Britons are having less sex than than they did in 2000, a national survey finds. But then we're doing a wider variety of things under the sheets.

British people have sex fewer than five times a month, a new national survey into the sex life of Britain has revealed, and that is less than we managed a decade ago. The average for Britons questioned between 2010 and 2012 was 4.9 times a month for men and 4.8 for women among 16- to 44-year-olds .

Despite what people might think about the sexualisation of society, that is down on the year 2000, when Britons managed to have sex an average of 6.2 and 6.3 times a month, respectively.

The survey reveals a big change in attitudes among women, who had more sexual partners, both male and female.

The changes are partly down to a lack of opportunity, suggested the researchers behind the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, a once-a-decade snapshot published in the Lancet journal that questioned 15,000 people. Demographic change has meant that fewer people are cohabiting with their partners.

But then it may also be part of a bigger trend - because even among couples who live together "sexual frequency" has declined.

Lack of interest in sex was one of the most commonly reported problems for both men and women, affecting 15 per cent of men, with women twice as likely as men to say this had been an issue in the last year.

The survey's third edition, published today, also reveals a big change in attitudes among women, who had more sexual partners, both male and female.

Sexual partners

British women today have twice as many sexual partners as they did in 1990. Compared with 1990, they are also four times more likely to have had sex with a woman.

In the age group 16-44 years, the average number of partners over a woman's lifetime has more than doubled since the first survey in 1990-91, from an average of 3.7 to 7.7 in the latest survey. The figure for men had also increased - from 8.6 to 11.7 - but by less, suggesting a narrowing of the gender gap.

"The change in women's behaviour across the three surveys has been remarkable," said Professor Kaye Wellings, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, one of the leaders of the study.

The change in women's behaviour across the three surveys has been remarkable. Professor Kaye Wellings

"In some areas of sexual behaviour we have seen a narrowing of the gender gap, but in others we have seen women overtaking men in the diversity of their behaviour."

While the number of men reporting having same-sex partners changed little, from 3.6 per cent in the first study to 4.8 per cent this time around, for women the figure has increased fourfold, from 1.8 per cent to 7.9 per cent.

Professor Wellings said: "These trends need to be seen against the backdrop of the profound changes in the position of women in society, the norms governing their lifestyles, and media representations of female sexuality."

One in five men (20 per cent) now see nothing wrong in "one-night stands", the same proportion as in 1990-91, but the number of women holding this view has increased from 5.4 per cent to 13 per cent over the same period.

Sex before 16

People are starting to have sex younger - and continuing to have it later. Almost a third of Britons - 31 per cent of men and 29 per cent of women - have sex before they are 16.

For the first time, the National Sex Survey interviewed people up to the age of 74 and found that though the frequency of sex reduces with age, people keep having it. 42 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men aged 65-74 years reported having had at least one sexual partner in the previous year.

Most men and women now see nothing wrong in gay relationships, but there is a greater disapproval of extra-marital affairs.

The survey measured attitudes as well as activity, and noticed big changes in two areas in particular. The majority of men and women now see "nothing wrong at all" in gay relationships.

By contrast, there is a greater disapproval of extra-martial affairs among both men, increasing from 45 per cent to 63 per cent, and women, from 53 per cent to 70 per cent.

The amount of people in the survey practising oral sex remained constant between 1990 and 2010-12 at three-quarters of the population, but anal sex was up 12 per cent to 17 per cent for men, and from 11 per cent to 15 per cent for women.

But though sex may be less frequent, the vast majority of Britons were feeling postive or satisfied with the sex they did manage to have - only one in 10 describes themselves as distressed or worried about their sex life.

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