Thursday, August 12, 2010
What's the magic number?
How many lovers in a lifetime is too many?
Susan Daly finds that today's world is not as sexually liberated as we think it is.
Monday August 09 2010
If you thought the dreadful Sex and the City 2 had hammered the final nail into that particular coffin, think again. For Christina Saunders, the SATC-inspired empowerment has only just begun now that she has reached her target of sleeping with 1,000 men in tribute to man-eating character Samantha Jones. Well, everyone should have a hobby, right?
The problem is that Ms Saunders, from Hertfordshire, England, now worries that future lovers might be put off by her 'reputation'. She said: "Good friends stuck by me but others accused me of being a slut . . . Now all I want to do is settle down. I just hope I haven't put men off."
At the other end of the spectrum last month -- the 'sextrum' if you will -- Girls Aloud singer Kimberley Walsh was reported to have had just two lovers in her life and was proud of it. Now Ms Walsh has hit back at these reports to clarify that she had said she had only ever had two serious relationships.
"I never said anything about how many people I'd slept with! It's a very personal thing," she said.
What are we to take from these tales? That it is possible to have too many lovers?
It is presumed that in modern society sexuality has been liberated from the shackles of marriage or, indeed, that sexual mores have never been slacker.
Certainly the most comprehensive global study of sexual attitudes (in 2006) said Irish people were among the most promiscuous in the world. The average Irish person has -- brace yourself, Bridget -- 11 sexual partners in a lifetime. Eleven. Is that really a high figure? (Notwithstanding that anything under 100 looks practically virginal compared to Ms Saunders's exploits.)
Psychology professor David Buss wrote a book on the history of desire and he says that there is "no reason to think that we do more now than in the past, although we are certainly more frank about it".
Religious and social constraints may well have limited the number of sexual partners the Irish had for most of the 20th Century but, historically, the Celts were pretty free and easy with monogamy.
Under Brehon Law, Celtic women had the power to move on to another lover once they walked out of their marriages on February 1. This is an interesting contrast to today's society in which Christina Saunders felt herself judged a "slut", while swordsman Warren Beatty is viewed with a certain awe.
By the 1500s, sex was an important part of Irish festive occasions and wakes often descended into group orgies as a sort of resurrection motif.
There are no shortage of sexually voracious female characters in Irish historical annals and literature.
Pirate queen Grace O'Malley seized castles for her property portfolio and the lords who lived in them for her bedchamber; 18th-Century Irish poem The Midnight Court describes how a middle-aged bachelor is punished by a fairy queen for failing to bring fulfilment to young Irish women; Molly Bloom's romps through James Joyce's Ulysses are deemed to promote "a great deal of unmitigated filth and obscenity".
By these standards, modern lovers are merely getting to first base. What's more, the fact that we talk more about about who is doing what and how often they are doing it, we might be fooled into thinking everyone else but us is at it.
Christina Saunders, for example, was wrongheaded in thinking that sleeping with 1,000 men would emulate her TV heroine Samantha Jones. Across the six seasons of Sex and The City, Jones actually 'only' had sex with 41 men, and one woman.
As for the sex surveys, those cannot be entirely trusted either. Most surveys in the US, the UK and abroad have found that men report two to four times as many sexual partners as women do.
Statisicians -- and anyone with a grasp of simple maths -- say that can't be true. Presuming the men aren't counting incidents of self-love, both genders must average out at the same number of lovers.
Psychologists at the University of Michigan think that the discrepancy is a result of the very different methods men and women use to make estimates. Women are more likely to rely on enumeration. "This is a strategy that typically leads to underestimation," says psychologist Norman R Brown.
"Men are twice as likely to use rough approximation to answer and that typically leads to over-estimation."
It may be that celebrity womanisers like Warren Beatty or Mickey Rourke are neither lovers nor liars after all. They are just bad at counting on their fingers.
Does the 'lover number' matter? What the experts think...
Lisa O'Hara, relationship counsellor with Marriage and Relationship Counselling Services (www.mrcs.ie):
"What I find is that it is a partner's relationship history, rather than their sexual one, that bothers people. It is how their history of relationship dynamics repeats that can be damaging.
"My own thought is: don't talk about how many sexual partners you have had. You put ghosts in the bedroom of your current relationship, and if you are a person who has had many partners it can be misinterpreted. It can be just down to the age you are.
"Saying that, if you have a person who had loads of casual sexual flings, I wonder if when they were in a relationship, would they crave the variety they once had?"
Dr Derek Freedman, specialist in sexually transmitted diseases:
"I think to try and quantify what is 'normal' in something as biologically dynamic as sexual activity is difficult. The point is that people go through different stages in life.
"One thing I find striking is that those people coming in to me who have had a higher number of lovers -- and I've seen people who have had 250/300 partners -- I am more likely to find that they are clear. It is often the person who gets drunk once and sleeps with someone, unprotected, who is infected.
"The bottom line is that it isn't the number that matters -- if you are irresponsible sexually even just once, there is always a risk, and one should be tested for peace of mind."
DNA screening has showed that 8pc of the Central Asian population is directly descended from 13th-century warlord Khan. He took many wives while conquering lands from China to India to North Africa to Eastern Europe.
CATHERINE THE GREAT:
Horsepower aside, the Empress Catherine was a prodigious lover. She handpicked the most handsome men in the Russian empire and then gifted them some land as a farewell when she tired of them.
"Cultivating whatever gave pleasure to my senses was always the chief business of my life," wrote mathematician and lawyer Casanova. How true -- history does not record his arithmetic skills.
LA Lakers basketball player Chamberlain bested Warren Beatty's 12,775 lovers by claiming he slept with 20,000 women. Well, probably not 'slept'. He can't have had much time for shuteye.
Again proving that being active in the bedroom doesn't preclude getting a good day's work in, it is said that Castro had sex twice a day for 40 years -- and never with the same woman.
...AND THE PURE
Yes, the 'Virgin Queen' moniker is highly disputed as we now know she had several 'close friendships'. But any union when you are Queen of England is loaded with power issues so while Elizabeth had her cake and ate it, she was careful to brush the crumbs from the table.
Being a virgin doesn't mean you can't relate to the full spectrum of human passions and fears. Virginal Dickinson left behind over 1,000 poems after dying a virtual recluse.
The creator of Peter Pan remained a virgin all of his 77 years. He was said to have an overbearing mother.
He spent a lifetime theorising about human psychosexual behaviour but only experienced the sexual act upon his marriage at the age of 30.
Again, no longer a virgin, but the singer was a role model to the teen abstinence movement, 'saving' herself for marriage to Nick Lachey at 22.