America’s favorite sex move is officially romance, according to a study of sexual behaviors published in PLOS One. Researchers found that couples—both men and women!—spurned watching pornographic movies for romantic ones, and preferred kissing during sex and whispering sweet nothings to BDSM and rough sex.
“We imagined that large proportions of Americans have engaged in a range of sexual exploration, and indeed they have,” study coauthor Debby Herbenick of Indiana University told Fatherly. Despite engaging in sexual exploration, however, it seems the vintage moves (and Marvin Gaye songs) never go out of style.
Although Alfred Kinsey first published an investigation into sexual diversity in 1948, sexual behaviors were (and are) taboo, and getting people to fill out surveys about their sexual habits is never easy. The first nationally representative survey of U.S. sexual behavior was conducted by The National Health and Social Life Survey (NHSLS) in 1991, which was a good start but full of limitations. The National Surveys of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), published in 2010, filled some of those gaps. But as whole, the American study of sex remained woefully vanilla compared to international studies, such as the 2014 Australian Survey of Health and Relationships, which dared to ask respondents whether they enjoyed fisting, rimming, and group sex.
But then 50 Shades of Grey happened, and BDSM became the sort of thing you could read about in public without raising too many eyebrows. This made Herbenick and her colleagues wonder if Americans were more sexually adventurous than prior surveys had suggested. So they set out to update the literature.
They administered a cross-sectional, internet-based, nationally-representative survey to 2,021 adults (975 men, 1,046 women) about half of whom were married. Respondents rated more than 50 sexual behaviors as “very appealing”, “somewhat appealing”, “not appealing”, or “not at all appealing”. Then they were asked about their sexual behaviors in the past month, versus their sexual behaviors in their lifetime. Results reveal that 86.4 percent of people (86.0 percent men, 86.8 percent women) found kissing during sex either very or somewhat appealing; 81.9 percent said saying sweet and romantic things during sex was very or somewhat appealing (79.4 percent men, 82.3 percent women); 81.7 percent of respondents (87.8 percent men, 86.5 percent women) enjoyed gentle sex; 87.8 percent (86.2 percent men, 89.2 percent women) want to cuddle more, and 79.3 percent (78.7 percent men, 79.9 percent women) said the same for giving and receiving massages before sex.
Likewise, setting the mood of the bedroom was considered “very or somewhat appealing” by 77.1 percent of people (75 percent men, 80 percent women), and many preferred to ditch the bedroom altogether—79.9 percent (82.9 percent men, 77.2 percent women) said they preferred hotel sex while 77.4 percent (79.7 percent men, 75.4 percent women) said they liked getting it on in other parts of the house. And fun fact, men and women are equally into reading erotic stories—see? 50 Shades is for everyone—at a solid 57 percent for both sexes.
The results may imply that Americans are far less freaky than Herbenick and her team expected. At the same time, however, researchers did note significant variation between recent sexual behaviors and lifetime sexual behaviors. For instance, 45.4 percent of men 42.9 percent of women reported having sex in public at some point in their lives, but only 6 percent of men and 4.7 percent of women said they did so the past year (and fewer than half said they found it “very appealing”). In other words, Americans seem to experiment just as wildly as everyone else in the world—but then land somewhere less XXX and more PG-13.
Of course, the biggest limitation of the survey is that people hate self-reporting their kinky behaviors, even when the survey is anonymous. And although the researchers collected demographic data, they didn’t analyze the sexual behaviors in that context, so it’s hard to identify racial, economic, or marital-status-related trends. “We didn’t examine the behaviors by relationship, marital status, or parent status,” Herbenick says. But she suspects that will be forthcoming. “We have much more data that we look forward to publishing in future papers.”
Until then, both men and women can rest assured that classic moves will usually do the trick. Still, Herbenick maintains that the real secret to finding the right balance between kinky and romantic is better communication with your partner. “Opening up with your partner about what you’re interested in, what turns you on, and what you’d like to try can be challenging at first but often gets easier and more comfortable with practice,” she says.