03 July 2000 Society Sexuality

Geography Of Sex

And now an atlas that maps sexual preferences, lifestyles and values of societies, cultures and countries the world over

It had to come, a world atlas that maps life in and around the bed or wherever else sex takes men and women. Not the most reliable of atlases, perhaps, but one that might provoke some thought if not provide enough information, particularly in countries such as India. Indians engage in sex; they don't study it. But as liberalisation comes now to Indian beds here's an atlas that maps sexual ways around the world. About time to see what the rest of the world is up to.

The most controversial part of the atlas is a map that puts clocks on countries to show who does it for how long. The map of India is sadly blank; data was not available, the author tells us. This world cup goes to the Brazilians who are said to average 30 minutes every time. Surprisingly, English men don't seem to be as bad as everyone thought. They start early, find many partners and just do it longer. Intercourse lasts 28 minutes for Americans, 23 minutes for the Canadians and Australians, 21 minutes for the British, 17 minutes for Germans, 14 minutes for Italians, 12 minutes for Russians and 10 minutes for Thais.

It's all beginning earlier than ever before, except surprisingly in the US. Women have intercourse earliest in some African countries. The average age for losing virginity is 15 in Mali, Niger and Guinea, and 16 in Nigeria, Zambia and Tanzania. It's also 16 in the US. There, about half of all high school students are sexually active, but the average age for teenage sex there rose by 11 per cent during the nineties, contrary to the global trend. In Britain, only 1 per cent of girls had sex before age 16 in 1957. In 1997 it was 25 per cent. One in 100 girls aged 13 to 15 becomes pregnant in Britain. This unique sexual cartography reveals that women in Kazakhstan, Egypt, some countries of Europe (unexpectedly Italy) lose their virginity, on an average, in their 20s. Again, data from India was not available.

Early sex, it seems, is the result of early maturity. The average British woman reached puberty at 19 in 1500, at 15 in 1890 and at age 13 in 1998. New reports suggest that girls as young as eight are reaching puberty. The average bra size in Britain rose from 36B in 1997 to 36C in 1999. In Asia it went from 34A in the eighties to 34C in the nineties.

And there is more to British promiscuity. The survey shows that during their lifetime the average person in Britain will have sex 2,580 times with five different people.

But it's not just Britain. Of a group of 34,500 Internet users surveyed, a third had slept with more than 10 partners and 4 per cent had slept with more than 100. Only 13 per cent had just one partner. Adultery is universal but little data is available for most countries. So far as can be known, the US, Britain and Russia top the charts, with more than 40 per cent of 16 to 45-year-olds admitting to adulterous affairs. Canada, France, Italy, South Africa and Australia record 30 to 39 per cent. In Britain 33 per cent commit adultery with a colleague, 15 per cent with a friend and 12 per cent with the partner's friend. Of these 60 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women discover their partner is having an affair.

Thai men are the most unfaithful in the world, at more than 50 per cent. Americans come in at 43 per cent followed by Greeks and Czechs at 43 per cent and the British at 42 per cent. Researchers in the US have discovered a gene that may affect the extent to which people seek out different partners.

For women it's the shoulders which invite straying more than anything else. In Britain 22 per cent of women consider shoulder blades the most attractive part of the male physique. And 32 per cent of men (some might say only 32 per cent) prefer women with large breasts. Worldwide most people seem agreed on a 70 per cent waist-hip ratio. In the US good-looking people earn 12 per cent more than others.

Within sex, traditional patterns remainÑ89 per cent of women want submissive roles and 71 per cent of men want dominant roles. In the US, 75 per cent of men and 29 per cent women say they always have orgasm; 20 per cent of men and 42 per cent of women say they usually have orgasm. The atlas offers some indicative information here over the map of India; that 76 per cent of newly-weds in Calcutta do not have sex on their wedding night.

The atlas shows a lower incidence of sex in parts of Asia after age 40. In India, the survey says, many abstain around age 50 "or when a woman has a married daughter or becomes a grandmother". Indian grandmothers are clearly expected to play grandmothers, not have sex even though the survey says that "sex tends to keep people healthy".

The survey, however, doesn't merely serve to reinforce the sexually conservative Indian stereotype. It finds much in the Indian subcontinent to support trans-gender issues. The survey draws on both Hinduism and Islam for the legitimacy of trans-gender urges. "One of the major teachings of Hinduism is that every man and woman contains within him or herself both male and female principles." And in Islam, the survey says: "Al-Bukhari, the famous ninth century commentator on the Quran, devoted an entire section to Ômen who wish to resemble women, and women who wish to resemble men'." The survey finds that "cross-dressing is also common in Hindu mythology".

India is obviously less a dating society than the US. But the atlas points to a survey that suggests that in India 79 per cent of male students surveyed supported pre-marital sex for men but only 58 per cent supported it for women. At the same time 60 per cent of female students did not think they had to marry before having sex. In the US girls begin to date at an average age of 12 or 13, and boys at 13 or 14 years. Only 47 per cent of women surveyed in 21 countries would choose their current husband or boyfriend as their perfect date. But dating, if the survey is to be believed, is not all about sexual liberation. It has its flip side: one in five women in the US become victims of date rape. In Britain and Germany more than 70 per cent of women under 20 have sex outside marriage; more than half of all married men under 20 have sex outside marriage.

In India, in eight cities surveyed, only half of 22 to 50-year-olds had met their partners privately before marriage and only 20 per cent had "embraced" before marriage. India is also one of the few places where polyandry (women marrying more than one man) is practised; the report mentions the Nairs of Kerala, the Nyinbas in Ladakh and the Mosuos in the northeast.

But sex is not merely pleasure, tradition and norms, it's also worth billions of dollars, creates millions of jobs and also has its seamier side. In Thailand, prostitution generates an annual income of $25 billion. Of that about $300 million is sent by working women to their homes in their villages. In the US, rape is the costliest crime. The annual victim costs total $127 billion.

Pornographic sites on the Internet generate an income of $51 million annually. The US is inevitably the world's leading producer and consumer of pornography. Prostitution has grown as a huge international business.

ONE of the big centres is San Francisco, where the average age for women going into prostitution is 13. In the US 1.5 per cent of all women have been paid for sex. In Italy 20 per cent of all men visit a prostitute every week. Of the sex acts most commonly purchased, 84 per cent are vaginal intercourse, 78 per cent fellatio and 80 per cent masturbation. Up to 14 per cent of the gdp in Asian countries is generated by prostitution. And if one thought that the darker side of this age-old human impulse was a rarity, one needs to take a look at this survey. Sexual harassment is reported worldwide. In Mexico 95 per cent of women said in a survey that they had been sexually harassed. In the US 30 per cent of women college students said they had been sexually harassed. In the US and Canada one in 20 women will be stalked during her lifetime. In Japan two out of every three women government workers said they had faced unwanted physical contact. Of the women 17 per cent had faced demands for sex from senior colleagues. The highest number of rapes have been reported in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia and Sweden, at more than 4 per 10,000 women. The reported number for India is less than one per 10,000 women.

The survey is sadly silent on India in most matters of sexual lifestyle and values. But that doesn't really matter. As the rest of the world counts its entries and orgasms, we have always had the last word from Khushwant Singh on the subject: Indian men have more sex on their minds than in their groins. Only a few lucky women might disagree. What that means is not a matter that can be mapped.

Next Story : A Masque In Civil Robes
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