"I hope," wrote a 72-year-old man who has been married for more than half a century, "that this 'no' will help to straighten Ann Landers out."
So went the majority of responses to the reader questionnaire published in the Jan. 23 Health section. Most of the more than 6,000 men and women who answered the mail-in survey seemed eager to set the record straight. Overall, about two of every three readers sending in the questionnaire favored "the act" over cuddling -- just about the opposite of what Landers found.
"When people don't have a problem they won't write or complain to Ann Landers," said one metropolitan area man, age 36 and single, who notes that he prefers "the act" to cuddling, is "satisfied" with his sexual partner and is "very satisfied" with their communication about sex. "Maybe Ann should ask how many people are satisfied. She wouldn't receive as many replies."
Many of the women who answered the survey expressed views similar to those of one 31-year-old who responded. She is unmarried, lives with her partner and says no to choosing cuddling: "Thanks for offering this survey! The experts are very right to criticize the hoopla over Landers' write-in survey. Any woman who feels abused in bed should definitely think about a change in the overall relationship first, and if that doesn't work, then a change of partner (and possibly some counseling). I'm convinced that in the last two decades the quality of sex among educated people has improved enormously."
Overall, 63 percent of people responding to the reader survey favored "the act." Among the approximately 2,000 Washington Post readers who answered the questionnaire, that trend was even stronger: Almost seven of every 10 people said they would choose "the act" over cuddling.
Results from other parts of the country varied slightly. Some 58 percent of the 2,155 responses from readers of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times said no to cuddling. About two thirds of Washington state residents who answered surveys printed in the Seattle Times and the Everett Herald also said no to cuddling. Delaware readers followed suit. But Hoosiers, who read about the survey in the Indianapolis Star, were more evenly divided, with 45 percent answering yes and 55 percent voting no.
Like the original Landers survey, the results of this reader poll are marred by a self-selection bias -- the responses were from people wishing to send in the questionnaire, not from a randomly selected group. About 80 percent of answers came from women; 20 percent from men. But several trends seem to hold true for all the results, including the random telephone poll conducted by The Washington Post:
Women are more likely than men to say they prefer cuddling to intercourse. In the reader survey, about 43 percent of women said yes, they would give up "the act," compared with only 15 percent of men. Experts in sex research say this relates to the fact that girls are held, touched and cuddled more often by parents than boys are. Unlike men, studies show that many women also do not experience orgasm through intercourse, but rather by touching.
* The prospect of an ideal sexual partner increases the percentage of people who would opt for intercourse over cuddling.
* The more satisfied men and women feel with their sexual partners, the more likely they are to chose "the act." Johns Hopkins University psychologist John Money says that people who find partners with "matching love maps . . . stick together like glue."
* Good communication about sex between partners also increases the likelihood of preference for intercourse. "Women should tell men from the very beginning what they like and always keep the communication channel open," wrote a 38-year-old married woman from Maryland who is "very, very satisfied" with communication about sex in her relationship.
The two survey groups did differ, however, when it came to age. While the telephone survey found that people's preference for cuddling over intercourse decreases with age, the reader survey found the opposite.
In the telephone survey, for instance, 56 percent of men and women 18 to 34 preferred cuddling to intercourse. That number drops to 48 percent for those 35 to 54 and stays the same at 49 percent among those older than 55.
But in the reader survey, almost 70 percent of men and women aged 18 to 34 chose intercourse. That changed little for the middle-aged group. Sixty-five percent of those 35 to 54 preferred "the act." In the group 55 and older, just slightly more than half chose intercourse.
Although the results of the reader questionnaire clearly favored sexual intercourse, there was still a significant number of people -- most of them women -- who said they would choose cuddling. Typical of those who answered "yes" were these responses:
"Men talk too much about sex!" wrote a married woman, age 52, from the metropolitan area. "Women have the edge because they're more informed by the printed word. 1985 is the Year of the Surprised Male! Viva Ann Landers!"
"I think sex is overrated," penned a never-married, 29-year-old Post reader, who chose cuddling but said he'd prefer intercourse if he had the ideal sexual partner. "Nobody talks about LOVE anymore. For this gentleman, sex without love is meaningless. Also the way magazines and newspapers (like yourselves) pander to sex and forget about LOVE is particularly appalling."
"My husband is an excellent sexual partner," wrote a married woman, age 34, who answered the Post survey. "I would simply prefer the closeness and tenderness than the sex itself."
Many people criticized all the surveys for not offering the option of answering "sometimes."
"Sex should not be referred to as an act, but rather as an experience," said a 51-year-old male reader, who said no to cuddling. "Holding and being held close and being treated tenderly should always be considered a mandatory part of this experience."
"For four years, I have had a lover in all senses of the word," writes a married woman, age 44. "He is kind and tender, but most importantly he cares how I feel and react. As a result, I try my best to make him happy. We both care how the other feels, and the results are spectacular!"
"Love is the key word and accepting another is love," wrote one Iowa woman. "Sex is fine and great, but of a choice of sex alone or love alone, love would win. Anyone who can have both is lucky, and that is me."