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We need to talk about sex

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EVAW Coalition, short report, Let's Talk About Sex, YouGov, survey, calling for discussion, attitudes, gatekeeing“This report shows how far we’ve got to go in changing outdated ideas about women as sexual gatekeepers.”

A coalition of UK women’s groups published the results of a YouGov survey and a short report on British adults’ views on sexual practices recently.

The survey revealed widely held views that men need and want sex more than women do, and that women are more likely to refuse sex or to go along with it for their partner’s sake.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) has now called for a big national conversation on what these findings indicate, and for professionals in relevant fields and media makers and influencers to take up the issue with urgency, because of its major implications for equality between men and women more broadly.

The women’s coalition commissioned the YouGov survey – of nearly 4,000 GB adults and three online focus groups with men and women – in order to examine what people believe about gendered differences in heterosexual sex and relationships. It follows some already published public attitudes research on views about rape and consent.

Asked Who needs and wants sex?

A third of people (32 per cent) believed that men need sex more than women, 54 per cent believed men and women need sex about the same amount, and 1 per cent believed women needed sex more;

42 per cent of people believed men want sex more than women do, 45 per cent believed men and women want sex about the same amount and 2 per cent believed women want sex more.

Asked Who initiates, orgasms during and decides when sex is finished between heterosexual couples?

People mostly think (45 per cent) that heterosexual sex is slightly more likely to be initiated by the man closely followed by either partner (42 per cent). Just 3 per cent think it is initiated by the woman;

More than half of people (53 per cent) think that men are more likely to orgasm in sex, compared to around a third (35 per cent) thinking both partners are likely to orgasm; and

A similar proportion think either the man (36 per cent) or both partners (38 per cent) will decide when sex is finished, and 11 per cent think it will be the woman.

Asked Who might refuse sex, or go along with sex ‘to keep their partner happy’ between heterosexual partners?

The majority of people (56 per cent) said that the woman is more likely to refuse sex; 25 per cent believed that both partners are as likely to refuse; while only 1 per cent of people think men are more likely to refuse sex;

The majority of people (57 per cent) said women were more likely to ‘go along with sex to keep their partner happy’; almost a quarter (23 per cent) said that both partners are as likely to do this; and only 2 per cent considered men more likely to do so;

More women (63 per cent) than men (50 per cent) said that women are more likely to go along with sex to keep their partners happy.

Asked Is sex likely to be enjoyable? Are there generational differences?

Almost three quarters (73 per cent) of people believe both partners are as likely to enjoy themselves in heterosexual sex. But this figure reduces amongst 18-24 year olds to 58 per cent.

To see the YouGov results in detail click here; the EVAW Coalition wants people to download and read and share them, and to initiate and join discussions about sexism and sex.

The new short report published at the same time as the survey results ‘Let’s Talk About Sex…’ is also available on the EVAW website.

It summarises the data and focus group discussions and analyses what the findings might mean from a point of view of women’s equality and preventing sexual violence.

And it examines how sexist attitudes to sex are reproduced, the “orgasm gap”, and makes recommendations for accelerating conversations about sexism and sex in order to achieve change.

The report recommends:

urging professionals in relevant fields including criminal justice, health, the media, arts and education to engage with the findings and bring them to colleagues;

calling on media workers and those in the arts to tell more stories and platform those we rarely hear from in conversations about sexual practice;

appealling for new compulsory Relationships and Sex Education to include discussion of sexual pleasure and not just reproduction and menstruation; and

calling for challenge to the porn industry’s particular perpetuation of deeply sexist tropes and routine and harmful deployment of narratives for the male gaze based on women as ‘gatekeepers’.

Dr Fiona Vera Gray, Research Fellow at Durham Law School, expert on sexual harassment and pornography, said: “This report shows how far we’ve got to go in changing outdated ideas about women as sexual gatekeepers.

“The belief that heterosexual sex is something women refuse or go along with rather than initiate, feeds damaging rape myths that hold women responsible for stopping rape, and blame women who show sexual agency.

“The finding that young people seem to hold some of the most regressive attitudes may speak volumes about how government delays to sex education have left a whole generation scrabbling to understand sex through the sexist representations we find in most pornography, where sex is something done to women by and for men.

“We need to get over our squeamishness and start talking about sex as something that is mutual, pleasurable, and fun.”

To read the short report, click here.

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