Copulatory frequencies

There is a popular misconception that human beings are in some way exceptional, as regards frequencies of sexual intercourse; after all, our species is sexually active all year round and throughout the menstrual cycle. Many other mammals, by contrast, are seasonal breeders and mating is largely confined to the peri-ovulatory phase of the oestrus cycle. The next chapter will examine the concept of 'loss of oestrus' during human evolution. Here, we are concerned primarily with frequencies of copulation in Homo sapiens, as compared to the non-human primates, and whether sexual selection might have played a role in the evolution of copulatory frequency.

Studies conducted in the USA, UK, and in China provide useful information about frequencies of intercourse, based upon large samples of subjects. In China, Liu et al. (1997) recorded that the average frequency of intercourse for 7,602 married men was 4.8 times per month. There was considerable individual variability, however, and rates were slightly higher in village dwellers (5.43 times per month), as compared to married couples living in the city (4.66 times per month). As expected, age was important, so that the highest copulatory frequencies occurred in men who were less than 25 years old. Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin's (1948) studies in North America are more informative in this respect and frequencies of intercourse were higher than those recorded in China. Thus, married North Americans in the age band from 16-20 years had intercourse 3.75 times per week, on average, but this declined progressively, to an average frequency of 0.83 per week in men aged 56-60 years (Figure 5.11). For each age group, individual variations in frequencies of sexual activity were marked. The maximum weekly frequency of intercourse reported was twenty-nine times (for a man in the 21-25 year age group), declining to fourteen times (41-50 years), and five times per week for one man in the 61-65 year age group.

A survey conducted in the UK by Wellings and her colleagues (1994) also showed that frequencies of intercourse declined with age, from a median value of twice each week (in men aged 16-24 years) to 0.75 times per week in middle age (45-49 years). Although the majority of sexual activity took place between married partners, and those in long-term relationships, Wellings et al. also found that 'among single people, more than a quarter of men (28.1 per cent) and close to one-fifth of women (17.5 per cent) reported two or more partners in the last year while 13.1 per cent of men and 6.1 per cent of women reported more than two partners, a pattern that contrasts markedly with that of married individuals.' The tendency for males to have a larger number of partners over time is interesting and probably does reflect a biological predisposition for males to be more sexually active. As an aside, I mention here a most interesting hypothesis advanced by Symons (1979) regarding high frequencies of sexual activity with multiple partners among some male homosexuals. Symons suggests that this behaviour may reflect the masculine predisposition for high levels of sexual outlet, freed from the feminine constraints which regulate copulatory frequency within heterosexual relationships.

Although it is difficult to compare the results of large-scale surveys conducted in China, North

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