle to the story and is looking for an expert quote to fit nicely into their piece. Or they don’t fully understand sexual terminology and unintentionally misrepresent important information.
Petra Boyton, a Ph.D. who’s based in the United Kingdom, has blogged critical analysis after critical analysis on how the media get it wrong. Here’s a little tidbit from her latest blog: "Journalists don’t always know the difference between a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a therapist and a counselor. So they treat them all as if they do the same job and frequently have people providing comment on topics they are not qualified to discuss."
It’s not just the commissioned surveys that are prey to media exploitation. Many scientific papers on sex get released and, unfortunately, the findings can be either manipulated or taken out of context. What does this mean for you? Ironically, people who want to learn more about sex so they can have a better sex life will find that sex surveys have the opposite effect. If your only sex knowledge is coming from the media, you will always have an inaccurate view of what is sexually normal.
It can even be a reason why many people feel tremendous sexual inhibition, inadequacy or shame. No matter what kind of sex you’re having, you will always find someone saying it’s not right or there’s a better way. Instead of relying on surveys, it’s best to trust your instincts and do a "gut" check. That is, if what is going on in your sex life feels OK to you—and it’s safe, sane and consensual—then you’re sexually normal. If not, then it’s time to figure out a new plan.
It’s as easy (and complicated) as that.
Dr. Trina Read has a doctorate in human sexuality. Dr. Read is also an international speaker and offers free sex tips on her website www.bestsextipsever.com. To order her book, "Til Sex Do Us Part," click here.