The "typical American wife" considers herself a "good" or "excellent" lover, finds her marriage "still romantic," dresses seductively before bed and wishes she had more time for sex.
Or at least this may be so if she reads Ladies' Home Journal and participated in the magazine's national survey of sex and the married woman. Billed as "the largest in-depth national study to date of the love life of married women," the report--released today--was compiled from 83,000 responses to a questionnaire in the magazine's June 1982, issue. The findings are featured in the February issue.
"Today's married woman is sexy, faithful, passionate and romantic," declare authors Ellen Frank, a Pittsburgh clinical psychologist, and Sondra Forsyth Enos, an LHJ editor. Replies from these "reassuringly mainstream" wives, they say, came "in nearly equal numbers from each region of the country."
While Frank admits the study "may have elicited the responses of wives who are more interested than average in the topic of marital sexuality," she claims that "this bias has been present in all major studies of sexuality in this country, including Kinsey's classic Sexual Behavior in the Human Female . . . which studied only 8,000 women."
Their profile of the typical "LHJ wife": age 35, married 12 years and never divorced, mother of school-age children, employed outside the home, living in cities under 1 million or in the suburbs, college-educated, middle-income (average household income $20,000 to $40,000) and religious.
"The sexual revolution's greatest effect may be on sex within marriage," says Frank, who designed and analyzed the 103-question survey. "The vast majority of our respondents see a healthy, active sex life as a natural and important part of being married."
Her greatest surprise was "the relationship between religion and sexual satisfaction (71 percent of respondents considered themselves religious, 80 percent rated their sex lives as satisfying). This was a 180-degree turn from Kinsey, who found that the most sexually satisfied women were the least religious.
"It's my guess that organized religion has figured out what Freud knew all along--sex is an enormous motivator. Where in Kinsey's time sex may have been seen more exclusively as a matter of procreation, now the message from religious leaders is much more supportive of sex within marriage as good for the relationship and good for families."
Marital sex is characterized, says Frank, "by less heat and more tenderness. In a non-marital relationship, the excitement of being together can carry sex along. But within marriage, when sex is a more available and routine part of life, the heat may go out.
"What you get in return is much more consideration of the other person's needs, not what Playboy's latest article says your partner should like. Within marriage, the effect--the feelings surrounding the sex--are more important than performance."
Frank, 38, started studying "happily married couples" in 1975 because "we focus too much on pathology and not enough on how people are making things work." The survey "confirmed my suspicion that you cannot neatly separate sexual satisfaction and marital satisfaction. Within good marriages, sex seems to be a relatively frequent occurrence."
A major factor in distinguishing "happy wives" from "unhappy wives," says Frank--who has been married eight years to her second husband and has two daughters--"was the frequency of expressing love verbally. Sixty-seven percent of the 'very happy' wives reported that both they and their husbands say 'I love you' every day."
Among other findings gleaned from Ladies' Home Journal readers:
* Although most wives rate their sexual relationships as satisfying and their marriages happy, nearly 40 percent report they are "quite often unable to reach orgasm."
* Three-fourths feel their marriages are "still romantic" and exchange notes and gifts.
* Eighty-three percent wish they had more time to make love.
* Twenty-one percent report having had an extramarital affair (compared with 26 percent of the wives in Kinsey's 1953 study, who said they'd been unfaithful by age 40).
* Wives who had extramarital sex said it generally had a positive effect on physical satisfaction in marriage and a negative effect on emotional satisfaction.
* Eighty-five percent generally make love in the evening; 14 percent sometimes call in late for work.
* Ninety-seven percent share a double bed with their husbands.
* Over one-fourth lived with their husbands before marriage.
* Only 17 percent were virgins when they married (compared with nearly half of Kinsey's 1953 subjects). Seventy percent were sexually active before age 20.
* Forty-four percent "schedule" lovemaking by making a date to meet their husbands for a rendezvous or by arranging to have children sleep at a friend's house.