Australians have more varied sex lives than a decade ago

10 November 2014

We're having less sex but we've embraced a wider repertoire of sexual behaviours, according to a new national report revealing how our sexual habits and preferences have altered in the past ten years.

Conducted between 2012 and 2013, the Second Australian Study of Health and Relationships

(ASHR2) has two aims, says the University of Sydney's Professor Chris Rissel, a co-author of the report:

"First, to provide accurate population data about current aspects of sexual health and second, to allow analysis of change and stability in beliefs, attitudes and behaviours in the 11 years since the first Australian Study of Health and Relationships (ASHR1) was done."

The latest results reveal small but significant declines in the average weekly frequency of sex among people in heterosexual regular relationships from 1.9 to 1.5 times per week among men and from 1.8 to 1.5 times per week among women.

The new report also suggests a crumbling of old standards.

Men traditionally report a greater number of sexual partners, and a greater range of sexual behaviours, than women.

For example, the latest data reveal that 14.7 per cent of men and 8.6 per cent of women said they'd had two or more sexual partners in the last year - although these respondents included few married men or women.

Further, men said they'd had 17.5 sexual partners in their lifetime, while women reported 8.9 sexual partners in their lifetime.

However, the latest data reveal that women reported a greater increase in the number of lifetime partners in the past decade compared to men.

Relative to 2001-02, there were significant increases in the proportion of respondents who had masturbated in the past year - from 65 per cent to 77 per cent among men, and from 35 per cent to 45 per cent among women.

Also, the proportions of men and women who reported experience of oral or anal sex has increased significantly - from 79 per cent to 88 per cent among men and from 67 per cent to 86 per cent among women.

"This is consistent with increases in the lifetime experience of oral and anal sex in other countries," says Professor Rissel.

"The reasons for these increases are unclear, but they may be due to increased experimenting associated with liberal societies and the 'sexualisation' of the popular media and advertising."

"The increased availability of pornography via the Internet, which frequently depicts oral and anal sex, may also have contributed to increased experimentation."


• Australians appear to have more permissive attitudes towards homosexuality - only 15% of respondents believed that sex between two adult women was always wrong and only 20% believed that sex between two adult men was always wrong.

• There were significant reductions in the proportions of people who believed that homosexual activity among adult men was always wrong (from 37% to 25% among men and from 27% to 13% among women), or that homosexual activity among adult women was wrong (from 21% to 16% among men and from 25% to 12% among women).

• Australians also appear to have more permissive attitudes towards premarital sex, but have even stronger expectations of sexual exclusivity in relationships.

• There was general agreement that premarital sex was acceptable (87%), that it is important for wellbeing (83%) and that sex outside a committed relationship is unacceptable (83%) - with men significantly more likely to express this attitude.

• Two-thirds (68%) of respondents agreed that oral sex constituted having sex, with similar proportions of men and women agreeing with this statement.

• Only 17% of respondents agreed that abortion was always wrong, with women significantly less likely to agree.

• People are having sex in ways that may provide better protection against STIs and unintended pregnancy.

• Condoms were used in about 23% of respondents' most recent sexual encounters. However, most of these sexual encounters involved a regular sexual partner and most also involved the use of some form of contraception. Therefore, these encounters may not have represented a situation of high risk of an STI.

About the study:

The findings of the Second Australian Study of Health and Relationships (ASHR2) are based on interviews with 20,094 men and women aged 16-69 between October 2012 and November 2013 using random digit dialling of landline and mobile phones. ASHR2 was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

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Media contact: Dan Gaffney, 048 100 4782,