The insatiable north: we have more sex and more adventurous sex, but fewer teen pregnancies and STDs

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If anyone knows how we behave behind closed doors, it’s Sue Johanson. The Canadian sex educator has been on the air since 1984, and over the years she’s heard it all–questions ranging from “How do I have an orgasm?” to “My girlfriend is pregnant. If I have more sex with her, will the baby look like me?” But of all the questions she’s asked, “How do I spice things up in the bedroom?” is the most common. “I’ll say, ‘Have you ever gotten dressed up as a prostitute?'” says Johanson, who’s hosted sex-advice shows on both sides of the border. “Americans don’t like the idea of dressing up. But Canadians just think that’s wonderful.” After more than 20 years of tailing about sex, Johanson knows that the stereotype of the Canadian as frigid northerner–who prefers ice hockey to other, more steamy pursuits–is far from true. The numbers agree: compared to our American cousins, Canadians have more sex, with more partners, in more creative ways. But the numbers also tell us that we have fewer teen pregnancies and we’re less likely to get sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In short, we have it made.

The 2007/2008 global Durex survey makes it clear that we’re having more sex. It found that 59 per cent of Canadians do it at least once a week, compared to 53 per cent of Americans. We spend an average of 37 minutes on each session, it found, two minutes longer than couples in the States. (And we out-sex them 100 sessions to 85 each year.) Canadian men claim an average of 23 sex partners in a lifetime, almost double the number claimed by U.S. males, and Canadian women claim 10 partners, compared to nine for Americans (so okay, the men might be exaggerating a bit).

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Not only do we have more sex, but we’re more adventurous in the bedroom. We perform an average of 5.1 activities–from role-playing to wearing sexy underwear–while for Americans, it’s 4.2. We’re also more likely to frequent a sex shop, while Americans prefer to quietly buy online. (There is one activity, though, that’s far more popular south of the border: having sex in the bathroom. A 2005 survey showed 70 per cent of Americans have done so, more than double the number of Canadians.) Oh, and we’re more generous lovers, too. In the U.S., “reaching orgasm is the No. 1 concern,” Johanson says. For Canadians, it’s “how to be innovative.” And we’re never really, well, satisfied, that we’re doing enough. A full 40 per cent of Canadians desire even more romance in their lives(compared to just 35 per cent of Americans), while 38 per cent want more time with their lovers (30 per cent of Americans do).

Yet, strangely, even though we have more sex, it’s Americans who suffer more of the unpleasant consequences. In 2006, chlamydia rates among teenage American girls were more than double those in Canada. And roughly one-third of girls in the U.S. get pregnant before age 20. In fact, the teen pregnancy rate there is “the highest among Western developed nations,” says David Landry, senior research associate for the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, which studies sex worldwide.

More sex, less disease and fewer teen pregnancies. How do Canadians do it? Johanson says it’s because of the clearest difference between Canada and the U.S.: our approach to birth control. “Our females are much more assertive about condoms,” she says. The studies agree: Canadian teenagers are more likely to use condoms than their U.S. counterparts (see “Canadians have more sex” on page 60). We’re also more likely to believe that choosing contraception is a shared responsibility, according to a 200l Guttmacher Institute report on Canada. Many say our teens are better protected because they’re better informed. “They would never talk about anal sex or masturbation in a school in the States,” Johanson says. “Whereas I can in a school in Toronto.”

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The U.S., on the other hand, remains “a highly conflicted society,” says Alex McKay, research coordinator for the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada. Just think of poor Miley Cyrus. The 15-year-old Disney star, who’s professed she wants to “stay pure” before marriage, was roundly condemned in the U.S. after posing semi-nude in the pages of Vanity Fair. Then there was that incident back in 2004, when Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” sent some people into hysterics. In Canada, such indiscretions barely raise an eyebrow. We also have few celebrities who decide to take a public chastity vow. While we’ re exposed to most of the same media influences here, messages that describe teen sex as “aberrant, unhealthy and socially unacceptable, or that discourage contraceptive use” are less common in Canada than in the U.S., says the Guttmacher Institute’s Canada report.

All in all, it seems we have more sex with fewer negative consequences because we’re less afraid of it. According to McKay,” “countries with more liberal attitudes to sex tend to have lower teen pregnancy and STD rates.” When young people grow up with a better awareness of sexuality, he explains, “it actually leads them to be more cautious, because they’re armed to make better decisions.” Adds Johanson, “Canadians have the language to talk about sex. They may be a little embarrassed, but they don’t feel cheap or sleazy doing it.”

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Landry, for one, thinks the U.S. is the last place Canada should look for advice on how to handle sex. If we’re looking for a role model, he says we’d do well to look to western Europe, which is even more liberal. Not a bad idea. After all, according to the Durex survey, the French are having 20 per cent more sex than even we are.

CANADIANS HAVE MORE SEX,
BUT FEWER TEEN PREGNANCIES

Canadians have more sex than Americans, but
we're less likely to have teen pregnancies or
sexually transmitted diseases. Why? Because
we're more likely to use condoms.

Per cent who have sex at least
once a week

Canada              U.S.
59                  53

Minutes spent having sex per session

Canada              U.S.
37                  35

Sex sessions per year

Canada              U.S.
100                 85

Lifetime number of sex partners
reported by men

Canada              U.S.
23                  13

Lifetime number of sex partners
reported by women

Canada              U.S.
10                  9

Average number of sexual activities
engaged in (role play, bondage, etc.)

Canada              U.S.
5.1                 4.2

Per cent of teens who say they used
a condom the last time they had sex

Canada              U.S.
76                  62

Number of teen pregnancies per
100,000 teen females

Canada              U.S.
3,050               7,200

Number of teen girls with chlamydia
per 100,000 population

Canada              U.S.
1,367               2,863

Sources

Sex weekly, minutes, sex partners, sex sessions and sexual
activities are all from the 2007/08 Durex Sexual Wellbeing
Global Survey (conducted by Harris Interactive); condom
use: Canadian Association for Adolescent Health (2006,
ages 14-17), U.S. Centers for Disease Control (2007,
Grades 9-12); pregnancy (2004, ages 15-19): Statistics
Canada and the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics;
chlamydia (2006, ages 15-19): Public Health Agency of
Canada, U.S. Centers for Disease Control