History of Sex Surveys: Factors in the Sex Life of 2200 Women

About a survey by Katharine B. Davis done in 1929 entitled Factors in the Sex Life of Twenty-Two Hundred women, a look at sex, marriage, sexuality and more.


Researcher: Katharine B. Davis, Ph.D., a social worker, with a committee formed for this purpose by the Bureau of Social Hygiene of New York.

Topics Studied: "The sex life of normal women" from childhood past menopause. Use of contraceptives; causal factors in happiness of married life; autoerotic practices; periodicity of sexual desire; homosexuality.

When Done: Findings published in 1929 by Harper.

How Done: Questionnaires consisting of 54 questions.

Subjects Studied: Ten thousand married women, Caucasian, of above-average intelligence, education, and social position, received questionnaires by mail. One thousand responded. An additional 1,200 questionnaires were later completed by unmarried college graduates no more than 5 years out of college. Many names were obtained from women's club and alumnae organization rosters.

Where Done: Questionnaires were mailed to subjects in all parts of the U.S. Dr. Davis's committee was based in New York City.

Findings and Conclusions: Because the sampling was narrow and the questions subject to wide interpretation ("Is your marriage a happy one?"), findings were inconclusive; the questions tell more than the answers, for they reveal assumptions and attitudes that seem archaic in light of present knowledge. At the request of a prominent gynecologist, the committee tried--unsuccessfully--to establish a correlation between frequency of intercourse and sterility in later life. Contraception, euphemistically called "voluntary parenthood," was approved of in principle by 89.7%, practiced by 73.4% of the subjects. Of the 872 who claimed to have "happy" marriages, only one out of 4 worked outside the home. The researchers concluded from this that working was not conducive to marital happiness.

Ninety percent of the married women considered their husband's sex drives to be as strong as or stronger than their own; only 3.3% believed their sex drives were stronger. Masturbation was admitted to by 64.8% of the unmarried women and 40% of the married ones, but 2 out of 3 of these women considered the habit "morally degrading." Eleven percent answered Yes to the question "Have you ever had a nervous breakdown?" while another 10.4% said they had nearly reached that point.

The researchers were much concerned with the concept of "happiness," and made the correlation that the 12% of these women who denied all sex feeling or experience claimed to be the happiest. Slightly more than 50% of the single women stated they had experienced "intense emotional relations" with other women, and over 25% admitted that the relationship was carried to the point of overt homosexual expression.

Dr. Davis could not establish that homosexual relations before marriage had any effect, one way or the other, on happiness in married life. Other efforts to correlate sex histories and habits with happiness were inconclusive. Dr. Davis speculated that happiness might be more directly related to personality traits than to sex.

In an attempt to compile "an index of current feeling and thought, a reflection of the mores of today and yesterday" regarding sex, Dr. Davis included a section on "Opinions" in the single women's questionnaire.

Do you believe sex intercourse necessary for complete physical and mental health? YES: 38.7%; No: 61.2%

Is a young man before marriage ever justified in having sex intercourse? YES: 20.9%; No: 79%

Is a young woman before marriage ever justified in having sex intercourse? YES: 19.4%; No: 80.5%

Is a husband ever justified in having sex intercourse with a woman or women other than his wife? YES: 24.1%; No: 75.8%

Is a wife ever justified in having sex intercourse with a man or men other than her husband? YES: 20.7%; No: 79.2%

Are married people justified in having intercourse except for the purpose of having children? YES: 84.6%; No: 15.3%

Should information regarding methods for birth control be available for unmarried people? YES: 63%; No: 36.9%

Should an abortion ever be performed? YES: 71.8%; No: 28.1%

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