SEXUALITY

Sex lives of Canadians

JOHN BARBER January 5 1987
SEXUALITY

Sex lives of Canadians

JOHN BARBER January 5 1987

Sex lives of Canadians

SEXUALITY

Author Pierre Berton once defined a Canadian as "somebody who knows how to make love in a canoe.” But according to the findings of the third annual Maclean's/ Decima Poll, only 18 per cent of adult Canadians say that they have had sex in any type of moving vehicle “such as a car, boat, train, plane or bus.” One respondent, a 26-year-old male photographer from Shediac, N.B., answered the question by saying “all of the above.” Although he later requested anonymity, he told Maclean's that he had had intercourse in airplane washrooms, in the back seats of buses and even while driving a car at 100 km/h on the Trans-Canada Highway. His nautical adventures took place in ferryboat washrooms, but he said that he has never attempted anything in a canoe other than paddling. He added: “Actual intercourse is very awkward while driving. But I tell you, it is exciting.”

An analysis of computerized cross-references in this year’s Maclean's/Decima survey pointed to some other fascinating insights about the sex lives of Canadians, including the fact that New Democrats apparently are more likely to prefer sex on Sunday than people who identify with other major political parties, and that members of the United Church of Canada are generally less sexually adventurous than adherents of other churches and faiths. In a more serious vein, the poll indicated that there has been a small but significant decline in Canadians’ sexual activity over the past three years, probably attributable to fear of contracting AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

Respondents to the Maclean's/Decima survey also spoke up strongly in favor of the gentler aspects of sexual activity. The poll asked whether individuals attached more importance to “being treated with love and tenderness or on acts of sexual fulfilment themselves.” That was intended to provide a Canadian perspective on the celebrated question that syndicated columnist Ann Landers put to her female readers two years ago: “Would you be content to be held close and treated tenderly and forget about ‘the act’?” Out of the more than 90,000 women who responded to Landers’s question, almost three-quarters opted for cuddling over “the act.”

The Maclean's/Decima survey revealed an even stronger affirmative response: fully 92 per cent said that intimacy was more important than physical fulfilment. Women led men in expressing that view, but only by a slight margin. Interestingly, the preference for love and tenderness was almost as pronounced among younger Canadians between 18 and 24 as it was among more mature respondents. Indeed, the only significant divergence was expressed by students (only 88 per cent opted for love and tenderness) and among French-Canadians (87 per cent). But some experts said that the question was not tough enough, and that asking people to make a hard choice between the two experiences would have yielded a more provocative response. Said Toronto sex therapist Dr. Frank Sommers: “Very few people are going to opt for intercourse without affection. The more interesting question is, how many — would forgo intercourse in the presence of cuddling?”

Even though the poll appeared to show that Canadians reject sex for its own sake, it uncovered a wide variety of more or less unconventional sex practices.

Most popular was sex outdoors, an experience that one in three people (37 per cent) claimed to have had. One in five (18 per cent) said that they had had sex in a moving vehicle, while almost as many (16 per cent) reported that they had made love to someone “considered a stranger.”

Only 10 per cent of the married Canadians surveyed admitted to adulterous relationships, while another nine per cent of married respondents chose not to answer.

And just five per cent of the respondents said that they had tried “sex with more than one partner at the same time.”

The poll findings appeared to bear out the belief that younger Canadians are more sexually liberated than their forebears. Indeed, the number of younger people who reported engaging in unconventional sex far outnumbered older respondents who said that they had. Among Canadians aged 18 to 24 who were polled, 29 per cent reported having had sex with a stranger, while one in 10 claimed that they had had sex with more than one person at a time. In sharp contrast to that, only four per cent of Canadians aged 65 and over said that they had had sex with strangers, and none reported experiencing sex with multiple partners.

In addition, men proved much more likely than women to admit to—or claim-such experiences. Ten per cent of the males surveyed said that they had had four or more sex partners in the past year, while only two per cent of the women polled made that claim. On the question of sex with strangers, the tally was equally lopsided: 26 per cent of men versus 6.7 per cent of women. Moreover, men were twice as likely as women to describe themselves as “very sexually active.” Part of the discrepancy can probably be explained by sex traits that, for better or worse, are characteristic of Canadian society. According to Toronto-based radio and television sex counsellor Susan Johanson, “Many women would never admit to having had sex with a stranger, while the men would all say that they just knocked her right off her pins.”

Canadians’ favorite day of the week for sex:

Number of sexual partners in the last year:

Self-assessments of level of sexual activity:

For the third consecutive year, The Maclean’s/ Decima Poll indicated a small but significant decline in the levels of reported sexual activity among Canadians. This year, 69 per cent of the respondents described themselves as either “very” or “somewhat” sexually active, compared with 73 per cent who were in those groups in 1985. Conversely, one-quarter of the respondents said that they were sexually inactive or not very active, compared with about one in five in 1984. The trend appeared to support last year’s poll finding which indicated that fear of AIDS was dampening some Canadians’ sex lives.

As well, experts in the field of human sexuality have begun to report that for various reasons loss of sexual desire is an increasingly frequent complaint among patients. But follow-up interviews with survey respondents, including those who opted for love and tenderness, indicated that sexual desire remains an important part of their lives. Carol Forget, a 22-year-old federal civil servant in Moncton, N.B., told Maclean’s that “sometimes it is fun to get away from love and tenderness and just have an outrageous evening of sex.” Added Forget: “You’ve got to have fun with sex. It can’t be all mushy.”

The latest poll also produced a number of tantalizing facts, or claims, about Canadians’ sexual habits. For the third time, Newfoundlanders led other Canadians in reported sexual activity, with more than one in three describing themselves as very active sexually, compared to 21.4 per cent of Prince Edward Islanders.

The poll also indicated that Canadians are surprisingly consistent about the days on which they choose to indulge in sex. Among those who did express a preference, almost nine out of 10 named either Friday, Saturday or Sunday as their favorite day. When respondents were asked about sex in moving vehicles, most of those who claimed to have had the experience told Maclean’s in follow-up interviews that they were aboard trains at the time. One of them, a 63-year-old retired postal clerk from Northern Ontario, described the experience enthusiastically: “You are rolling toward each other. Then all of a sudden, you can be flung against the wall and you wonder whether you will be flung out the window.” For his part, Martin Robertson of Toronto thought so highly of the experience that he suggested “someone could make a living promoting trains for couples. It might even bail out Via Rail.”

JOHN BARBER