Summer, when the hormones run high and the condoms are in bloom, in France, where sex is never, ever a dirty word. Sure, the French have a reputation of being born lovers. Sure, you'd take Catherine Deneuve at 50 over Julia Roberts at And sure, it always sounds sexier if you say it in French.
But new research is throwing some cold statistics on these highly unscientific impressions. A government-funded study by epidemiologist Alfred Spira and demographer Nathalie Bajos detailing French sexual behavior, the first to do so since , was released this year and has gotten almost no attention at all. According to the study, which queried 20, people age 18 to 69, For many French this must be unexpected and, perhaps, unwelcome news.
But would science lie? Only 6 percent of married men and 2. In fact, 6 percent of the men and 12 percent of the women had had no sex at all in the previous year. A closer look reveals a more "French" attitude. Of the men age 45 and older, Also, the higher the level of education, the greater the tendency for hanky-panky among both men and women. Of the various occupations listed laborer, farmer etc. On average, a French man has 11 sexual partners in a lifetime; a French woman has 3.
With whom are the men having all this sex? By contrast, a yet-unreleased study conducted by the University of Chicago surveying 3, randomly chosen respon- dents found the mean number of sexual partners in the United States to be six or seven in a lifetime, according to preliminary published reports.
French people have sex on average seven to eight times a month, and, for the record, 89 percent of men and 75 percent of women achieved orgasm during their last sexual encounter. Spira and Bajos do not comment at all on a potentially controversial finding buried in a list of less interesting figures: This supports recent American studies that point to a lower gay population than the 10 percent estimate advanced in the s by sex researcher Alfred Kinsey.
Now for some of the more marginal characters. Seventy-six of the men surveyed said they'd had more than sexual partners in their lives; only one woman said she'd had that many. As for the adventurous, 10 percent of men and 2 percent of women said they'd experienced group sex; 4 percent of men and 1 percent of women had exchanged partners.
But when it comes to love, the French must beat all. Men reported falling in love on average 4. To the statement "It is possible to have love without fidelity," 43 percent of men and 35 percent of women replied yes. To the statement "Occasional infidelity reinforces love," 27 percent of men and 17 percent of women replied yes. So much for the nation of 80 percent monogamous heterosexuals.
Twenty-five percent of men and 15 percent of women used birth control during their last sexual encounter; 28 percent of bi- or homosexual men did. Reality and Perception To balance this astoundingly pedestrian picture of French sexual life, a few unscientific footnotes. The French reputation, after all, is not wholly undeserved. According to Spira and Bajos, 10 percent of French men and 3 percent of women have used what's known in France as the Minitel Rose, an often-erotic computer message service that allows users to hold live, anonymous dialogues.
Well, let's see, there's "Minou," who introduces himself by offering the opportunity to perform a vulgarity. Then there's "Dominic," who promptly sends a message in English: They cruise the boulevards by car and the cafes by foot, seeking to make meaningful eye contact.
Maybe their wives, off on holiday, are doing the same on the beach. In any event, infidelity doesn't have the same stigma in France as it does in the United States. Even President Francois Mitterrand, 76, is reliably rumored still to have mistresses.
These days the leading newscaster on France's largest television station, who is married, appears in public in the company of his principal mistress, another newscaster. At a recent cocktail party at the French Senate, a conversation between a French and an American journalist turned, somehow, to sex. The French journalist's wife, who works for a publisher, was across the room, but the journalist was known to have had flings in the past.
He looked uncomfortable and hedged, "Ohhh, what do you mean by 'affair'? Men no longer go to prostitutes for their first sexual experiences. And women's sexual behavior has begun to resemble more closely that of men -- for example, both genders now begin to have sex around the age of 17, and about 27 percent of both genders have tried anal sex. But attitudes change far more slowly. In a new book called "Men and Women," two of France's more prominent philosophers, Francoise Giroud and Bernard-Henri Levy, jointly examine love and marriage, fidelity and betrayal, beauty, ugliness, liberation, sex appeal, seduction and the gender gap.
Levy, 44, who last month married the feline actress Arielle Dombasle, is the heartthrob of France's lefty, intellectual crowd, but he proved to have some pretty traditional views of men and women. Giroud, in her seventies, is one of a handful of France's smart, outspoken female writers; not surprisingly, she proved to be an unrepentant women's libber. During the book-long conversation, the two didn't agree on much. When I have lunch with a woman, the very idea that she would pay the bill seems incongruous to me.
And to split it, don't even mention it. Levy says later that he can't stand aggressive women. The woman whom you see in the morning having a business breakfast at a big hotel.
The woman who smokes a cigar. In my eyes that is not the most flattering role for a pretty woman. It puts me a bit ill at ease to see them, it's true, barely awake, hastily made-up, hair askew, lipstick awry, talking business with a boss or a bank.
Active women are generally very well-kempt, on the contrary. You see how you are, not only convinced that men are stronger, more intelligent, more courageous, more creative, more rational -- the bosses -- and that women wear themselves out trying to imitate them, but that by doing so lose their femininity, as if one could leave one's femininity on a chair. Giroud asks him as much. I love them infinitely. And it's because I love them infinitely that I could never live except in extreme proximity to them.
You mentioned daily life, the little miseries of daily life. But I like that too! Sometimes it shakes me up! A woman in the bath, a woman dressing, a woman putting on her makeup. Since I was a child the idea of a woman putting on makeup has troubled me, not to mention the rest, all the rest, up to and including the most obscure intimacies -- those that she does everything to hide and that you, at least, suspect.
According to Spira and Bajos, men and women in all age groups overwhelmingly fantasize about tender, romantic lovemaking, far more often than about wild sex with several partners.
You know, champagne, roses, silk sheets, lacy things -- the French boudoir. So if most of the French are conservative in their sexual practices, and if some are still sexist in their attitudes, France remains a nation of lovers. And that seems to suit them fine. According to Spira and Bajos, 89 percent of sexually active men said they were "very" or "pretty" satisfied with their sex lives, and 84 percent of women said the same.
And they've never even heard of Dr.