Skip to content

    Health & Sex

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Sizing Up Sex Lives

    Everything you always wanted to know about sex surveys.

    WebMD Feature

    April 24, 2000 (Seattle, Wash.) -- When a sex research study is made public, most people can't resist reading or listening to news reports about it. Some studies are large, such as the one conducted every other year by the National Opinion Research Center, affiliated with the University of Chicago, which polls 3,000 people about their sexual behavior and attitudes. Others are smaller and more specific, such as an investigation about teenage condom use within a community. Here, a respected sex researcher describes how she and her colleagues manage to gather such intimate information, and how their findings can help us all.

    There is a common assumption that it is difficult to get people to participate in sex research. In fact, many people are willing and eager to talk about sex and their sex lives. But what about those who are not? High-quality research requires the study of a group of participants that accurately reflects the population. We researchers can't study only the eager and uninhibited people who are anxious to tell all and neglect the more reserved members of society.

    Recommended Related to Sex & Relationships

    Accept Your Partner's Friends

    By Hayley Krischer The truth is out: You don't like some of your partner's friends. Maybe they're messy drunks who keep drawing your wife down their negative, drama-filled path. Or maybe they're self-admitting sexists who tell crass, demeaning jokes whenever you're around (jokes your husband laughs off). You’d like to draw a big X over these people's names, but your partner is completely loyal to them and gets defensive whenever you suggest that said people be phased out of your lives. “You don’t...

    Read the Accept Your Partner's Friends article > >

    To find a good survey sample, we have to convince those who are hesitant to talk about sex that society can benefit from their participation. We go to churches to talk about a study, we enlist the help of respected community leaders, we show them that our work is legitimate. Once our research team visited a Mormon Church, where a senior member pointed out the value of our study. Hundreds from the congregation then volunteered.

    Asking the Right Questions

    Once we have a good pool of subjects, we must ask them questions clearly, specifically, and sometimes, repeatedly. Let's say we want to determine the frequency of intercourse -- a tough question to ask but an important one. We interview partners together and separately. We might ask, "How often do you have sex in a week?" and later, "How often do you have sex in a month?" If their answers don't jibe, we ask the couple to reconsider their answers. Usually someone simply miscalculated. Or they might say, "Oh, I didn't have sex last week. But last week wasn't normal. Let me tell you about a regular week."

    We must be careful how we ask about such issues as monogamy. It might be our personal opinion that having multiple concurrent relationships is "cheating," but in our role as researchers, we can't make such judgments. It would be like saying, "OK, let's talk about this filthy affair you are having." No one would respond honestly. People don't want anyone to judge their sexual behavior, not even the interviewers.

    Today on WebMD

    couple not communicating
    How to tell when you're in one.
    couple face to face
    Get your love life back on track.
     
    couple having an argument
    Turn spats into solutions
    couple in argument
    When to call it quits.
     
    Life Cycle of a Penis
    Article
    HIV Myth Facts
    Slideshow
     
    How Healthy is Your Sex Life
    Quiz
    Couple in bed
    Video
     
    6 Tips For Teens
    Article
    Close-up of young man
    Article
     
    screening tests for men
    Slideshow
    HPV Vaccine Future
    Article