Lemon & herb or peri peri? How spicy are South Africans in the sack

The results of the 2019 Sunday Times Lifestyle Sex Survey are in. Here are some of the fascinating things we learnt about the people of Mzansi's sheet-shaking antics

08 December 2019 - 00:00 By Yolisa mkele
South Africans seem to be having a good time between the sheets: on average our 4,118 respondents rated their sex lives at 7 out of 10.
South Africans seem to be having a good time between the sheets: on average our 4,118 respondents rated their sex lives at 7 out of 10.
Image: 123RF/Fabio Formaggio

In the words of acclaimed urban philosophers Salt-N-Pepa, "let's talk about sex, baby" - it's our conversational guilty pleasure. We love watching TV shows about it, consuming untold amounts of data to stream them, and we love to gossip about who in the office is doing it. It never gets tired. So to contribute to your local water-cooler conversations, we decided, once again, to poll South Africans in our annual Sex Survey with Ratepop to find out all about their bedroom shenanigans. 

Given the fascination we have with how others do the nasty, you'd think that, as a nation, we'd be a bunch of deviants. As it turns out, we're milder than potato salad with no spice. This is how we like to do it:

1. WE'RE ALL PRETTY CHUFFED WITH OUR SEX LIVES

Despite jokes and naughty chats to the contrary, we seem to like the sex we're getting. On average our 4,118 respondents rated their sex lives at 7 out of 10. That's a pretty solid rating considering that most of us would smack our lips at the idea of a glass of wine with that score.

Millennials (22-37) are more chuffed with their visits to sexy town than members of Generation X (40-54). They reported a satisfaction rating of 7.10 as opposed to 6.9 from the slightly older folk. Singles are the least excited about their lovemaking, scoring their sheet-shaking antics 6, while married couples and those in relationships came in at a 7 and 7.6 respectively.

The 2019 Sunday Times Lifestyle Sex Survey shows that the majority of South Africans achieve orgasm during sex.
The 2019 Sunday Times Lifestyle Sex Survey shows that the majority of South Africans achieve orgasm during sex.
Image: Supplied

We're also very concerned with making sure our partner has a good time, with only 9% of respondents saying they don't care whether or not their partner reaches climax.

Whether that concern translates into eyes rolling into the back of heads is an entirely different matter, but 7 out of 10 of us seem pretty happy — so something must be going well.

WE NEED TO GET BETTER AT GIVING OURSELVES PERMISSION

For various cultural and religious reasons, South Africans are pretty sexually conservative. We're no Uganda, but it isn't difficult to raise eyebrows. According to clinical sexologist and psychotherapist Dr Catriona Boffard, one of the consequences of this is that we often don't give ourselves permission to explore and better understand our sexual worlds.

"South Africans are generally very shy and conservative when it comes to exploring sex and sexuality ... and I think a lot of that is an inter-generational thing, especially when it comes to women. Grandmothers were taught to see sex and sexual pleasure in a certain light and passed that to their daughters, who passed it to theirs," she said.

Boffard explained that one of the lingering effects is that we often don't give ourselves permission to investigate our likes and dislikes or even to experience sexual pleasure without feeling like a deviant. It's perhaps this withholding of permission that explains why men initiate sex more often than women.

The idea that men want sex more than women is a myth. Men and women want sex equally, women just tend to want different types of sex
Dr Catriona Boffard, clinical sexologist and psychotherapist 

Of the women who answered, 40% said that they seldom initiate sex, 47% said they often initiate sex and just 9% said that they are always the one to get things started. In comparison, just 8% of men said they seldom initiate, while 90% of them said they either often or always kick things off.

"The idea that men want sex more than women is a myth. Men and women want sex equally, women just tend to want different types of sex," said Boffard.

Also, according to Boffard, there is another reason men tend to be initiators and that has to do with the different types of sexual desire. Sexual desire comes in two flavours, spontaneous and responsive. Given that they generally have more testosterone coursing through their veins, men tend to be more prone to random bursts of arousal. That's why your teenage son spends so much time carrying his school bag in front of his crotch and why his dad often stays seated long after the meeting has ended.

Responsive sexual desire is when you feel that tingling in your loins in response to some kind of stimulus. It could be a movie or your partner giving you the come hither look. Either way, that seems to be the type of desire women are more prone to.

These, of course, are generalisations and there are many women who turn on like a haunted sprinkler system and there are a bunch of guys who only get in the mood after a nice glass of merlot and a few pages of Mills & Boon. For Boffard, what's perhaps more important is that for a lot of women, permission is once again the guiding light.

"A lot of the female clients I see really struggle with the idea of giving themselves permission to feel sexual pleasure. Take masturbation as an example. It's almost normal among men that they will and do masturbate, but I see so many women who grapple with the idea and feel a sense of shame about it."

WE DON'T SHARE WELL

Chances are that if you end up at a party where someone breaks out a fish bowl and starts collecting keys, most of you will politely decline and hightail it out of there. According to the numbers, even if our partner is OK with it, 55% of us are averse to the idea of swinging.

Men are more comfortable with the idea, with 41% of them having already tried it or being open to the idea, but less than 20% of women share the same sentiments. Interestingly, 49% of homosexual respondents are open to the idea, which is significantly higher than the 30% of heterosexuals and 37% of bisexuals.

"From an evolutionary standpoint we're not supposed to be monogamous but due to factors like culture, religion and society, monogamy has come to be highly valued. So it's not surprising that most people are uncomfortable with the idea of swinging," said Boffard.

What is perhaps more surprising is that, among same-sex couples, it seems to not be as highly prized. This is not to say that non-heteronormative couples are promiscuous but rather that they view monogamy differently.

"Straight couples tend to gravitate towards monogamy because it's safe and we know what's expected of us. In a lot of same-sex relationships there is a different relationship to monogamy," she said. Essentially, same-sex couples tend to be more open about how they communicate and express their love, thus decoupling the concepts of sex and love. Again, these are generalisations.

IT'S OK TO BE VANILLA

Perhaps the most important thing this latest sex survey teaches us is that, though we may not be super adventurous, there is nothing wrong with that. Sure, it would've been great to find out that the majority of South Africans are into autoerotic asphyxiation and gerbils but those things take a lot of prep work and most people have better things to do with their day. Say what you want about it, but there's a reason so many walls are painted beige. Your friends may think it's a boring colour but it does the job pretty well, just like missionary.

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