Australian women today are having sex less frequently than they did forty years ago, but enjoying it more, according to the Voice of Australian Women survey. The Australian Women’s Weekly asked more than 5000 women across Australia about their relationships and sex lives and the big takeaway was that we’re no longer having “dutiful” sex. The first Voice of Australian Women survey was commissioned by Ita Buttrose in 1980 and painted a very different picture.
Forty years ago, 57 per cent of couples were having sex at least once a week and 3 per cent were doing it daily. Today, just over a third (36%) of couples are having sex weekly, and only 2 per cent daily. Sex is a rare occurrence for one in five women (21%), up dramatically from 9 per cent in 1980. Experts say society has become far better at talking about sex and intimacy, which has meant many women have been able to enjoy sex lives that are less about obligation, and more geared towards pleasure.
Less is More
Despite this apparent fall in frequency our sense of sexual fulfilment remains high, with seven out of 10 women declaring that they are satisfied with their sex lives. This is around the same as it was in 1980. Younger women reported a higher level of satisfaction with their sex lives than older women. The highest level of dissatisfaction was among women in the 50-64 age bracket.
The CEO of Relationships Australia, Elisabeth Shaw, attributes this to a greater acceptance of the idea that love and affection can take many forms. “I think, in years past, there was a hell of a lot of dutiful sex,” Elisabeth says. “A lot more women were having sex when they didn’t want to, and there’s a little bit more permission, socially, for that not to be the case … I think that women, in my experience, do now feel more entitled to say no because they don’t want to, and that’s as it should be.
“Some people are very satisfied and they’re not having sex at all.”
“I think there’s probably more acceptance that you can have wide ranging variations in relationship behaviour without so much judgment.”
Furthermore, the way that societal attitudes and dialogues around sex and intimacy have evolved significantly over the past four decades, has also allowed many women to explore other pleasure avenues – such as sex toys.
Surprisingly, despite our happy sex lives, the survey found that more of us are faking orgasms (or at least admitting to it). Twenty-seven per cent of women said that they fake orgasm sometimes – up from 17 per cent in 1980. (Though one in five didn’t answer the question back then). Perhaps less surprisingly, the proportion of women who are faking orgasms “quite often” was highest among those with a child under two.
“Certainly I’ve spoken to women who have faked an orgasm so they can end unsatisfactory sex. So there’s an end to all of this,” Elisabeth says. “They may still be having sex and not necessarily getting something out of it. Or getting something different out of it.”
Indeed, about one in 10 women (11%) said orgasms were not very important to them – down from 20 per cent in 1980. Three per cent said they were unimportant. One shift we have seen from the first survey in the ’80s is that women are more aware that their pleasure matters. When asked how important reaching orgasms was, 42% said very important. In 1980 only 27 per cent said it was very important.
Same sex responses
Fifteen per cent of Australian women said they have had a same sex experience. The proportion was highest among young women. One third (33%) of women aged 18-24 said they had had a same sex experience. In addition, 10 per cent of women said their sexual orientation had changed in their lifetime.