Singapore’s married women having less sex than desired: Studying couples and controlling for childbearing preferences

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As a result of stress and fatigue, married women in Singapore between 25 and 34 years old – said to be in their “peak childbearing age” (ST, Jan. 5) – are reported to have less sex than desired, which consequently affects how long they take to get pregnant (a phenomenon with fertility implications). Even though this study of 657 married women is the first in the country to examine the coital frequency or sex lives of this population, it could have studied couples as dyads and could have controlled for childbearing preferences, since sex is not just for procreation and can affect marital quality and satisfaction.

Married women aged between 25 and 29 had sex 3.7 times on average a month, and those aged between 30 and 34 had sex 2.6 times. Yet given recall or self-response biases – even if the study did track their sexual activity over 14 weeks – and disappointingly too for Singapore’s total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.14 in 2018, it is likely that the actual frequencies are much lower.

In terms of the data collection, it would be interesting to include not just married men, but to study couples as dyads. Additional information could include sex frequency and whether husbands and wives indicate the same number (in fact, discrepancies could result in measurement errors and could indicate varying definitions of sexual activities or even marital quality), gender differences between desired and actual frequencies, as well as the explanations for these differences, if any.

ST’s headline of the research read “Singapore’s married women have less sex than desired: Study”, and in this vein it would be important to clarify what is meant by desire: If it is indicated by the respondents, or if it is contextualised by the expectation to increase Singapore’s TFR.

And with the data analysis – as aforementioned – controlling for childbearing preferences is instructive because couples do not just have sex with conception as a goal. In addition, it is not clear if the married women sampled already have children of their own, and relatedly other factors which may affect coital frequency and the desire to have (more) children could include: The number of children, employment status (including occupation and salaries), and years of marriage. With such data, the analysis can move further beyond descriptions of frequencies and correlations between stress or fatigue and sex lives per se, with better understandings of demographic or socio-economic variables which may have an impact.

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