Not tonight Josephine

Are The French Just Not Sexy Anymore?

50% of the French do not associate sex with “pleasure”. Just how do they really perform against their reputation for bed-hopping sexiness - or it a case of all mouth and no trousers?

There are some things the world just accepts that the French do best in the world. Like make wine, snub tourists, sell arms and, most famously of all, make love. The achievements of all the great French heroes seem to go hand-in-hand with their sexual accomplishments. Henri IV not only had two wives but over fifty mistresses on his books, not counting over a thousand ‘day companions’. Louis XIV had fewer lovers, perhaps only fifty, one of them being Marie Mancini, the niece of Cardinal Mazarin, his chief minister, who, keeping things cosy, was also sleeping with his Louis’ mother. Napoleon’s “official” lovers numbered around a hundred though historians speculate that with the Emperor exhausted by constant campaigning, many were just for show (one of his girlfriends, Marguerite Josephine Weimer, also slept with the Duke of Wellington and was disappointed with Napoleon’s lovemaking, complaining that: “Monsieur le Duc était de beaucoup le plus fort”, “The Duke was far more vigorous.”) 

Probably the only French hero not setting records in bed was Joan of Arc but her image as a hysterical, armour-clad, teenage virgin gives her prominence as a sexual archetype amongst psychotherapists everywhere.

Even today, the movers and shakers of French society take a not-so-discreet pride in their sexual conquests. President Jacques Chirac’s much reported dalliance with Italian B movie actress, Claudia Cardinale, is in the tradition of President Giscard d’Estaing’s relationship with French B movie actress, Sylvia Krystel. President Mitterrand, who well understood that in matters of sex quantity is more important than quality, told his psychiatrist that he himself could be compared to fabled lover, Don Giovanni, with about the same score, “mille e tre” (one thousand and three) attributed to the seducer in Mozart’s opera. Of recent French politicians, only Charles de Gaulle seems to have been comparatively undersexed. (The British press speculated that this might have been the reason that his widow, when asked what life held for after her husband’s death, replied: “A penis”. Prime Minister Harold Wilson chipped in quick: “Madame de Gaulle obviously means ‘happiness’”.)

Yet elites everywhere are notoriously delinquent when it comes to keeping their underwear on, not only in France. Bill Clinton’s escapades in the United States prove that. What is different is the reaction of the ordinary French, a reaction best summed up by one woman in the street interviewed by an American reporter about the Monica Lewinsky scandal: “So what? It was only about sex.”

Having spent centuries circumventing a once repressive Catholic church, the modern French invest the same moral significance in the subject as shaving their armpits or tearing up traffic tickets; in other words, not much. While France’s state brothels were closed down in 1947 and the legendary cinq a sept, that period spent with someone other than your spouse between the close of business and supper time, may be a thing of the past, one look at their newspapers shows that the French are laid back to say the least about sex. For three weeks during the summer of 2005, Libération, the high-minded Left-wing daily founded by Jean-Paul Sartre, devoted its centre pages to articles on fetish sex, illustrated by giant close-ups of genitalia. “Let's not be hypocritical”, said Mathieu Lindon, editor of the series, “most adolescents [in France] have seen porn films by the time they are thirteen.”

This kind of blasé attitude has given the French a reputation for sex and sexiness that is as cast-iron as the Eiffel Tower, and they are just as proud of it. Recently Marie-Hélène Colson, a doctor working for the Société Francophone de Médecine Sexuelle (the French-Speaking Society of Sexual Medicine), was asked whether French lovemaking was qualitatively better than those of other nationalities. “We don’t have that much data but I have heard it is a bit quicker in Anglo-Saxon and northern countries”, she replied. “It is unthinkable for French people to rush these things.”

But is such self-satisfaction really justified by the, er, satisfaction delivered? Recent studies suggest that the French reputation as the world’s greatest lovemakers doesn’t quite stand up. 

Do the French really have a better sex life than the rest of the world? Only 23% of French people are happy with their sex lives compared to 27% in the United States and 26% in Mexico. Even the repressed British managed to come in at 25%. For the record, Venezuelans seem to be having the best time in bed, scoring 46%. (Starch Roper Worldwide, 2000)

How much do the French enjoy sex? Not as much as you would think. A disappointing 50% of French people do not associate sex with pleasure and 23% said they would be “relieved” not to have sex for several months on end (Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2006)

How many times do the French make love a week? Here, the French beat the world. They make love, on average, 137 times a year. The Greeks come next with 133 times. The phlegmatic Brits make love 119 times a year and Americans are not far behind with 111 times. The Japanese trail with 74. (Durex.com, 2004)

Do the French consider they are getting enough sex? Only 5.6% of French men (and 8% of French women) expressed satisfaction with the “frequency of intercourse in their lives” (Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2006)

How good is sex amongst the French? When it comes to the crunch, orgasms per bout, the French perform weakly. 61% of Italians will have an orgasm each time they make love (figures averaged between men and women). Only 31% of their neighbours in France can say the same (Durex.com, 2004)

How many lovers do the French have? The average French person has 8.1 sexual partners in their lifetime. The Danes score the highest in Europe, with 12.5. The US and the UK come in with 10.3 each. (Durex.com, 2004)

Why are the French not so hot in bed? Perhaps it’s because they only spend an average 19.2 minutes on foreplay. The British, on the other hand, take their time at 22.5 minutes, followed closely by the Germans (22.2), the Irish (21.8) and the Spanish (21.7). Even Americans, usually eager to get down to business, spend 19.7 minutes on the prep work (Durex.com, 2004)

But maybe the French are, you know, filthier in bed? If we’re speaking metaphorically, no. When it comes to rating perversions in Europe, the British come out on top. More than a 38% of Britons say they have used bondage to enhance sex while the next most likely to do so are the Dutch on 27%. The French lag well behind with docile 11%. Britain also had the highest rates in Europe for using sex toys and pornography though the Dutch were out in front when it comes to lingerie with 52% claiming that they had donned a posing pouch or leather gear (Policy Exchange, 2005)

Well then, surely the French still lead the world in ooh la-la, Feydeau farce-style adultery? Again, no. The spark seems to have gone out of French philandering. 69% percent of Frenchmen and 85% of single Frenchwomen report fidelity to one single sexual partner – and that compares unfavourably (or favourably depending on your moral compass) to 48% of American men and 66% of American women. (The Journal of Sex Research, 2001)


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