Sex Diaries: The Results

by Arianne Cohen

Remember when, way back in February, we asked if any of you would like to keep a sex diary for a week? Well, 330 of you did and now it’s sex diaries analysis time! First, let me just say thanks so much for a wonderful pile of reading; these were thought-provoking and really fun. And funny.

Before I dive into the SEX, one thing kept jumping out at me: there’s some really questionable sleep hygiene happening among the ranks! I know this because the diary entries are timestamped. And from the constant complaints about exhaustion. There are two groups: grad students, who sleep at all hours of the day (cycle: procrastinate, procrasturbate, nap, feel guilty); and worker bees, who go to bed at 10 p.m. one night, 3 a.m. the next, and 12:30 a.m. the third, and then can’t sleep the fourth night and have no idea why.

One time in college I did all the research for a thesis I never wrote on sleep, and the gist was that going to bed and waking up at about the same time every day is really really great.

Okay. Sex. I’m going to break this Official Hairpin Report into three sections: Sex, Psych, and Other.

My process here: I read the diaries and took notes, some of which are presented below. If there are questions about topics I missed here, hit me up in the comments.

The Stats: 330 women kept diaries. Ages: 19–44, median age 27, lots in the 26–32 range. Twenty percent married in their early twenties (20–24), hitched to a school sweetheart. Fifteen percent lesbian. Of course, this is a self-selecting sample set — I’m just reporting what came in.

I: Sex

a. These diarists have unusually creative sex.

One of the findings of my book, The Sex Diaries Project, is that Americans are particularly prone to sexual interactions that go like this: kissing-oral sex-intercourse-done. Many skip the oral part. Over and over and over again. Not these diarists; they do what they need to do to get off. Just oral sex, start-with-intercourse-then-work-backward, finish manually, use lots of buzzy toys on both partners, etc. Everything goes.

b. Many are card-carrying clients of Babeland, She-Bop, et al.

More than half used toys in most sexual encounters. Ranked by appearance frequency:



Rope or handcuffs

That black tape stuff that doesn’t stick to skin

Least common: The $400 electric shock toy that leaves rows of tiny little zig zag lines.

c. Sharing the Self-Lovin’

Those in relationships have a lot of mutual masturbation going on, which is great. In the book and wider project, I often read diarists who feel a loss of their masturbatory lives when they shack up together. In contrast, these diarists are, for one example, particularly fond of using their Hitachi magic wands while their partner is nearby, and letting them join in if they want.

d. A sizable minority are non-monogamous.

The majority of these diarists are happy monogamists — open minded, but attached to the idea of one-and-only. As one diarist put it: ”Monogamy makes me happy, but I can do casual if it’s been a while.”

But non-monogamy is also popular, among more than 60 diarists. Reasons range widely, from protecting a sense of choice and freedom, to feeling that their relationship is actually deeper and more developed due to constant communication around feelings and outside partiers. A dozen diarists are in open relationships but currently not exercising those options.

II: Psychology

There are two habits I read about that I wish I could make disappear with my Hitachi magic wand:

1. Diarists who consider sexual events to be a reflection of themselves/the relationship

So, this is how it goes: sometimes sex happens and it’s really great, and sometimes it doesn’t happen, and sometimes it sorta happens and then stops, and in all cases both people eventually go on to sleep with others, sometimes the very next night, though sometimes not for a year or two or four. It’s just another event. Like dinner. And yet it’s so easy to take it sooo seriously.

Smart, funny diarists often agonize over guys (and gals, but mostly guys) they don’t like that much. Or that guy who cheated on them a year ago and still makes them feel sad. Most times, the next sentence is something like, “I know this isn’t logical, but it’s how I feel.”

Sometimes I want to dive through the screen and write this note: Dear Diarist: His not getting it up/cheating/falling asleep/etc. isn’t a reflection on you! It’s a reflection that he’s drunk/a jackass/tired.

2. Diarists who feel that their singleness is a result of deep-rooted personal issues

Half the diarists aren’t in relationships, and many have been single for a long while. This is totally normal. And yet so many diarists think it’s a reflection on themselves, saying things like “I’ve never been in a deep relationship and I think I have serious issues” and “I worry that no one will ever love me and I will continue to only like juiceboxes who treat me poorly.”

Think about it: 30–50% of all adults are single (depending what you consider ‘single’), and it’s not because they’re damaged or warped. They are single because they want to be, or because they value specific partner personality and relationship traits that they haven’t found yet. When they land on them, they are no longer single.

III: Other

a. Some of these diarists do drugs.

They write sentences about tripping balls and rolling hard and toking up. Thse sentences r often grammatically troubled/!

b. It’s a good idea to tell your partner what you want for presents and surprises.

They have no idea. Many folks kept their diaries over Valentine’s Day, which is how I know that a whole bunch of people got weird gifts that they didn’t really want.

c. GYN Issues

Almost every diary had them. Examples of issues diarists had during the week, so you can get the full breadth of what’s going on down below: precancerous cervical cell removal, spotting due to switching from one birth control to another, heavy gusher-like periods that go through super tampons in two hours, migraines from hormonal birth control, IUD insertion procedures, IUD removal procedures, herpes flares, suspected herpes flares causing deep anxiety, thrice-hourly bathroom trips due to water intake requirements around kidney stones, vulvodynia, and vaginismus.

d. An abundance of creepy dudes

You know That Guy who makes you uncomfortable due to, say, asking too many personal questions or following you home or a sense that he’s not so stable? Creepy guys! Everywhere! Based on verifiable, repeated behavior! Half the diaries featured one, almost all of whom were avoided-and-tolerated as needed. Direct, “Thanks but I’d prefer to be alone right now” communication? Rare.

e. Typos: You prefer things that are neat and perfect.

The diarying program only allows diarists to “write forward” — i.e., you write an entry, hit submit, and it’s submitted forever. And typos in those posts drove these diarists nuts. Sample feedback: “The ability to go back and edit for typos would be fabulous, though I’m a very meticulous person when it comes to spelling and punctuation, so maybe this is only a problem for me.” Nope, not just you. I got 150 pieces of feedback saying as much. You’ve been heard. And loved.

Thank you, Hairpin!

Arianne Cohen is the author of The Sex Diaries Project: What We’re Saying About What We’re Doing, which is just like this post, except dirtier, and about the whole country. She’s currently developing a TV show based on the concept and writes for many magazines. She’s also 6’3″, the author of The Tall Book: A Celebration of Life on High and appears in the documentary Tall Girls.