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Costs of the Sexual Revolution - free book - Rising Price of Love - Ch 1

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Before we can make sense of the rapid reversals taking place in sexual relationships today, we need to look back on the last three hundred years and the three swings of the pendulum from relaxation to restraint and then to relaxation - but now swinging back again.

Then we can look at what is happening right now and make some careful predictions about the future. One thing is certain. There will be no re-run of the Victorian age. While the pendulum is swinging back towards a new moralism, in a new century and a new millennium it will be expressed in a unique way. But we can learn from the past?.

In the eighteenth century provocative displays were tolerated. Sex was on the agenda. marriage in church was common but not universal. Births outside marriage were growing. That is why Lord Hardwicke introduced a marriage Act in 1753 to regularise "common law" marriages, with proper records to sort out problems with inheritance.

Then came a growing unease about the growing costs of sexual freedom as the effects of a massive spiritual awakening took a grip on the nation, starting with Wesley in the mid eighteenth century, crusading on throughout the nineteenth. Great reformers like William Wilberforce abolishing slavery or Lord Shaftesbury abolishing child labour were just part of a massive movement championing change. This affected sexual culture too.

As thousands in every town and city found faith a new moral code swept the country. People did not necessarily keep to it, hence the unpleasant taste of hypocrisy, bigotry and double standards that we still detect today.

Victorians were more restrained

But something did change profoundly. A new emphasis on sexual purity, restraint, virginity and personal duty had an effect which lasted several generations. The same may be about to happen again.

At its extreme a hundred years ago it produced such strict modesty that watching someone swimming was sometimes seen as a perverted act. A society woman had to cover most of her body before slipping into the sea from the front of a bathing machine, a hut on huge wheels pushed into the water.

However Victorians had sex lives too. We have a warped view of them not backed by reality. Michael Mason says in "The Making of Victorian Sexuality" that widespread sexual repression in the Victorian era is a myth, with between a third and a half of women pregnant at marriage , middle class couples kissing and cuddling in public and "unbridled sexual intercourse" in working-class dance halls.

Another study of a Dorset village found eight out of ten births were illegitimate between 1870 and 1890. There is no evidence that this was typical of the whole country but does suggest our view of all Victorians as morally strict is incorrect.

Mason claims the Victorians were fully aware of female sexuality. Dr William Acton's famous quote that most women are "not troubled by sexual feeling of any kind" was written to help young men afraid of impotence. Victorian doctors knew about female orgasm as seen in their writings and teaching.

The extremes of prudery may be a myth, but times were certainly very different then compared to today. Divorce only became legal after the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act and by 1914 there were still only 856 divorces a year. Eighty years later in 1994 the figure was 158,700.


Swing against Victorian values

Just as the Victorians reacted against the previous century's sexual abandon, with a radical sex revolution of their own, almost as soon as the century ended, another reaction and revolution followed, which has continued to swing more or less without interruption towards sexual abandon, until today.

The First World War from 1914-18 helped drive a new sexual culture into the heart of the nation at a time of revolution in Europe. Radical new ideas emerged in the 1920s about relationships, women in the workplace, votes for women, burning bras, new clothes styles, short hair, short skirt, skimpy necklines. The divorce rate shot up as soldiers returned from the war and stabilised at twice the previous level.

In the early 1940s sexual relations were still relatively "prim and proper", despite increasing numbers of war babies. It was "extraordinarily difficult to lose one's virginity". Keith Waterhouse says "girls went in terror of becoming pregnant - as did boys of impregnating them". Condoms were available but not usually carried on a date. "Convention very strongly laid down that respectable girls didn't do it until they were married, or at least properly engaged... and the government had mounted a fearsome campaign against VD that made today's onslaught against AIDS look like a warning against tooth decay."


Another sexual revolution follows war

After the end of the Second World War a floodgate of sexual liberationism was seen in many countries. A recent comprehensive sex survey shows behaviour in Britain began to change dramatically in the mid 1950s, not as is often thought following the advent of the pill which happened a decade later. The pill may have had an accelerating effect.

In 1967 Masters and Johnson influenced a generation with "The Sexual Response" , describing what happens to men and women during sex. More recently they said of the 1960s and 1970s:

"There was a rush to make sex recreational, to make it fun and games, and ignoring the things that make sexual responses occur, things that deepen a relationship, that give it colour and endurance."

In 1969 the Divorce Reform Act was passed and by 1981 one in nine marriages lasted less than six years, compared to one in eighty in 1951.

The 1970s and 1980s were two decades increasingly obsessed with new sexual freedom. It could be said of the early 1990s that never has there been a time when so many have been so publicly preoccupied for so long about their next orgasm, or someone else's.

Try the television: love scenes, chat shows, comedy acts, documentaries, song lyrics, pop videos, and of course the all-pervading adverts....

The New York Times said recently:

"Virtually every magazine on the newsstand, every book in the drugstore, half the stories in the tabloid press, vast quantities of television entertainment and movies galore depict sexual philandering as a common and casual pastime. The result can only be that any monogamous folks wandering this cultural Sodom and Gomorrah feel positively freakish. Yet let some high-profile politician be caught at the deed, or even be accused of it, and public shock suggests that adultery is the most unheard of thing America has ever heard of".


Sex today

One reason for this inconsistency is that the pendulum of private behaviour has not swung quite as far as the media image. People may be having lots of sexual relationships, but usually only one at a time, and far fewer than you may think. This sex revolution has changed us less than some suggest - just as well for the changes that HAVE happened have been enough to wreck a generation.

So much for the last two hundred years, and the revolution in sexual relationships over the last forty years, but what is happening today? Despite the popular image of free love and the desire for a better sex life, forty years after the so-called sex revolution began, most people still want to be faithful. The American National AIDS Behaviour Survey of 11,000 people in 1993 shows that 90% of heterosexuals are monogamous - only 10% have two or more partners in a year.

Half of all British women say a married person having sex with someone else is ALWAYS wrong - it was six out of ten in 1983. For men the 1993 figure is four out of ten. Then we need to add a larger number who say it is usually wrong to have an affair when married. Most people are more restrained today than perhaps we thought.

What revolution are we talking about anyway? White heterosexual western values? Gay values? Ethnic minority values? Values in developing countries which make up most of the world? National surveys tend to collapse distinct groups together into an average. Smaller sex surveys in multi-culture nations like Britain also ignore huge differences between ethnic groups. For example Asian communities have always had a strong ethical code for sex, quite traditional. Afro-caribbean communities are often more tolerant of single parenting.

Countries like India or China have their own sexual history, but something else is happening now in white-dominated heterosexual western culture.


A cry for change

In the mid 1990's there are many signs of change. As history shows us, sexual fashions are part of social change as a whole, interwoven in a dense fabric of cultural influence.

A growing unease about who we are and what we have become is beginning to spill over to new thoughts about sex. In Britain and America heart cries have been expressed after a series of atrocities.

One such shocking event in the UK was the abduction and murder of three year old James Bulger in 1993 by two young boys, who led him crying and bleeding through the streets before killing him. They knocked him unconcious with heavy stones and laid him in the path of an oncoming train. Wht did they do it? Why did no adult do anything to stop them? Something was wrong with our society that could allow such things to happen.

Can we really go on like this? What kind of world are we creating? We are realising that we cannot go on in the same pleasure dominated direction.

My pleasure may be your nightmare. My right to do what I like may be your loss of freedom or life. My search for love with your partner may wreck your chances of love.

This rejection of the "pleasure principle" is changing how we want to bring up children, altering our relationships, lifestyles - and challenging life after sex.


Back to basics?

A new age is now dawning, with a new code for living as radical as anything that has changed us before. In Britain the conservative "Back to Basics" slogan soared into orbit, an event historians would be writing about for a hundred years: a symbol of post-Thatcherism identity crisis and malaise; a post-imperialist, post-unionist, post-individualist, depressed Britain on the eve of a new era, a new revolution in the making.

Many like Lord Rees-Mogg in "The Great Reckoning", have tried to predict global trends for the next century. Sexual change is coming soon.

An indication of new thinking is the way sex education is changing in schools as a result of parent pressure. Parents of teenagers today are a group aged between 35 and 55. Many are reaching the top echelons of influence and power. So what is their opinion about sex?

If we believe those who say the sexual revolution is alive and well, fully on course to go into orbit into the next century, jettisoning prehistoric debris such as the family unit, heterosexual marriage , long term ties and the chain of reproductive processes, we may be in for a big shock.

If we are on course for more of the same, then we would expect these parents to be driving that philosophy forward in the classroom. They were born between 1940 to 1955, teenagers during 1955-75 when dramatic changes in sexual expectations took place. They have first hand experience of the sex revolution. Their reactions today are vitally significant. Forward for more? Wind the clock back? Something new?

It has been said by some of those who lived as young adults in the 1960's era that there was generally more talk than sex - we have yet to experience even a fraction of the original 1960's dream of free love, community living, group parenting or trial marriages.

Dr Masters said looking back in 1994 at the age of 78:

"Sometimes it feels as though nothing has changed. In spite of all the incredible availability of sex-related material I feel we're back where we started".

However we all agree we had a taster. So what is the verdict? What do these parents say now? What do these aging social engineers want for their own children ?


Parents are worried about sex

These parents are worried, they say we have gone too far already and are deeply conservative when it comes to their own families. As part of my AIDS work I have gone into schools, met pupils, talked to teachers, spoken to governors, met hundreds of parents.

My experience and that of others I know suggests there is now a clear consensus among parents: many are anxious that their own children will follow the lifestyle dreams, aspirations and behaviour they had at the same age. They are worried about copycat behaviour and have a recurring nightmare that their own teenage daughters or sons might go further than they did.

These parents are clock-watchers, many wishing they could reverse some time, restoring expectations of long term faithfulness, commitment and waiting as long as you can for the right person to come along. Part of that concern is AIDS.

Since the British AIDS campaigns started in 1987 there has been a big debate about message. What is the most effective way to prevent AIDS? People laughed at pictures of icebergs. However the laughter turned to anger in schools as the message changed to a high profile, safer-sex condom campaign.

The message was generally felt right for an adult national campaign - but for pre-pubertal twelve year old girls?


America embarrassed by condom culture

In America such a condom campaign was far more sensitive - even for adults, and there has been an even stronger reaction in schools. The government only dared launch a national adult campaign promoting condom use in 1994, thirteen years after the first AIDS cases, when over 600,000 were already HIV infected.

However within a week one advert was withdrawn, with questions over the rest. The campaign was a series of television and radio advertisements aimed at eighteen to twenty five year olds. The banned advert was for alternative rock radio stations, and seemed to show Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of Red Hot Chili Peppers taking his clothes off and putting on a condom.

All four major television networks agreed to take the other adverts but were nervous, restricting them to late night slots only. The press gave huge coverage to the views of conservative Congressmen, and to Evangelical and Catholic church officials who said the campaign would backfire by promoting sex.

The point I am making is that older adults both sides of the Atlantic are much more cautious and conservative about sex than you might think. The pendulum never swung as far in the first place as the media hype has suggested. As it begins a swing back, it does so from a place already more restrained than some would like. How far will it take us?


Erotic condoms - but adults still hate them

In Britain a public health condom message was more acceptable - but "experts" said this was not enough. Surveys showed many people hated condoms: they were difficult to put on, slippery, unreliable, leaked, burst, split, fell off, interrupted lovemaking, smelt horrible, producing one implied lack of trust or worries about the past - and when it was all over they were mucky to dispose of. Hardly an erotic turn-on for a night of passion.

So the experts had an idea: sell erotica as part of the "condom experience". Show erotic images at the same time as condoms and everyone will be halfway to orgasm at the very thought of queuing to buy them.

The experts forgot one important thing.

Erotica might possibly sell condoms to adults - but it would never do in the classroom because the teenagers of the sex revolution have grown up, now have teenage children of their own and are wanting to change future sexual history. They are hoping they can alter the way their children will live, away from their own example when they were young and away from condomania.

These parents are hanging onto the pendulum with all the weight they can muster, hoping to drag it back down to a middle position - but once it has gathered momentum, history shows it tends to keep going over to the other extreme.

In many countries parents have an important role in shaping what children are taught about sex in school. In Britain this was formalised by Parliament in the 1980s.


Condom sex flops at the school gate

Rights tend to get exercised. Materials costing millions from the Health Education Authority were blocked at the school gate because parents and governors were sick of experts trying to give their children a one-dimensional message to use condoms, without any references to relationships, commitment and family. They were fed up of the Thought Police.

Many parents were also very concerned about crude, explicit or "lewd" lessons on sex by adults "who should know better". Hence a national outcry in March 1994 after Leeds pupils of ten and eleven had "Mars Bar parties" explained to them in response to a question, (using chocolate bars during oral sex). There were also protests over role play involving "mummy", "daddy" and "mummy's lover". The lesson was by a nurse visiting from the Health Authority.

One mother said: "When I heard about the lesson on affairs I was very upset, but my child was almost too embarrassed to talk to me about the lesson involving Mars bars."

If this revolution was still very much alive, with support of those who grew up in it, would she not welcome a relaxed and uninhibited approach, giving children an education free from sexual repression, fears and guilt, teaching teenagers to have wonderful, creative orgasms?

The mother disagreed: "We are not prudes. My son knows how babies are made, but he does not need to know about perverted sex." Her views were echoed at the time by a great many others.

Two days later, the head teacher of another school apologised after ten and eleven year olds came home from school using graphic terms for sexual intercourse and other acts, following a sex education class taken by an outsider.


Parents against Thought Police

Here is yet another sign that change is coming. Recently I helped conduct a national survey of some of the estimated 60% of British schools that requested a radically different booklet which I originally wrote myself with help from others. This was part of my work in helping develop an independent national AIDS prevention programme for schools.

Who decided what was taught about sex or AIDS, where, how? Teachers were given several boxes to tick: education authority, headteacher, head of year, governors, parents, others.

Out of around 250 schools who replied almost all ticked more than one - but none ticked the education authority. The thought police had lost and parents had won.

The booklet drew on experience of a team of educators visiting schools from the AIDS organisation I started in 1988. They had already seen several thousand pupils face to face. Opinions were gathered from pupils, teachers, governors and parents.

The approach taken was one insisted on by almost all adults concerned. Pupils might have liked explicit erotica - we would never have been allowed that option so did not ask. Adults agreed they wanted clear facts, attractive presentation, lifestyle options including a positive view of postponing sexual activity, long term monogamy, choices, self respect, being able to resist peer pressure.

Who got it right? The official, expert-backed condom approach or one more restrained, mentioning celibacy and monogamy as possibilities to consider?


History speaks for itself

History speaks for itself. An initial hundred thousand colour booklets were launched in the House of Lords in December 1991. Greeted with derision and contempt by some "experts" the booklets became a runaway success with overwhelming demand from teachers. The entire print run disappeared in weeks. A further quarter of a million were hastily reprinted and lasted a year.

Something was happening.

Take up was rapid across government schools, special schools, privately funded schools - mainly for fourteen to sixteen year olds. Over 10,000 teacher packs and 3,500 demonstration videos went out. Almost overnight it became the most widely used literature resource on sex and AIDS in British schools.

The survey showed almost every school found the booklets useful and wanted more. Many using them originally just for a class of thirty now wanted copies for a whole year. Some ordering previously for a year group now wanted enough for the entire school.


Parents confront "Thought Police"

The demand was massive and rapidly growing. Teachers talked to teachers, governors to governors and parents to parents. While some Education Authorities placed bulk orders, one individual in one authority decided the materials were so awful that it wrote to every school and other Education Authorities warning them about the "moralistic" content. Schools continued to order in ever increasing numbers - since when were they going to let Thought Police tell them what to do?

A new booklet was produced in December 1993. Nicer illustrations, larger format, updated expanded text, new cartoons with scenarios showing peer pressure and how to resist it - and the same options of abstention and monogamy listed among others.

A quarter of a million were printed to last a year but went in sixteen weeks. There are only around 600,000 pupils in each school year.

The booklets were also used in prisons, hospitals, clinics, colleges, youth clubs and churches. Some were requested by other nations: Canada, Australia, America, New Zealand, South Africa and many others, translated into Romanian and Czech. Perhaps culture was changing elsewhere too. The vast majority went to British pupils and eight out of ten allowed to keep copies took them home.

And still the demand grew.


Sex "experts" wiped out as "irrelevant"

Face to face educators had also taken classes attended by over 150,000 pupils. Seven out of ten schools polled said they wanted a personal visit from the same organisation, same message.

So what happened?

The world has begun to move on and has left these sex education "experts" behind. Stuck in a mid 1970's psychological rut of promoting the old sex revolution to teenagers, the so-called experts have been wiped out as an irrelevance.

Consumerism is having its day, and consumers who themselves were products of the sexual revolution are now voting overwhelmingly for something new: not for prudery, repression or double standards, but for sexually fulfilled, long term, happy relationships full of pleasure but free from disease and the fear of AIDS. The last thing they want is some trendy youth worker teaching girls how to have orgasm and boys how to roll condoms on bananas.


Politicians follow the crowd

The British government has begun to follow the crowd, with stronger statements about the need for a clear moral framework in sex education - arguing that it had always been a part of policy. Headlines depicted the Education Secretary in a "moral crusade" while the Health Minister stepped in to ban a "Smutty" health guide. It was written in 1994 by Nick Fisher, "agony uncle" of "Just Seventeen", funded by the Health Education Authority to be sold in book shops. All 15,000 copies were pulped, but another publisher soon snapped it up.

Was this to be the end of the Health Education Authority's out of date sex education role, after bitter rows and a ban on further sex education materials pending a review?

The government was plunged into further controversy four weeks later when a junior health minister said condoms could be given to twelve year old girls if it was the only way to protect them from pregnancy, an option many parents found disturbing, especially if contraceptives were being handed out to their daughters without their consent.

Labour opposition speeches also began to change, with Tony Blair and others returning to an emphasis on family.

Parents are not asking for a "moral crusade", just for balanced common sense, effective sex education in the context of relationships and commitment and for protection from government funded "thought police" who seem to think only they know best.

Then came a new video resource for schools called "Make Love Last" produced by Care Trust with a more up-beat message about "waiting for sex" than anything seen before. Launched on 14th February 1994, around 1,500 schools ordered copies in the first four months "to show teenagers that saying no to premature sex is a positive and rewarding choice".

So are we moving from a political to a moral agenda?

Possibly so, but perhaps sex behaviour is neither political nor moral at root, but relational: an act of desire between two people. Therefore the changing pattern of relationships is the one thing most likely to have the greatest effect on the revolution to come.


American "say-no" campaigns grow

Major changes in sexual culture are also taking place in America, indeed the swing back of the pendulum began there. While sexual culture has generally been more relaxed, America has always seemed shockingly traditional to those in Europe when it comes to sex education.

But now there are new parent protest movements which are sweeping across the States with even stronger "Say NO" campaigns which would be rejected outright in Britain as ultra-moralistic, although the Care video is breaking new ground. These new American groups have created sharp controversy in an increasingly polarised society.

In February 1994 there was a big reaction in southern California to a new Christian sex education programme trumpeting abstinence.

The "Sex Respect" campaign visited Acacia Middle school near San Diego. Twelve and thirteen year old pupils were given T-shirts with printed slogans such as "Stop at the Lips", and badges saying "I'm Worth Waiting For".

They were reported as chanting "Be Confident, Be a Virgin", or "Do the Right Thing, Wait for a Ring", or "Don't be a Louse, Wait for a Spouse."

Driven by the same kind of parent pressure as has been seen in Britain (though with a far more explicit moral message), the programme has grown fast, with 1,600 schools taking it up together with schools in twenty four other nations.


Some parents object to encouraging abstinence....

When fashions change, some people always need time to catch up. In Acacia one parent withdrew her child from the school in protest at the new culture promoting abstinence and is planning to take court action if Sex Respect is not dropped from the syllabus.

However, the programme is based on more than fashion. It does seem to be effective. In 1991, researchers at the Psychology Department of Brigham University in Utah looked at three different sex education programmes encouraging abstinence in seven, eight, nine and tenth grade students across three school districts.

The Sex Respect programme produced the highest scores for reported attitude changes - although converting that into proof of behaviour change is more difficult.

Parents in the States are particularly worried for several reasons: firstly they have a far higher teenage pregnancy rate than Britain, and Britain has one of the highest in Europe. While parents argue this is a reason not to encourage yet more teenagers to have sex, many sex education "experts" see these high pregnancy rates as the strongest argument in their favour for explicit sex education promoting condoms.

I remember leading a local youth group in Washington DC in the mid 1970s. Sexual activity between thirteen to sixteen year olds seemed around ten years ahead of what was happening in the UK, confirmed by later surveys. So perhaps it is not surprising that the US has felt the costs earlier and begun to react sooner. They have also been hit far harder by AIDS than any other developed country. America is seeing more people die of AIDS every year than died in the entire ten year Vietnam War.

They are building a post-AIDS world when some countries are still pretending AIDS does not exist.


Many pupils now say "True love waits"

On 29th July 1993 up to half a million signed cards pledging abstinence and monogamy were placed in the ground on Capital Hill by the True Love Waits campaign. Each signed card said: "Believing that "true love waits", I make a commitment to God, myself, my family and those I date, my future mate, and my future children to be sexually pure until the day I enter a covenant marriage relationship".

Marie Claire magazine describes "a new sexual revolution sweeping America.... the biggest shift of social behaviour since the free-love movement of the 1960s." The campaign was started in 1992 by Southern Baptist minister Richard Ross, who has become an instant TV chat show personality. The movement has been powered by the explosive spread of enthusiastic faith in young people.

Those sniffing the pungent aroma of a new moralism may point to alarming or encouraging signs, depending on their vote. There is certainly a new hunger for something to fill what is widely felt to be a moral vacuum - even if people cannot agree on what it should be.

The same vacuum is felt in Britain too, hence the launch of 10,000 "You, Me, Us!" by Citizenship Foundation and the Home Office in Britain in 1994 to try to help young children tell the difference between right and wrong, and a consensus among all the major political parties that young people need to be taught social values for the health of our nation.

So then, we have seen that big culture changes are already beginning with more to come, powered by anxious parents and in America by increasingly influential Christian groups.



I want to return for a moment to sexual behaviour today because there is a lot of confusion and it is affecting how we feel about the future. There is a lot less sex going on than you may have thought. Surveys on sex can be seen almost every week in some magazine or another. After years of raunchy headlines, convincing us the whole world is "doing it" the truth is beginning to dawn. The pollsters have sold us a con.

Popular polls over the phone or up the street are no way to find out about sex. British confidence in opinion polls sank in the wake of an unexpected conservative victory at the 1992 general election. If polls on politics are problematic, then polls on sex are simply perilous.

Many of them are flawed before they start, because they just sample their own readers. How selective can you get? In contrast the surveys used as research evidence in this book are ones properly designed with representative samples of sufficient size.


Many sex polls are useless

The exact wording of a question can also influence the answer: for example masturbation is a guilt-inducing issue for many. So let's phrase the question: "when did you last masturbate?" rather than "have you ever masturbated?" The two questions get very different responses.

How was the survey conducted? Intimate face to face sex interviews of men by women may get different answers than if the interviewers are men - or the other way round. Likewise age, ethnic origin, perceived differences in background between interviewer and interviewee, or other factors can affect results.

Perhaps these are some of the reasons why the most comprehensive sex survey ever conducted in Britain of 19,000 people, published in 1994, drew so many different conclusions to the famous surveys published by Kinsey in America in 1948 and 1953.

We have been told over and over again that Kinsey found at least one in ten of all males were homosexually active. However the UK national survey found only 1.7% of men reported a male sexual relationship in the last five years, ranging from 5% in London to only 1% for the rest of the country.

The result was dismissed by some, but painstaking care was taken in the survey methods and similar studies published almost simultaneously in France, Canada, Norway, Denmark and America found almost exactly the same results - between 1% and 4%.

The American survey was of 3,321 men between twenty and thirty nine, carried out by the Batelle Human Affairs Research Centres

in Seattle, Washington. The aim was to see how many were at risk of HIV. Only 1% of men reported sex only with men over the last ten years. Another recent study in 1994 by the University of Chicago gave slightly higher figures.


Kinsey sampling was poor

The 10% figure from Kinsey in 1948 has had the status of Absolute Truth. However even when you add figures from the new studies of men who have had sex with both men and with women over the previous decade, the figure still only adds up to 2.3%.

Kinsey's sample was flawed since one in four were former or present prisoners, a high proportion of whom were sex offenders, and he recruited many others from his lectures.

To be fair to Kinsey, his claims were often distorted. For example he only claimed 10% of men from sixteen to fifty five were more or less exclusively homosexual in activity for up to three years.

Some gay rights groups feel that in a hostile climate and with insensitive questions the recent surveys are also likely to be misleading. When it comes to finding out about sex, people may not want to tell us and even if they agree to be interviewed they may not give the truth.


Much less sex than men pretend

What about heterosexual relationships? Is that picture of what people get up to today flawed as well? Almost all sex surveys find men report lots more partners than women. So who are all the women? The women deny it's them! Researchers say the difference is explained by male bravado and female bashfulness.

One thing is clear from the biggest and most reliable surveys: there is a lot less going on than you might think. Yet prophecies can be self fulfilling. An example of this is in schools.

Mega-sex myths from previous surveys have put huge pressure on people to follow a crowd today that doesn't exist. For example, survey after survey has been quoted suggesting that half of all British teenagers are sexually active by their sixteenth birthday. Tens of thousands of self-respecting seventeen year olds have felt that in order to be normal they probably need to join in and "do it" as well. A self-fulfilling false prophecy?

These amateurish or wrongly reported sex surveys have also affected debate about how explicit sex education should be and when it should start. If a quarter are sexually active at fourteen, then perhaps explicit sex education is needed at eleven?

Many of these unscientific sex polls have been wrong.

The much larger British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, carried out during 1990 to 1991, found only 18.7% of 16-19 year old women reported first intercourse before their sixteenth birthday and 27.6% of men. A different survey found rates as high as 40% but they only talked to those already having sex so the result was distorted.

All of these recent results are generalisations, hiding for example less than 1% of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian women reporting first sex before 16 years of age. Those with Christian faith were also less likely to be sexually active before the age of 16, with the exception of Roman Catholics who were slightly more likely than the general population to be sexually experienced. This exception might be because some teenagers can react against a strong moral line. The Catholic Church also has a large nominal membership: many people may say they are Catholics in surveys, yet have values and beliefs more typical of those that have no faith.

Three quarters of new students in UK are virgins

Education and background also affect age of first sexual experience. You might think that students are likely to have lots of partners in a liberated age. The opposite is true. Men going on to higher education in Britain are an average of three years behind the sexual experience of their friends at school who leave at sixteen with no qualifications, while the figure for women is two years.

Three out of four students starting college as adults this Autumn have never had sex before - not even once. Even fewer have a regular sexual partner or have had sex with someone in the last year. This is a big shock to students when they start talking to each other.

Before they turn up on the first day, the great majority must be thinking that as virgins they may be in danger of being labelled as part of a prudish minority, while the truth is that they are in the vast majority.

I was talking to a medical student in her third year of training just the other day. She told me:

"We are all very conservative. I was really surprised. Conservative in every way, especially when it comes to relationships. Not what I expected from what you read."

It may not be education or intelligence that discourages early sexual activity. It could be culture: with general background is inherited a whole set of social values and expectations. We can debate the reasons but only a quarter of British A level students are sexually active at eighteen.

The teenage magazine message that "everyone is doing it" is dangerous, life-threatening and emotionally destructive nonsense, because as we will see, early sexual activity harms many teenagers emotionally and damages their health - killing increasing numbers years later.



So then, the great pendulum of sexual culture is swinging slowly towards a new conservatism, as radical a change as any we have seen over the last three hundred years. And it is swinging back from a far less extreme position than we thought judging by recent scientific studies of sexual behaviour, which shows how restrained we all are compared to our image.

If that is the case, where will we land up? Will the swing be slight - or will it take us to a strict puritanism? The answer will be found by looking at six key areas where the sex revolution has let us down: the need to feel loved, the abuse of sexual power, sexual illness, emotional cost of breakup and divorce, damage to children and the huge costs of paying for it all. But first I want to look at the need to be loved and the search for love, made worse rather than eased over the last four decades.

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