Skip to content

Silly Sunday Sex Surveys

August 7th, 2005

Dr Petra

Sunday mornings are for waking late, enjoying a leisurely breakfast in bed, reading the papers, and cuddling up to your partner.

Or in our house, getting up very late, going up the local caff for a fried breakfast, and throwing a strop over the ridiculous sex surveys reported in the papers, and embarrassing your partner.

Not wanting to break with this Sunday tradition today was no exception.

Two stories in particular set me off, and both are a classic example of how newspapers misuse or misunderstand sex surveys for their benefit or to benefit other companies.

The first appeared in The Observer. It outlined how a dating company had ‘discovered’ that people living along the M4 were most likely to be joining an online dating site.

What the ‘study’ really shows is that for this particular company the majority of their membership lies in the South East/West area of the UK. An interesting discussion point for your next shareholders meeting but not exactly a groundbreaking dating phenomenon.

Which is exactly what I told the journalist who interviewed me about this story last week. Only they didn’t quote me on that. Nor did they quote me saying the data could be explained by the dating company advertising to more people in the M4 area; hence the disproportional representation of membership. Or that unless all online dating agencies had noticed the same phenomena it wasn’t really a trend, and really they should check this before going to press. Or that the only reason this company had contacted the paper was to get a plug for their site.

In fact I didn’t get quoted explaining the data at all. But the company got what they wanted. A nice little mention – in fact two nice little mentions. Free press, anyone?

Still seething from that poor reportage and blatant advertising I turned to the News of the World (NOTW) where they were discussing their ‘Great British Sex Survey’. Contrary to all other research evidence, the NOTW online survey showed women were more likely to be unfaithful, try sex with a woman, and have a one-night stand.

To help with the survey an ‘eminent psychologist’ had been roped in to analyse it. Now to my mind ‘analysis’ means something other than just presenting percentages but it seems NOTW weren’t being as picky as me. They also had no problems setting up a sex survey where they ask participants for their names and emails before getting started – something no ethical study would do. I know this because they posted a link to their survey and I dropped in to take a look.

Whilst aspects of the survey were okay, it was overly long, frequently intrusive and judgemental, and often misleading. Questions in the survey ask about ‘full sex’ – a term that could mean many things to many people – hardly a reliable test of sexual behaviour. It did ask about sexuality but then asked questions where one answer to ‘favourite sexual position?’ was ‘man behind’ – which rules out lesbian participants – it also assumes that man is the only gender to go behind – never heard of strap on sex NOTW?

So hardly a Great British sex survey at all. More like a stereotypical snapshot of NOTW readers being led to give answers that might not always suit their opinions.

Interesting that in the world of social or health sex research we’re trying all the while to be ethical, respectful, aware of diversity and confidential. Whilst in the world of the newspaper and PR Company anything goes.

It seems if you give people a sex survey they’ll answer it. But wouldn’t it be nice if that survey was accurate, well designed, appropriately analysed and not just there to make someone some money?

Unfortunately it’s attitudes like this that mean I’m still having to make up to my partner for carrying on in the caff. They’ve not said yet, but I think evilly they may make me re-enact some of the findings from the NOTW sex survey to make amends. Either that or pretty soon I’ll be joining those in the M4 corridor looking for love.

Comments are closed.