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Buy our sex products! Oops, sorry, I mean check out our international sex survey

June 28th, 2007

Dr Petra

Durex have launched their ‘international’ sex survey, with predictable media coverage and headlines like

France flops in the love league – Telegraph
French reputation wilts but British get more satisfaction – Times

This will no doubt delight the company as it’s lots of free publicity for them – and that is really what this ‘survey’ is all about.

Sadly the media haven’t been too discerning here, just giving lots of plugs to the company and the survey, and promoting the survey as some international sex competition where there are winners and losers.

Last year I blogged about the planned 2007 Durex global survey and some of the worrying issues it raised about the quality of the survey and the impact that would have on our understanding of sex. I reported on conversations I’d had with Durex’s PR for the sex survey and how they’d admitted the survey wasn’t of high quality, but they ran it as the media liked it and it was a vehicle to promote their products.

The problem with the Durex survey is that many journalists believe it is the ‘best’ sex survey of its kind (and sometimes the only sex survey they rely upon when writing features). That means that unreliable sex information is consistently being given to the public.

More worrying for me is the way in which Durex consistently interprets and reports their data. A reputable sex survey tends to look at sexual behaviour and discuss similarities and differences, but not in some kind of sexual league table. Ethical research doesn’t set people or countries against each other. But Durex’s survey has looked at people’s self reports for how often they have sex and interpreted frequency of sexual behaviour to indicate good sex. Sexual frequency is also taken to mean sexual intercourse – ignoring all those other wonderful experiences people are having. Countries where people stated they had more sex were seen as ‘better lovers’ than those who did not. Although they included whether people were satisfied or not, they seemed to take a self report of ‘satisfaction’ as not being truly satisfied – perhaps only seeing those as ‘very satisfied’ as enjoying sex.

We do rely on satisfaction scores to interpret sex surveys, but usually you compare your data statistically to show any links between the amount people have sex and how much they enjoy it. All Durex have done is presented a list of percentages (as usual) with no apparent assessment of any relationship between them.

This gives the public the incorrect idea that satisfaction and sexual frequency are linked, whereas reputable and more robust sex surveys as well as qualitative sex research indicates that frequency and satisfaction are not always linked, nor is sexual intercourse and satisfaction necessarily paired.

Unfortunately this 2007 survey will, no doubt, remain a staple part of journalism – particularly in glossy magazine sex coverage. It will continue to encourage journalists to describe sex competatively when writing about other sex surveys, and will also give the public misleading tips on sex. But it will promote commercial products, so job done for Durex.

So here’s a quick test. If you want to truly see whether Durex’s sex survey measures up in the international league table of sex research try putting ‘sex survey’ into Google. You’ll find Durex comes up top. But if you put ‘sex survey’ into Google Scholar (which lists genuine research) you’ll find it doesn’t feature. Just remember that before you worry that you aren’t measuring up because their survey data told you so.

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