Last edited: February 14, 2005

An A-Z of the British and Sex

Guardian Unlimited Observer, February 1, 2003,6903,887162,00.html

As a law banning sex in public was unveiled this week, Tom Templeton and Tom Reilly celebrate our quirky relationship with sex

AFFAIRS: New research shows that up to 55 per cent of married people have had an affair. Of husbands, 6 per cent admitted having sex with someone outside their marriage in the past year.

ANN SUMMERS: The sex shop for women last year sold more than one million vibrators in the UK.

BONKBUSTER: Was officially recognised as a word by the OED in June 2002, for books which have plenty of sex.

BUSINESS SUITS: Only 15 per cent of Britons said their ideal partner in a fantasy love tryst would wear a business suit.

CARRY ON FILMS: Ensuring the double entendre’s place at the heart of British humour, a total of 30 Carry On films were made.

CONDOMS: The oldest condoms, made from fish and animal intestines, were found in Dudley Castle. Dating back to 1640, they were used to prevent the transmission of infections during the Civil War. Mass-produced condoms first appeared in 1844, when Charles Goodyear patented the vulcanisation of rubber. Originally they were reusable.

DIET: Women think what they eat is more important to their personal wellbeing than their sex life. Seventy-nine per cent said their diet was the key to their happiness, according to Mori.

DUKE OF WELLINGTON: The duke’s sexual prowess featured in the memoirs of the high-class courtesan Harriette Wilson. The book, published to huge demand, opened with the line: ‘I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of 15, the mistress of the Earl of Craven.’

EDUCATION: The first statutory requirement of sex education came with the 1995 Education Act. This called for lessons to cover HIV/Aids and sexual diseases while, letting parents remove their children from the lessons.

FANTASY: Seventy-nine per cent of Britons’ favourite sexual fantasies are having sex with a celebrity. Brad Pitt is the most popular male, Kylie Minogue the most popular woman.

FILMS: The number of ‘R18’ titles—pornography allowed for sale only in licensed sex shops—passed annually by the censor has increased 1,250 per cent since the rating was created in 1986.

GERONTOPHILIA: In UK nursing homes, 17 per cent of people aged over 85 reported sexual interest but no activity because of insufficient privacy.

HENRY VIII: In 1533, he pressured Parliament into passing a law against ‘the abominable vice of buggery committed with man or beast’. Convicts were condemned to death. The death penalty stayed on the books until 1861.

HOMOSEXUALITY: Became legal in 1967 in England and Wales, although Scotland had to wait until 1980 and Ulster 1982.

IMPOTENCE: It is believed that smoking is responsible for impotence in 120,000 men in the UK aged between 30 and 49.

INFIDELITY: One woman in six cheats at least once in a relationship—more than 10 per cent higher than the figure for men.

JELLY: West Country sales of the popular lubricant KY Jelly increased by 300 per cent just before the total solar eclipse of 1999.

JENNA JAMESON: The American porn star brings up 294,000 websites through

KAMA SUTRA: Was first translated into English by Sir Richard Burton in 1876. In 1883 he published the book anonymously, though it remained illegal until 1963. It would take the average UK couple three and a half years to try everyone of the 529 positions described in the book.

LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER: D. H. Lawrence’s novel was banned from publication in the UK from 1927 to 1960. The Times asked of the failed trial in 1960: ‘Why has the prosecution not matched the defence bishop for bishop and don for don?’ The answer: because they couldn’t find any who’d agree to be witnesses.

LESBIANISM: In a 2000 survey, some 2.6 per cent of women had had sex with another woman in the preceding five years, and 4.9 per cent had had a female partner.

MASTURBATION: As late as 1936, Holt’s Diseases of Infancy and Childhood was not averse to recommending circumcision or cauterisation of the clitoris as a cure for masturbation in girls.

NORTHERN IRELAND: The only area in the UK where anal sex amongst consenting adults remains illegal is for women in Northern Ireland.

OBSCENITY: According to the Obscene Publications Act, it is illegal to publish material that ‘tends to deprave or corrupt persons who are likely to read, see or hear it’. It is up to juries to decide what is obscene.

ORAL CONTRACEPTION: First available in the UK in 1961, the Pill is now used by 3.5 million women between 16 and 49, more than a quarter of women in this age group.

PHILIP LARKIN: Wrote of British sexuality: ‘Sexual intercourse began/In nineteen sixty-three/(Which was rather late for me)/Between the end of the Chatterley ban/ And the Beatles’ first LP.’

QUEEN VICTORIA: Britain’s longest serving monarch is reputed to have been unable to comprehend the notion of lesbianism, thus allowing it to remain legal while prohibiting male homosexuality.

QUICKIE: According to research from the 1960s, men averaged only 11 seconds before ejaculating during sex. Today this has risen to a massive 15 minutes.

RAMPANT RABBIT: Name of the most popular vibrator. Last year 150,000 were recalled by Ann Summers in the ‘interests of public safety’.

RED LIGHT DISTRICT: In the UK, one in 23 men has paid for sex (The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles 2000). The figure rises to one in 11 in London. Married men aged 20-35 make up the majority of those buying sex in ‘red light areas’, says Barnado’s.

SATISFACTION: Britain (like Germany) has a rating of sexual satisfaction equal to the European average. Italy and France are lower, but rates are notably higher in the Netherlands and Switzerland.

SYPHILIS: A major killer in Victorian times, the disease is on the increase. In 1995 there were 136 cases, but in 2000 the figure had jumped to 333.

TEENAGE PREGNANCIES: The UK has the highest number of unmarried teenage mothers in the world, with an annual total of about 93,000.

UNPROTECTED SEX: 18-20 year-olds take most sexual health risks. Nearly half this age group admitted to having had sex without a condom with a new partner during the past 12 months.

UNSEXED: Twenty-nine per cent of us are virgins when we marry.

VENEREAL DISEASE: In 1896, for every 1,000 soldiers stationed in India, there were 522 cases of sexual transmitted diseases. One adult in 10 has had a sexually transmitted infection.

VIOLENCE: In a 1999-2000 public consultation, the film censors were told they should not intervene with adult consumption of sex in mainstream films, except when scenes combined sex and severe violence.

WEB: The UK residential ‘Adult Web Usage’ market is the second largest in Europe (after Germany), accounting for 24 per cent of the European spend, with £316m annually.

OSCAR WILDE: Once said of sex: ‘For fascinating women, sex is a challenge; for others, it is merely a defence.’

X-RATED: In 1916, the British Board of Film Classification’s president T. P. O’Connor laid down 43 grounds for deletion of scenes. ‘Excessively passionate love scenes’ and ‘men and women in bed together’ rub shoulders with ‘the effects of vitriol throwing’ and ‘subjects dealing with White Slave traffic’.

YEARLY AVERAGE: Britons have sex an average of 149 times a year. This places us fifth, behind France, Holland, Denmark and Canada.

ZOOPHILIA: The latest case of bestiality saw Stephen Hall, 23, sent to prison for six months for buggering a goat.

ZZZZZ: One woman in three is too tired to have sex, but more than half lie awake at night because of stress.

[Home] [World] [United Kingdom]