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For Americans, variety, safety and perception are key when it comes to sex

Men over 50: Survey says you should take a cue from this lady. (Bob Child/AP)

Americans are an expressive, curious, freedom-loving mishmash of a crowd. And it goes without saying that if variety really is the spice of life, everything we do tends to be just at the brink of overseasoned.

As findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior indicate, we bring our zest for variety into the bedroom -- more than 40 combinations of sexual activity were described at survey respondents' most recent sexual event.

But other than our love of adventure, the survey's main takeaway is that while Americans are getting smarter about safe sex they are still not thinking about protection as much as we should.

Some key findings:

  • The kids are all right. A whopping 79.1 percent of males ages 14 to 17 are using condoms during intercourse; 58.1 percent of females in that age range are doing the same. Data show that youngsters are less obsessed with partnering up than we might think -- and if they are doing the deed, they're being increasingly responsible about it, said Dennis Fortenberry, lead author of the study's section about teen sex. (Here's Campus Overload's take.)
  • Love without the glove. Only one of four acts of vaginal intercourse are condom-protected in the United States. (For singles, it's a bit higher at one in three acts). Men over 50 showed the lowest usage rate. View the survey's graph of condom usage rates.
  • File this one under: Communication is key. Men are more likely to orgasm when sex includes vaginal intercourse, but women are more likely to orgasm when other sexual acts are on the menu. (So, what are we doing? View a graph of our sexual behaviors here.) Interesting, too, is that 85 percent of the men surveyed said their latest sexual partner had an orgasm, while only 64 percent of the women reported having an orgasm in their most recent sexual event.
  • Why do we love sex surveys? Well, we're total voyeurs. "People are often curious about others' sex lives," said Debby Herbenick, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion. "They want to know how often men and women in different age groups have sex, the types of sex they engage in, and whether they are enjoying it or experiencing sexual difficulties." (View The Checkup's blog on the survey here.)

The survey was funded by the manufacturer of Trojan condoms and comes from Indiana University, the same school that published the groundbreaking "Kinsey Reports" on American sexuality more than half a century ago. Irwin Goldstein, editor in chief of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, wrote in this study that in some ways, our attitude as a culture toward sexuality can be paradoxical at best.

"Just like then, these papers contain material that is avant garde and often considered off-limits," Goldstein wrote. "At a time when we can have nudity on HBO but cannot use the names of our genitals on the evening news, there remains a need to continue research on sexual health."

Your Take: Are our cultural norms surrounding sexuality loosening, or do we prefer to keep discussions about sex behind closed doors? What in the survey surprised you? Answer in the comments below or tweet your response using #sexsurvey, and we'll post some responses in this blog.

By Katie Rogers  | October 4, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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Monogamous people don't need condoms. Just sayin'.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 4, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

I hope that sexual norms are loosening in the sense that we are able to better talk and laugh about sex. Besides eating and sleeping it's the most common activity that binds us as human beings. If it's so natural, why have so many hang ups about it?

Posted by: cascience | October 4, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

yellojkt said: "Monogamous people don't need condoms. Just sayin'."

actually monogamous couples that are sero-discordant and sexually active probably do need condoms.

I thought we learned in the 1980s that STDs were transmitted through exposure to viruses and not identities.

Posted by: johnhunsaker4 | October 4, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Lesbians don't need condoms either. Just sayin'.

Posted by: urbanite11 | October 4, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Lesbians do need condoms. Sex toys can spread STD's.

Posted by: rcvinson64 | October 4, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Women really go for my large penis. They orgasm all the time. I have even skewed a few bisexual women toward heterosexuality. Maybe one of you lesbians would like to meet for a cup of coffee.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | October 5, 2010 5:51 AM | Report abuse

The kids are NOT all right. This study (apparently done by an old person, not a teen) focused on good, ole-fashioned intercourse. The "kids" prefer hook-up sex, which is usually one-way oral sex at parties and mom and dad's house when they're at work. It is also referred to as "friends with benefits." The kids do not consider this "sex," (thanks, Bill Clinton) and do not use protection. And guess what? HPV-related cancers of the head, neck, and throat are on the rise.

Apart from the physical ramifications, what are these girls thinking? The boys, I get it.

This study is a bit off the mark, at least where young people are concerned.

Posted by: trace1 | October 5, 2010 6:51 AM | Report abuse

@trace1: Your described version of "hook-up sex" sounds remarkably like sex during the "revolutionary" 60s & 70s, i.e., "Give me a blow-job, light my joint and get back into the kitchen."

There are those of us "old folks" who actually believe in pleasuring our partners -- and most of us CAN remember the sixties.

Posted by: rmlwj1 | October 5, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

What makes you associate lesbians with sex toys? Surely you know that most sex toys are purchased by heterosexual men?

Posted by: urbanite11 | October 5, 2010 9:45 PM | Report abuse

A friendly Monday Public Safety survey describing the sexual activities of Americans as old as 94 and as young as 14 found that, surprise, no one has safer sex than teens.

Posted by: foginprague | October 6, 2010 2:03 AM | Report abuse

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