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The Warsaw Voice » Society » November 29, 2012
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Happy and Faithful
November 29, 2012   
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Sex was a taboo topic in Poland until fairly recently. This, however, is changing. Polish people are more and more frequently opening up about their sexuality. Sexologist Prof. Zbigniew Izdebski, who has compiled a report on the sex lives of Poles, talks to Frédéric Schneider.

What distinguishes the sex lives of Poles from Americans and other Europeans?
By European standards, Polish people have a high satisfaction index in terms of their own sex lives. This, however, is largely owing to the fact that many of them do not realize the potential pleasure that can be derived from sex. Additionally, they tend to have their first sexual experiences relatively late and have a high fidelity index. These last two points are a result of the relatively high religiousness of Polish people.

And to what extent does this religiousness of theirs affect their sexuality?
The teaching of the Catholic Church on sexuality is highly influential in Poland. After all, this is the land of John Paul II, and this long reigning pope wielded a great deal of authority. Religion influences the sex lives of those who are deeply religious and practicing. It should be noted, however, that while 93 percent of the people I surveyed identify themselves as Catholics, most of them leave their religion at the bedroom door.

What has changed most since the fall of communism?
We’re becoming more open. We’re having more sexual experiences, including oral and anal sex. We’re using contraception a lot more, especially in the form of the pill.

There is increasing anxiety among men. Basically, they’re worried about whether they cut it in bed. This is because Polish women are becoming increasingly sexually aware and more sexually demanding. Men’s awareness has not increased as much, so they sometimes find they don’t measure up to their partners’ expectations.

The internet has also brought about significant change. First, it has broadened Polish people’s knowledge about sex. Second, it is a tool for disseminating erotica and pornography. Third, the internet is a place where people with similar interests—including sexual ones—hook up. Ten percent of those I surveyed in 2011 admitted to having had sex with someone they’d met on the internet. This figure jumped to 30 percent when the survey was limited to regular internet users.

We’re hearing more all the time now about teenage parties where sex and drugs are par for the course. Is this fact or fiction?
I’d like to say it’s fiction, but unfortunately it’s fact. Alcohol and drugs are more frequently accessible to young people, and so they’re having sex at a younger age. This is bringing about a change in morality. Twenty-six percent of boys and 16 percent of girls aged 15 have had sex, even though it’s illegal for an adult to have sex with someone that age.

At what age do Polish people have their first sexual experience? According to your research, it’s 18.1 for men and 18.7 for women, but some Polish media claim that people as young as 16 are having sex.
My estimates are based on a sample of people aged between 15 and 49. The older generation started their sex lives later, so that ups the average. The media are probably more interested in young people who are now starting to have sex. And they’re starting to have sex earlier than teenagers were 15-20 years ago.

What would be a typical week—sexually speaking—for the average Pole? How many times do they have sex? And in what positions?
They don’t have time during the week, so the most frequent times for having sex are Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 9 p.m. and midnight. Forty-seven percent of Polish people have sex two to three times a week. The missionary position is still common enough but things are changing. People are putting more variety into their sex lives.

How many sexual partners does the average Polish person have?
The average is four. The answers to this one vary quite a bit. Some people refuse to own up to how many partners they’ve really had, so the forms have verification questions. Answers that appear to be inconsistent are rejected for the purposes of statistical research. This indicator may appear surprisingly low, but Polish people are among the world’s most faithful. Young people tend to have more partners, so we can expect the average number of partners to increase.

What methods of contraception do they use?
Condoms are obviously one of the main means of contraception. Pills are used by 23-29 percent of the population, according to some research. However, it’s disturbing to see that the number of people who said they used withdrawal increased between 2005 and 2012. This method will not prevent pregnancy. In this day and age where medicine is so advanced and so many more effective means of contraception are available, this just beggars belief.

Twenty-five percent experience anxiety about pregnancy during sex. Teenagers get themselves pregnant because they don’t use contraception. This is not on the increase, but it’s high enough.

We have a double morality when it comes to abortion. Terminating a pregnancy is only allowed in a few very stringently laid down situations in Poland. The law is so restrictive that there are only a few hundred legal abortions performed here every year. But there are illegal abortions, and even tourist abortions, performed here.

What proportion of partnerships are marriages?
Around 43-46 percent live in marital unions. That’s not to say that more people live together without being married. Thirty percent live alone. For half of them, this is not so much a matter of choice as a simple admission that they haven’t yet met anyone who meets their expectations. This indicates that Polish people are becoming more demanding.

So, it’s only the remaining 20-something percent who are in relationships without being married, and most of them do not live together. Still, this is a lot higher than it used to be.

What about attitudes to gays? Just how tolerant are Polish people?
Fifty percent have nothing against people of this sexual orientation. However, just under 40 percent believe that homosexual behavior should be cured. People’s attitudes towards gays have changed quite noticeably. There was a time when gays and lesbians were so stigmatized they didn’t even accept their sexual orientation themselves.

While they no longer have to go to such lengths to hide it, they still have a problem with their families accepting them, although this is not what is was either.
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