The dog’s bollocks, Gerry Ryan, and quality versus quantity in sex

Apologies for the silence, which was in part due to a glorious whirlwind of a visit to Dublin, where I spent a while with Ireland’s answer to Oprah, Gerry Ryan. I’ve always been a bit of a fan of Gerry’s morning show on RTE2 so I know that pretty much anything goes. And I was encouraged that lying in the studio was a print-out of the story Lee Rudolph was talking about in a comment on an earlier post — “Europeans get drunk “to have sex”” (more below).

But still, I thought I had better be on best behaviour on a national breakfast show. Then, as I was just about to go into the studio, I heard Gerry winding up a call with a listener along these lines: “Sure it licks other dogs’ arses. It licks it’s own bollocks. And then you let it lick your face…”. Best behaviour? The dog’s bollocks to that.
You can hear the whole show here (choose May 9, 2008).

Now, back to that sex story. The Beeb was reporting on a study by Mark Bellis and colleagues published in the (wonderful, open access) BMC Public Health. The BBC story said this: “A third of 16 to 35-year-old men and 23% of women questioned said they drank to increase their chances of sex”. Then, a few paragraphs later, it said “this study showed many young people were “strategically” binge drinking or abusing drugs to improve their sex lives.” Having more sex and having better sex seem to me to be two rather different goals. But maybe more sex, any sex, does improve your sex life if you’re a 16 year-old. I’ve just now got down to reading the full study, to sort out the confusion.

Broadly, respondents in nine European cities said they get drunk to increase their pulling power, but they got high to make sex more fun. But when you actually look at the relationship between drug taking and getting laid, you find that it’s the regular users of coke and ecstasy that are having the most sex partners. Forty percent of people who use Charlie or E at least once a month had sex with more than five people in the last year, compared with just 19 percent of regular drinkers (and 20 percent of people who say they’ve been drunk in the last month). On the other hand, regular ecstasy and coke users were the most likely to say they later regretted some of the sex they’ve had while under the influence (28% and 22% had “oh-shit-did-I-really-do-that?” moments, compared with just 12% for regular drinkers).

So: you have more sex with drugs than drink, but you have less bad sex with drink than drugs. It seems to me the “strategic” decisions young people think they’re making — drink to get laid, take drugs to have fun — aren’t that strategic after all.

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This post was published on 11/05/08 in Good sex and bad, Pisani's picks.

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  1. Comment by Richard Marcus, 11/05/08, 11:33:

    You’re kidding right – that’s got to be the scariest thing I’ve ever heard. I mean how repressed are people now a days that so many of them feel they have to get loaded to enjoy sex, or even worse that they don’t care whether they enjoy it or not – just want to have it? That’s just totaly fucked up.

    Of course no one bothered to ask any of these same people how many of them practiced safe sex did they? I don’t care if it’s hetro sex or not but when you start talking multiple partners you start talking about increasing the chances of somebody in the chain being infected. There are always people who swing both ways and since we’re talking about people who are drug users the chances of there being one or two among them being IV users aren’t too bad either.

  2. Comment by Robert Duquette, 11/05/08, 05:54:

    Now is the strategy to have sex with as many people as possible, or to have as many sexual experiences as possible?

    If the latter, why aren’t more young people considering marriage?

  3. Comment by Lee Rudolph, 11/05/08, 08:08:

    “If the latter, why aren’t more young people considering marriage?”

    The phrase “sexual experience” is not transparently unequivocal. On many of the possible understandings of it (such as the one under which it is strictly analogous to a “gustatory experience”), it is clearly impossible (in a sufficiently complex social setting; obviously, all bets are off on a desert island) to have “as many sexual experiences” within a (monogamous, closed and faithful) “marriage” as outside one. On at least one other possible understanding of it (orgasm count), one might ask “why aren’t more young people considering masturbation?”, and in fact, I gather that many do.

  4. Comment by Robert Duquette, 11/05/08, 08:26:

    You may be right Lee, but that begs the followup question as to what kind of experiences most people are desiring. Are they truly desiring the widest possible variety of experiences, or are they desiring the most frequent satisfaction of a core set of experiences as possible? And if given the choice between getting regular intercourse, say 3-4 times a week on average, or the chance to experience the “round the world” tour of the sexual landscape once or twice in their life, would that matter to them?

    Also I’m not sure that marriage places any constraint on what varieties of experience are available, unless you’re including group sex and homosexual experiences, but even there married people are not strangers to outside diversions.

    Before embarking on any strategy, you have to decide on your goals.

  5. Comment by Dag Brück, 11/05/08, 10:03:

    I haven’t read the study, but I’m concerned that anyone groups people from age 16 to age 35. I would think that a 16-year old is very different from a 35-year old in terms of hormones, emotions, experience and goals in life.

    If the study cannot detect significant differences in this span, that is also reason to question its validity.

    Elizabeth replies: There’s limited analysis by age group (unconventionally 16-20/ 21-25/ 26-35). But they used respondent driven sampling (a form of glorified snowball sampling) among people who hung out in bars and clubs. So it’s not really attempting to be wildly representative of any wider population. For my part, I’m just impressed that people are still regularly hanging out in clubs at 36…

  6. Comment by Lee Rudolph, 11/05/08, 10:42:

    (1) “Are they [most people] truly desiring the widest possible variety of experiences, or are they desiring the most frequent satisfaction of a core set of experiences as possible?”

    Assuming for the sake of argument that those alternatives mark the end of a unidimensional scale, and that all (or nearly all) persons can, at any given time, be placed somewhere on that scale, then (once we agree on a protocol to measure that placement, and a standard by which to judge our confidence in our measurements) this is an empirical question, and any attempt to answer it without actually getting one’s hands dirty doing field research (while wearing latex gloves, of course) seems pointless to me. My bias is to assume that, as with so many behaviors, there are both huge inter-individual differences and huge intra-individual differences (diachronically); but that’s just my biased assumption.

    (2) “Also I’m not sure that marriage places any constraint on what varieties of experience are available.”

    Well, Wm. James’s book on “varieties of experience” was dedicated to religious, not sexual, experience; but if he’d written the latter, my guess is that he’d share your uncertainty. When I said that it was “clearly impossible” to have as wide a variety of sexual experience within a faithful, closed, monogamous marriage as outside one, I was relying on my previous parenthetical remark, about “gustatory experience”, to justify the word “clearly”. Let me draw that analogy (which, remember, I was only bringing to bear to explicate *one possible* meaning of “sexual experience”) out a bit further. … No, dammit, it’s suppertime and I have to take a tart out of the oven and check the state of the chicken. If you like, develop my argument for me, starting with the alternatives of eating at the same (wonderful) Italian restaurant every night, and eating at various different (wonderful) restaurants at different times.

    (3) “Before embarking on any strategy, you have to decide on your goals.”

    Here’s a good example of the problems caused by equivocal terms. As I understand it, a lot of technical writing (for instance, the stuff that Buss writes about the evolutionary psychology of human sexuality) uses the word “strategy” very game-theoretically, and often (in contexts like these) with the “players” of the “game” being *not* persons but genes (or genomes, or what have you). “Decision” doesn’t enter into it, and the genes’ only “goal” is to perpetuate themselves (but the “goal” is only visible post facto).

    Elisabeth put “strategic” in quotes, but I don’t know whether that means she’s quoting the word from the article, or using scare quotes (to distance herself from the word), or both.

    …I’d make this more coherent but I really *do* have a hot tart to deal with. (Blood orange and rhubarb with a peach-jam glaze.)

  7. Comment by elizabeth, 11/05/08, 11:45:

    “Before embarking on any research, you have to decide on your questions”

    Lee poses a question in terms of restaurants. But my question is: with a blood orange and rhubarb tart with a peach-jam glaze coming out of the oven, why go to a restaurant? The next question, of course, must be: are the chicken and the tart metaphors for marriage? Because if so, they are poorly chosen in both Indonesian (ayam — slang for sex worker) and British (tart – ditto).

  8. Comment by Robert Duquette, 13/05/08, 01:52:

    All this sex talk is making me hungry.

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