Once on the margins of the scientific community, sex research has been coming into its own over the past few years. While Masters and Johnson had to keep their studies secret as recently as the 1960s, nowadays it’s common to see sex-related research come out of totally mainstream universities. It’s a sign that while we still have a long way to go before sex positivity is the norm, we’re getting there. And if the range of studies in 2017 is any indication, we’re getting there pretty quickly!
This year, we saw studies and surveys about a huge variety of sex-related topics. From the good — like the first MRI study looking at women’s brains during orgasm — to the not so good — like the CDC report that STDs are at an all-time high — we’re learning more and more every year about our bodies, brains, and sexual responses work. It’s a fascinating branch of scientific research and one that I follow closely, both personally and professionally. Because who doesn’t want to know more about how and why we have sex?
If you’re like me and you’re fascinated by this stuff, you’re going to love this roundup of nine things we learned about sexual health in 2017. Enjoy!
1. We Have Different Definitions Of "Sex"
While the heteronormative definition of sex is usually penis-in-vagina sex, a University of Utah study published in the September 2017 issue of the Journal of Sex Research found that queer definitions of "sex" are much more varied.
The study included more than 700 gay, lesbian, and bisexual who were surveyed during two years of Pride parades. It found that while the majority of gay men defined sex as penis-in-anus, lesbians and bisexual had a much more expansive view. For them, "sex" could include anything from toys to oral to manual stimulation.
2. STD Rates Are At An All-Time High
Bad news, folks. According to the CDC's annual Sexually Transmitted Diseases Surveillance Report, which covered 2016 but was released in late 2017, STDs are at an all-time high in the United States. They even went so far as to call it an "STD epidemic." The report found a 4.7 percent increase in chlamydia, an 18.5 percent increase in gonorrhea, and a 17.6 percent increase in early syphilis from the end of 2015 to the end of 2016. It also found that half of all new infections were in young people between the ages of 15 and 24 and that young women were at the highest risk. Yikes!
3. Having Sex Might Help You Live Longer
In case you needed more reasons to have regular sex, a study from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, that was published in the July 2017 issue Psychoneuroendocrinology found that having sex at least once a week was associated with longer telomeres. For those of you who haven't brushed up on DNA science lately, telomeres are the caps on the end of DNA and longer telomeres are associated with slower cellular aging, increased lifespan, and better overall health.
The study looked specifically at women — 129 high and low stress mothers, to be exact. It's a preliminary study (which means more research needs to be done before we say definitively that doing it will make you live longer) but it's a great start!
4. Teens Are Using Contraception
According to the CDC's Sexual Activity and Contraceptive Use Among Teenagers in the United States, 2011–2015 report, which was released in June 2017, 99.4 percent of teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 19 who had ever had sexual intercourse used some form of contraception.
But the types of contraception might surprise you. The most commonly used method was condoms, with 97.4 percent of teenage girls reporting having used condoms. That was followed by withdrawal (59.7 percent) and the Pill (55.5 percent).
5. Millennials Really Like Doing It Doggy Style
SKYN Condoms released their 2017 Millennial Sex Survey in February. The survey included 3,000 sexually active men and women between the ages of 18 and 34 and looked at all aspects of Millennial sex. One notable finding: Millennials' favorite position is doggy style, followed by missionary, with cowgirl coming in third. Nothing too crazy here, folks! Just some good old fashioned doing it from behind.
6. A Lot Of Men Confuse Sexual Interest With Consent
There's been a lot of talk about consent and boundaries this year, but according to one study from University of Binghamton researchers, a lot of guys don't know the difference between sexual interest and consent. For this study, researchers presented sexual scenarios to 145 college men at a university in the southeastern part of the United States. They found that most of the men confused sexual interest with consent, particularly when the woman's response could be seen as more ambiguous.
Now, there are a couple of things to keep in mind with this study: the sample size is low; it focused on college-age men (who are presumably at the beginning of their sexual and romantic lives); and it was geographically-specific. All of those factors mean that it's not really possible to extrapolate this data to all men. But it's a good insight into the need for more education around what consent is — and what it isn't.
7. People Aren't Use Protection During Oral Sex
This one probably won't come as too much of a surprise, but according to a a survey from YouGov that included 2,171 American adults, 39 percent of people "rarely" or "never" used protection during oral sex, while 38 percent "prefer not to say." Considering that only seven percent responded "always," three percent responded "often," and four percent said "sometimes," it's probably safe to assume that a large percentage of those non-responders aren't using condoms or dental dams.
8. Women's Brains Don't Actually "Turn Off" During Orgasm
Have you ever heard that in order to orgasm, you have to "turn off" your brain and let go? Well, according to an MRI study conducted by researchers at Rutgers University and published in the November 2017 issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine, women's brains are actually more active during sex, not less. The researchers discovered this by having 10 women masturbate to orgasm inside an MRI machine and then had their partners stimulate them to orgasm. They found that the subcortical region of the brain (which controls functions like memory, decision-making and emotions) reached peak activity during orgasm. So there you have it — an orgasming mind might actually be an active mind.
9. We're Pretty Kinky
The online sex toy retailer Lovehoney did a survey of 4,500 people that found that kinky sex acts are getting more and more popular. The crowd favorite? Spanking, followed by nipple play and bondage. Get it!
So here we are, wrapping up 2017 with these nine new things in mind. What will we discover about our bodies and sexual responses in 2018? If this list is any indication of where we're headed, I'm excited to find out.