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Study offers detailed findings of Americans' sex lives

The male-female orgasm gap. The sex lives of 14-year-olds. An intriguing breakdown of the rates of condom use, by age and ethnicity, with teens emerging as more safe-sex-conscious than boomers.

That's just a tiny sampling of the data unveiled yesterday in what the researchers say is the largest, most comprehensive national survey of Americans' sexual behavior since 1994. Filling 130 pages of a special issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the study offers detailed findings on how often Americans have sex, with whom and how they respond. In all, 5,865 people, ranging in age from 14 to 94, participated in the survey.

The lead researchers, from Indiana University's Center for Sexual Health Promotion, said the study fills a void that has grown since the last comparable endeavor, the National Health and Social Life Survey, was published 16 years ago. Major changes since then include the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the types of sex education available to young people, the advent of same-sex marriage and the emergence of the Internet as a tool for social interaction.

Dr. Dennis Fortenberry, a pediatrics professor who was lead author of the study's section about teen sex, said the findings should provide reassurance to Americans who are curious about how their sex lives compare with others.

Researchers said they were struck by the variety of ways the subjects engaged in sex - 41 combinations were tallied.

Among the findings was a high rate of condom use among 14- to 17-year-olds. Another intriguing finding: Rates of condom use among black and Hispanic men were significantly higher than for whites. The researchers said this suggested that HIV-AIDS awareness programs were now making headway.

The lowest condom usage rates were for men older than 50, and the researchers said this was worrisome. Other surveys have shown 50s-and-older to be more open to multiple sex partners than in the past, raising the risk for disease.