COVER

PRIVATE PLEASURES

Newfoundland retains its bragging rights in the sex stakes

BRIAN BERGMAN December 29 1997
COVER

PRIVATE PLEASURES

Newfoundland retains its bragging rights in the sex stakes

BRIAN BERGMAN December 29 1997

PRIVATE PLEASURES

Newfoundland retains its bragging rights in the sex stakes

The big issues—the environment, the GST, free trade—have come and gone in Canadians’ minds, but one thing has remained constant in the 14 years of Maclean’s year-end polling: Newfoundlanders’ championship in the nation’s bedrooms. This year, fully 77 per cent of the island’s respondents describe themselves as sexually active, a statistically insignificant notch down from last year’s 78 per cent, and still well above the national average of 64 per cent. Compared to the sexual slackers in British Columbia—whose 56 per cent was the lowest level of libidinous activity—there would appear to be a whole lot of lovin’ going on in Canada’s youngest province. Prodded for an explanation, Rick Mercer, the sharp-tongued co-star of CBC TV’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes, is uncharacteristically at a loss for words. “Fog and fish make us friendly,” offers the St. John’s native gamely. “Fog and fish make us

horny. Fog and fish make us want to____” But could it be, as some have suggested, that there is simply little else to do on the Rock? Mainlander claptrap, responds Mercer. “They’re just jealous.” Beyond Newfoundlanders’ perennial prowess, this year’s poll reveals some intriguing sexual trends. Throughout the ’90s, the poll has registered a waning in Canadians’ sex drive, raising speculation that a “new celibacy” was taking hold, particularly among young people. But last year, with sexual activity recovering six points to 65 per cent of respondents, it looked like sex was making a comeback (although the number remained well below the high of 75 per cent in Maclean’s first year-end survey in 1984). This year’s figure, however, flat-lines at 64 per cent—suggesting that any speculation of a sexual renaissance may have been premature.

At the same time, the latest polling reinforces earlier findings on several fronts. It reaffirms that people who report the most active sex lives tend to have a lot of other things going for them—better

levels of education, higher incomes and a more optimistic outlook on life. “It seems to say that the happier you are about life generally, the more positive you are about your sex life,” says pollster Allan Gregg. Monogamy, too, appears to be something of a sex aid— Canadians who are in fixed relationships continue to report higher levels of sexual activity than those without partners. One final twist is the inverse relationship between sex and other forms of social intercourse. The more often people go to bars, attend concerts or eat out in restaurants, the less likely they are to engage in sex. Observes Gregg: “It’s not the ones who are out and about who are boffing like mad; it’s the people who are staying home.” (As if to confirm the thesis, fully a quarter of Newfoundlanders claim not to have gone out for any leisure activities in the past month.) This year’s Maclean’s/CBC News poll includ-

The rise and fall of camal capers

ed several questions intended to gauge to what degree Canadians are practising safe sex. The results reveal some striking generational differences. The so-called baby busters—aged 18 to 29—are at least twice as likely to wear condoms as any other age group. But they are also twice as likely to believe their chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease have increased in the last two years. Jean Hughes, an associate professor with the school of nursing at Dalhousie University, says the findings reflect the era when the baby busters came of age. “The AIDS scare came along at the time when the oldest among those people were teenagers,” she notes. “They have heard an awful lot about it and become very concerned.”

While 35 per cent of baby busters say they always wear condoms during sex—2V2 to four times the rate of baby boomers—it is sobering to note that 29 per cent say they never do. And according to Hughes, who counsels teenage mothers in the Halifax area, attitudes towards sex and its potential consequences are even laxer among those under the age of 18. “Young people treat sex very casually,” says Hughes.

While more work is obviously needed in the area of promoting safe sex, the polling also shows that half the population—the men—might want to reflect on the veracity of their responses. Men consistently report a more active sex life than women—this year, by a margin of 74 per cent to 57 per cent. The conventional wisdom is that men exaggerate their bedroom performance. Which raises an obvious question about those randy Newfoundlanders: are they perhaps guilty of some embellishment? “They are not lying,” asserts Mercer, rising to the challenge. “Newfoundlanders are, by and large, a humble lot. If anything, we’re probably understating the facts.”

BRIAN BERGMAN in Halifax