More than 40% of women and 30% of men regularly have no interest in sex, can't have an orgasm or suffer from some other sexual problem, according to a new analysis of data in a comprehensive U.S. sex survey.
The analysis, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., is based on extensive interviews with 1,749 women and 1,410 men done in 1992.
The researchers, led by sociologist Edward Laumann of the University of Chicago, originally published the raw survey data in a scholarly book in 1994. Since then, they have used more sophisticated statistical tools to clarify the prevalence of sexual desire--or absence of it--in American adults.
Among the women surveyed, lack of interest was the most common problem, with 22% of those surveyed saying they had low sexual desire and 14% complaining of trouble getting aroused. Twenty-six percent said they regularly didn't have orgasms and 23% said sex wasn't pleasurable.
For the men, 21% reported problems with premature ejaculation and 5% said they had trouble achieving an erection. Overall, 14% said they had no interest in sex and 8% said they consistently derived no pleasure from sex.
All told, 43% of women and 31% of men reported some sort of sexual problem--a prevalence higher than the researchers expected before doing the new analysis.
Laumann said the findings could offer hope to the many people who think they are the only ones having trouble in bed. "Often they don't even admit it to their partners. It's the old 'I've got a headache' instead of 'I don't feel like having sex,' " he said.
The origins of the sexual problems varied widely, the researchers said. But sexual difficulty or a lack of interest frequently occurred in people who had other medical problems or were undergoing a variety of emotional stresses.
However, the researchers cautioned that they could not tell from the data whether sexual problems compounded the other life stresses, or vice versa.
The participants, ages 18 to 59, were asked if they had experienced sexual dysfunction in the previous year. Sexual dysfunction was defined as a regular lack of interest in or pain during sex or persistent problems achieving lubrication, an erection or orgasm.
Dr. Domeena Renshaw, a Chicago-area sex therapist, said the results are not surprising, considering the long list of couples waiting to get into the sexual dysfunction clinic she has run at Loyola University Medical Center since 1972.
In that time, she has treated nearly 140 couples who had never consummated their marriages, including a couple who had been wed for 23 years.
Study coauthor Raymond Rosen, co-director of the Center for Sexual and Marital Health at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J., said the survey provides much-needed information about women, who have often been excluded from studies about sexual performance.
He said the findings are the most reliable since Dr. Alfred Kinsey did his landmark studies 50 years ago. Kinsey got similar results regarding impotence and failure to achieve orgasm but didn't ask about lack of sexual desire.
Among the survey's other findings:
* Unmarried women were about 50% more likely to have climax problems or sexual anxiety, compared to married women. Also, unmarried men reported higher rates of sexual dysfunction.
* The higher the education level of the respondents, the less likely they were to report sexual problems.
* Men and women who were sexually molested as children were more likely to have sexual problems later in life.
Overall, sexual problems were most common among young women and older men. The researchers explained that observation by saying that young women were more likely to be single, with higher "turnover" among sex partners, creating "instability." That, combined with "inexperience," provides "the basis for sexual pain and anxiety," they said.
Older men tend to have sexual troubles because of underlying medical problems, the researchers said.
Times wire services contributed to this story.