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Geography of Sex

A Review of the "The Penguin Atlas of Human Sexual Behavior"

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Published in 2000, the 128 page The Penguin Atlas of Human Sexual Behavior contains a plethora of facts and data about sex and sexuality worldwide. Unfortunately, the data used in the atlas was not often available for each country in the world so the author, Dr. Judith Mackay, was left to map incomplete data which is sometimes from as few as a dozen or so counties. Nonetheless, the book provides a fascinating insight into the cultural geography of sex and reproduction.

Sometimes the data, maps, and graphics seem a bit sketchy. One example of an non-cited graphic is titled "Breasts Are Getting Bigger" and implies that in 1997, the average breast size in the U.K. was 36B but that it grew to 36C in 1999. A longer time period is provided for "Asia" - the graphic shows that in the 1980s average breast size was 34A and the 1990s it was 34C, not quite as dramatic as the U.K.'s single cup size increase in two years.

The data I mention below in this article comes from reputable sources listed in the "references" section of the atlas. On with the facts...

First Encounters

Maps in the atlas provide information about the age of first sexual intercourse worldwide for several dozen countries where data was available.

For women, the countries with the youngest average age of first intercourse are in central Africa and the Czech Republic with an average age of 15. The countries where women's first sexual experience comes at age 20 and older are Egypt, Kazakhstan, Italy, Thailand, Ecuador, and the Philippines. According to the map, the first sexual intercourse comes at 16 in the U.S. and 18 in the U.K.

For men, the earliest average age of first intercourse is 16 in Brazil, Peru, Kenya, Zambia, Iceland, and Portugal but the highest average age is 19 in Italy. A male in the U.K.'s average age of first intercourse is 18. There are far fewer countries with men's data than women's in the atlas (even the U.S. is missing from the map.)

Sexual Intercourse and Contraception

According to the atlas, on any given day, sexual intercourse takes place 120 million times on earth. Thus, with 240 million people having sex daily and a world population of just under 6.1 billion (as of 2000), about 4% of the world's population (1 out of every 25 people) is having or had sex today.

The country boasting the longest amount time during sexual intercourse is Brazil at 30 minutes. The U.S., Canada, and the U.K. follow with 28, 23, and 21 minutes respectively. The quickest sex in the world takes place in Thailand with 10 minutes and Russia at 12 minutes.

Among sexually active 16-45 year olds, the most active countries are Russia, the U.S.A. and France, where people report having sex more than 130 times a year. Sex is least frequent in Hong Kong at under 50 times a year.

Modern contraception is most frequently used in China, Australia, Canada, Brazil, and western Europe but least in central Africa and Afghanistan. Condom use is highest in Thailand with 82% of people claiming to always use a condom.

Marriage

The atlas tells us that 60% of marriages around the world are arranged so there's little choice of partners in most marriages.

The age difference between prospective partners is interesting. Western European, North American, and Australian men usually search for a partner who is less than two years younger while men in Nigeria, Zambia, Colombia, and Iran all prefer women at least four years younger.

China has the world's highest minimum age for men to get married - 22; however, women in China can marry at 20 years of age. It's interesting to note that the minimum age for marriage for both sexes varies throughout the U.S. on a state-by-state basis and ranges from 14 to 21 years.

Divorce rates are highest in Australia and the U.S.A. but are lowest in the Middle East, north Africa, and East Asia.

Sex outside of marriage is most common in women under twenty in Germany and the U.K., where over 70% of young women have sex outside of marriage but in Asia the percentage is less than ten.

The Dark Side

The atlas also covers the negative aspects of sex and sexuality. A map shows that female genital excision is highest in the countries of northeast Africa - Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia.

Rapes per 100,000 women mapped out shows that among others - the U.S., Canada, Australia, southern Africa, Sweden have the world's highest rates of rape (over 4 per 10,000).

A map of the legal status of homosexuality around the world tells us that many countries in northern Africa and the Middle East can punish homosexual sex acts with the death penalty.

We also learn that adultery is punishable by death in Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.

Overall, The Penguin Atlas of Human Sexual Behavior is a very interesting compilation and reference for facts about human sexual behavior and reproduction worldwide and I do recommend it for students of cultural geography or sexology.

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