Asking the Right Questions: Considering Duration vs. Frequency When Measuring Sexual Activity
Karen L. Blair, Ph.D., University of Utah; Caroline F. Pukall, Ph.D., Queen’s University
Background: Research has found that, on average, gay male couples have sex more often than heterosexual couples, who, in turn, have sex more often than lesbians. These findings are sometimes interpreted as evidence of colloquialisms such as ‘lesbian bed death,’ but the majority of research in this area has focused on issues surrounding sexual frequency and exclusivity, rather than on more subjective aspects of a couple’s sexual relationship, such as the amount of time spent on each individual encounter.
Research Questions: The current analysis sought to examine the self-reported duration of sexual activity within mixed-sex and same-sex relationships as an alternate method of examining the “quantity” of sexual activity in committed relationships.
Method: Participants (N = 784) in a larger study on same-sex and mixed-sex couples provided the duration of their last sexual encounter, the average duration of their sexual encounters, as well as their opinions concerning how the amount of time they spend on sex compares to the time others spend on sex.
Results: Sexual orientation emerged as a significant predictor of the duration of sexual activity, with those in same-sex relationships spending nearly twice as much time on an individual sexual encounter as those in mixed-sex relationships. More specifically, lesbian women reported the longest durations of sexual activity, with 24% reporting that their last sexual encounter with their partner lasted at least one hour, compared to 6.6% of heterosexual women reporting the same. The association between sexual orientation and duration of sexual encounters remained significant after controlling for other variables, such as age, and similar results were found when comparing gay men to heterosexual men and trans-spectrum identified individuals to cisgendered individuals.
Conclusions: In general, LGBTQ individuals reported spending significantly more time on individual sexual encounters compared to heterosexual individuals. The results of the study provide important information for interpreting previous research on frequency of sexual activity, indicating that we need to ask about frequency and duration in order to paint a complete picture of a couple’s sexual activity level.
Implications: This study highlights the importance of measuring quantity and quality of sexual encounters through multiple measures, and underscores how a measure of sexual frequency may not provide the best insight into a couple’s sexual experiences.