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Four million of us are sex cheats

Ben Summerskill, October 27, 2002 The Observer

More than 4 million husbands and wives across Britain have committed adultery, according to an ICM poll for The Observer. And, far from being promiscuous, young people in long-term relationships outside marriage are almost as likely to be monogamous as their married counterparts.

The poll was commissioned for the Sex Uncovered magazine, published with today's Observer. More than one in six married people told researchers they had been unfaithful to their current partner. For those in long-term relationships, the figure was one in five.

'The figures for extra-marital affairs may even be an underestimate,' cautioned Philip Hodson of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. 'All the evidence is that women tend to conceal the extent of adultery, even from professional researchers. Marriage has now become an idealistic set of wishes rather than a lifelong link.'

The ICM poll also reveals that London is sexually conservative. Just 7 per cent of Londoners in stable relationships have been unfaithful to their partners. The figure rises to one in three in Scotland. Most Londoners are over 18 when they lose their virginity. 'This may be a function of better and fuller sex education,' said Hodson.

The average age at which today's 16- to 24-year-olds lost their virginity is 15-and-a-half. For their grandparents and great-grandparents, those over 65, it was 19.

Men are more likely to admit being unfaithful to a long-term partner than women. And those from the affluent AB social classes are 50 per cent more likely to betray their partners than unskilled manual workers.

Seven in 10 Britons say they are 'happy' with their sex lives. Possibly this is because four in 10 say they use sex toys to spice up life in the bedroom.

Three per cent of respondents say they are homosexual and 3 per cent bisexual. Half of those polled think same-sex couples should be allowed to get married.