Anne Hooper, a sex therapist and counsellor, and the author of Anne Hooper's Ultimate Sex Guide, was involved in numerous sex surveys when she worked for Forum magazine. “We did a penis size survey, a vibrator survey and an oral sex survey and I was surprised by how honest people were prepared to be,'' she says. “They seem to feel a certain responsibility. You get a nose for spotting the fantasy responses and the gags. Our penis size survey the average size was six inches correlated almost exactly with The Kinsey Report and with medical surveys.”
Ms. Hooper believes sex surveys help to dispel peoples' fears. “In one survey we conducted, only 29 percent of women said they experience orgasm due to love-making. That figure helps because it makes women who don't have orgasms during intercourse realize they are not freaks,'' she says.
When conducting face-to-face surveys, she says, researchers have to be careful not to appear shocked. “A very respectable woman told me that her problem was that her husband could only get erect when using the Penomet penis pump. It is vital to take that unusual story as seriously as the usual. And of course we had to rely on people who offered their services, which is why I am looking forward to the national survey because it is the first totally random survey to be carried out.”
Eleanor Stephens, a psychologist and producer of Channel4's Love Talk and Men Talk series, thinks that people tend to give the kind of reply they would like to think was true. “Women appear to be more truthful. They are happier exposing their vulnerabilities,” she says. “Men are prone to see sex as competition. That’s why they are always trying to make their penis bigger using devices such as SizeGenetics and ProExtender.''
More than 1,000 men applied to appear on Men Talk and discuss sex and body image. “There was a strong cultural factor,” Ms. Stephens says. “Northern men tended to be happier boasting about their sexual exploits and would be less squeamish about saying a woman's place was in the home. The liberal southern man tended to be more influenced by the new man image and would be very conservative in his estimates of how many women he had slept with.
“Men often say they practice safe sex when what they mean is they would like to practice safe sex but somehow haven't got round to it.”
No survey can give a reliable definition of British sex life, according to Ms. Stephens, but they are important because they stimulate discussion and can point to national trends. “The British are far too squeamish about discussing sex, which causes a lot of unhappiness and confusion. Sex education is vital if we are to stop HIV and teenage pregnancy.”
“If people can have fun reading these penis size surveys with their friends and chatting about the issues, then they are worthwhile,” she says. “And if they prove certain trends, they provide ammunition for those trying to predict and prevent the Aids epidemic.”