7 Things Science Taught Us About Sex In 2022
December 29, 2022 by Olivia Adams
2022 has been memorable for a lot of reasons—including what science taught us about sex. So here’s a quick recap of some of the many interesting things we learned about sex this year, as well as some of 2022’s top sexuality headlines in the news.
1.) Most romantic relationships develop between friends, not strangers.
Relationship research has historically focused quite heavily on relationships that form between strangers, but what about the friend-to-lovers pathway? A study published this year tackled this question by examining data from 7 different relationship studies featuring 1,900 adults from North America. For heterosexual people, dating someone you were friends with first was common, with 68% having experienced this. However, among gay and queer participants, the rate was much higher at 85%. Do folks set out to find relationships through friends first, or does it happen naturally? While this study did not ask that particular question, it did address whether participants thought of the friend-to-lover pipeline as desirable, and nearly half did. Additional research is needed in this area, but this preliminary work certainly raises interesting questions regarding whether friends-first relationships are stronger than other types of relationships, as well as how online dating apps might adapt in the future in light of these findings.
2.) LGBTQ+ Identification in the U.S. has doubled since 2012, and LGBTQ+ marriage rates have been stable since 2015.
Over the last decade, the LGBTQ+ community has grown. For example, according to annual Gallup polls on sexual identification, the percentage of Americans identifying as LGBTQ+ has increased from 3.5% in 2012 to 7.1% in 2022, with the largest percentage of folks within this group (4%) identifying as bisexual. It’s likely that these changes stem, in part, from more accepting attitudes toward and visibility of gender and sexual diversity. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gen Z and Millennials report the highest LGBTQ+ identification rates at 20.8% and 10.5%, respectively. But when it comes to marriage rates among LGBTQ+ folks, a different story emerges. Immediately following Obergefell vs. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage, marriage rates jumped from 8% to 10%. Since then, those rates have remained stable at around 10% even as LGBTQ+ identification continues to increase. It’ll be interesting to see how those rates change in the coming years, especially since the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, which provides additional protection for same-sex and interracial marriage.
3.) Americans’ attitudes towards sex are the most liberal on record.
Media surrounding the 2022 U.S. midterm elections focused heavily on the impact that new Gen Z voters made on the results given their increasingly progressive political views. However, on questions relating to sex, it looks like Americans overall are becoming more liberal in their attitudes, especially when it comes to beliefs surrounding the LGBTQ+ community. Gallup’s 2022 Moral Issues Survey shows that approval of gay and lesbian relationships jumped from 40% in the early 2000s to 71% in 2022. The survey recorded significant leaps in other areas of sexual morality attitudes as well, including increased acceptability of divorce (59% to 81%), having a baby outside of marriage (45% to 70%), and polygamy (7% to 23%). Also, in light of this year’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which previously guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion, we’ve seen that the moral acceptability of abortion has increased ten percentage points over the last 20 years and now has majority support. You can learn more about this survey here.
4.) There are 7 major relationship “dealbreakers.”
While honesty, intelligence, and a sense of humor consistently rise to the top in psychology research focused on what people want out of a relationship, research published this year illuminates the traits that might not get you a second date. Among 2,400 heterosexual European adults, seven “deadly sins” of a potential partner emerged for both men and women, including ambitiousness, arrogance, and physical unattractiveness. However, some variation in the ranking of these traits emerged when considering short-term vs. long-term relationship contexts. The study focused on self-report in a hypothetical dating context, so future research on whether people actually stick to these dealbreakers could provide more insight into how personality traits affect dating success in both the short and long term. To see the full list and learn more about this study, check out this article.
5.) On average, people report having 3-4 orgasms per week.
How many orgasms do you have in a given week? In a study on orgasm frequency published this year, researchers found that, on average, people report having between three and four of them (or about one every other day). However, the average for men was closer to four, while the average for women was closer to three. Roughly half of those orgasms were estimated to occur during masturbation, while the other half were reported to occur during partnered activity. However, some people are orgasming quite a bit more. In fact, about one in four men and one in ten women report having 7 or more orgasms per week (or at least one per day on average). Why is this important to know? Some people have argued that orgasm frequency may be an objective measure of hypersexuality, or having a sex drive that is “too high,” and they have specifically proposed that 7 or more orgasms per week is the cutoff. However, using this cutoff arbitrarily categories a huge number of people as having a problem when, in fact, no such problem may exist. For this reason, looking at orgasm frequency as a proxy for hypersexuality is problematic. Learn more about the debate surrounding hypersexuality and how it is defined here.
6.) Another viral outbreak renewed debates regarding sexual risk and public health.
Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, another outbreak dominated the news: mpox, formerly known as monkeypox. Unlike COVID-19, mpox is not a novel virus, but rather an existing one that had a resurgence in the spring of 2022 with a peak in late summer. Characterized by a painful rash accompanied by flu-like symptoms, mpox is certainly alarming, but thankfully much less dangerous than its viral cousin smallpox. Additionally, due to mpox’s global circulation over the past several decades, a vaccination was already developed and deployed within the U.S. soon after the outbreak began. But another story with mpox has to do with a number of myths about the virus that in some ways reflect earlier public health debates surrounding HIV and AIDS. For example, because early reporting from the CDC and other health organizations identified the virus’ spread within LGBTQ+ communities, some outlets began describing mpox as a “gay disease” and as an STI, both of which are untrue. Check out this article to learn more about mpox, challenges to the myths surrounding it, and what to do to keep yourself safe.
7.) Sex education in 2022: we’re moving backwards.
In January 2022, updated statistics regarding sex education in the U.S. highlighted the nation’s lack of investment in this area, with 21 states lacking any legislation requiring any form of sex education at all, as well as a lackluster degree of implementation for effective comprehensive sex education across the nation. That’s bad news, especially in a year when access to reproductive health services were seriously curtailed, given that one of the most effective strategies for reducing unintended pregnancies and abortions is comprehensive sex education and access to no-cost contraceptives. Teachers and educators also encountered new restrictions on what they can and can’t discuss with students in the classroom with at least 20 states introducing “Don’t Say Gay” bills this year. At a time when we need comprehensive sex ed more than ever, it’s (sadly) becoming increasingly difficult to come by.
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Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & Owner of Sex and Psychology
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.Read full bio >