When I started asking the unmarried about their sex lives, survey mavens told me this was the first study ever to define single people's sexual patterns. Whether that's true or not I cannot say for sure, but I do know my research covers the emotional issues that can make or break fulfilling sexual union — feelings seldom put on paper.
Deciding just what to ask wasn't easy. I grudgingly whittled my original 450 questions down to a less intimidating number — the core questions you are going to answer, I hope — representing what I believed was most important for single men and women.
My research began in the late 1970s, a relatively quiet time in the history of our national psyche, when the major upheavals of the earlier part of the decade had settled down to a dull roar that continued until the early '80s. It seemed the right time to respond to the sexual revolution and the women's movement and to mine men's responses to the shifting dynamics between the sexes. At the time, I couldn't have predicted that AIDS would change everything or that other sexually transmitted diseases would become a major factor for the sexually active. So this survey does not deal with them. If it did, the query about first-date sex would be the first to go, because no prudent person rushes into sex nowadays — a step forward for all of us, in my opinion — and the queries about one-night stands, plural lovers and group sex would also become relics of the past. If I would rewrite them today, they'd be stated in a totally different way. But because that's not possible, they'll be stated as they originally were when I include them in next week's column.
If any question bothers you or is irrelevant to your life, feel free to skip it. But the queries deal with issues very relevant to unmarried life today — and probably tomorrow, if my crystal ball remains crystal-clear. In fact, the most startling discovery of the survey — the majority's conservative mindset — has surely been heightened by memories of the AIDS tsunami. There was hardly a seasoned swinger in the bunch even then, before that disease shook the single community.
For the record, the 1,900 men and women who took part in this survey represent 39 states, which gives the findings a wide national base projectable to 85 percent of the unmarried population in this country. Survey respondents included a widow of 88 who still loved to reminisce about the lovemaking of a beloved husband gone for 23 years, a woman married four times and then happily single, a spirited teacher of a Sunday school class of single adults, who remarried during this survey, and a 60-year-old virgin, who took part in this research to learn more about his own erotic daydreams. Our results do not speak for the LGBT community, because that population has a sexuality all its own — and very few took part in this survey. My hope is that many more in that community — male and female — will opt to be represented in our future research.
For me, the survey's most exciting discovery was how strongly the single world wanted to talk about sexuality. I went into this project with high hopes and a hunch that the questions would be well-received. But the response — 1,900 questionnaires returned from 6,000 mailed — spoke more loudly. Many questionnaires came back with detailed typewritten pages attached, outpourings too detailed and intimate to be contained on the original questionnaire sheets. (Some even included phone numbers and best hours to call!) Such a high degree of trust was uncovered — such a strong thirst for sharing this highly charged and too seldom discussed aspect of humanness — that I found myself more and more eager for each day's mail to come.
For you, dear reader, the upcoming survey will represent a chance to compare your thinking with that of other single men and women. You may enjoy thinking about the issues raised, too, but as readers of "Single File," you're probably accustomed to self-questioning. (At least I hope so.) The real kicks will come when you put your own answers next to the majority view.
DEAR READERS: We've uncovered a treasure-trove of "Single File" paperbacks — in perfect condition, ready to read. Send $15 and your address to: Susan Deitz, C/O Creators Syndicate, 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254. I'll send you a signed copy.
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