Thinking About Sex vs. Actually Doing It

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

People put an awful lot of effort into having sex. Other than hunger, thirst, and seeking shelter, it is perhaps the strongest urge that humans have. It’s no wonder that young men spend time in the gym and buy fancy sports cars; equally, it’s no wonder that young women spend hours in front of the mirror and buy lots of clothing. We have a strong biological impulse to get laid, and these are the most widespread ideas we have to accomplish that.

Setting all those countless hours of grooming and flaunting aside, how much time do we spend thinking about sex? And how does that compare to the time we spend actually having sex?

It is an oft-repeated myth that men think about sex every seven seconds. Two studiesreported in BBC Future came to radically different — and far more realistic — conclusions. The first suggested that college-aged men think about sex 19 times per day, while college-aged women think about it 10 times per day; the second suggested that adults thought about sex merely once per day. The latter study was designed in such a way that the result is almost certainly an underestimate. So, let’s pick 10 times per day as the average.

How long does a sexual thought last? There is almost certainly no (reliable) data on that. We will have to estimate. A sexual thought could be as fleeting as a momentary feeling of lust after seeing an attractive person, or it could be an elaborate mental fantasy. Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that the average thought lasts 10 seconds. On average, then, we spend about 100 seconds per day thinking about sex.

How much time do we spend actually having sex? First, we need to figure out how often we have sex. The numbers, from the Kinsey Institute, vary greatly. In general, the younger and married have more sex than the older and unmarried. Contrary to popular belief, single people aren’t getting much action, while married couples (particularly newlyweds) are knocking boots quite often. Since the statistics vary so much, it is probably easiest to restrict our analysis to college students, who get most of the attention from psychologists, anyway.

Though worried parents lament the college “hook-up” culture, Live Science reports just under 60% of college students have sex at least once per week. That means 40% have sex less often than once per week, and some may not be having sex at all. Again, we will have to estimate. Let’s say that the average college student has sex once every 10 days.

Finally, we need to know how long the average whoopee session lasts. As it turns out, not long. Dr. Harry Fisch says that the average encounter is 7.3 minutes (438 seconds).

Now, we can do the math.

In the span of 10 days, the average college-aged student will think about sex for 1,000 seconds, but will only have sex once. That session, on average, will last 438 seconds. Excluding the countless hours of behaviors (grooming, shopping, etc.) that prepare us for sex — not to mention watching porn, which consumes a considerable portion of the average college-aged male’s time — this back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that young adults spend roughly twice as much time thinking about sex as actually having sex. If those other behaviors were factored in, then the ratio could be as high as 50 or even 100 to 1!

Just imagine if an equivalent effort was put into studying!