“Made it through 17 Drake songs. Loved it. Parked in the woods.”
That’s how one young man described his experience having sex in a parked car for a team of University of South Dakota researchers who have written the most entertaining scholarly study of the year.
The study—led by USD psychologist Dr. Cindy Struckman-Johnson and due to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Sex Research—has an irresistible title: “Sexual Behavior in Parked Cars Reported By Midwestern College Men and Women.” And the story of how it came about is almost as intriguing as its findings.
“I’m a sex researcher who also studies traffic safety,” she explained to The Daily Beast. “It’s very unusual. Kind of like I’ve had two lives.”
Now, after a traffic study took an unexpected detour, those two lives have become one.
In a survey of 706 undergraduates (195 of them men, 511 women) littered with amusing anecdotes about in-car coitus, Dr. Struckman-Johnson and her team discovered that parked-car sex is still a “fundamental coming-of-age phenomenon” in the 21st century. Rumors that the practice tapered off after the era of the “shag van” appear to have been greatly exaggerated—at least in the Midwest.
“Sex and cars have gone together since the car was invented,” Struckman-Johnson said in a press release.
Based on her team’s findings, sex and cars are still happily married. Sixty percent of survey respondents reported having had sex in a parked car, beginning at an average age of around 17 years old and repeating the practice a median of four more times. Fourteen percent even lost their virginity while on four wheels.
And although men viewed parked-car intercourse more favorably than did women, most respondents found it to be “an enjoyable sexual and romantic adventure” regardless of their gender. In fact, out of the 74 survey respondents who chose to include a written description of their most memorable car sex experience, several used flowery words and phrases like “romantic,” “sunsets,” “the moon,” “the stars,” and “summer nights.”
Wella, wella, wella, tell you more? The back seat was the most popular location but the front seat was still favored by around 34 percent of respondents. And although most respondents (48.7 percent) didn’t last longer than 15 minutes, a truly impressive 5.5 percent managed to do the deed for “more than an hour” in the car.
But one of the most important findings, Struckman-Johnson told The Daily Beast, is that parked-car sex is still “a behavior that’s tied to serious dating, which some people think is dying out.” Indeed, despite myths that Millennials are best characterized as a “hookup generation,” 84 percent of respondents reported having parked-car sex with some form of romantic partner rather than a casual fling.
Some of the written descriptions the researchers received sound like they were ripped from the pages of a grocery-store-aisle romance novel.
“We laid all the seats down and opened the back to let air in on the edge of the lake and turned the music on,” one woman wrote. “We were where we could see the fireworks so we had sex until [they] were over.”
Cars have changed a lot since the days of the Model T but having sex inside of them, it seems, will always be the cat’s pajamas.
“The universal value of parking in cars is that, for more than a century, it has offered a semiprivate, movable, secure, and available place for two people to have sex,” the authors wrote. “We see this role continuing in the future of dating, even as courtship trends change.”
There were relatively few downsides to knocking boots in the backseat. Less than 10 percent of respondents got caught. Only two of the respondents reported pregnancies resulting from car sex. Two men said they contracted an STI. And although the condom use rate of 58 percent certainly leaves something to be desired, that figure is “actually higher” than the overall condom use rates among young adults recorded in the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, as the authors noted with surprise.
“We think of car sex as being driven by sexual urges, maybe thoughtless, unplanned,” Struckman-Johnson told The Daily Beast. “So I was expecting more pregnancies, more STIs.”
There are, however, some gender-based differences to bear in mind. Men were much more likely than women to orgasm during their most recent car-based escapades (86.4 percent to 48.3 percent) while women were more than twice as likely to be “injured by a feature of the car.”
One woman, for example, wrote that she “accidentally smashed [her] pelvic bone against his gear shift”—not a euphemism—while trying to slide toward the driver’s seat. After a brief timeout, she and her partner “moved to the field” to “keep going.”
“We speculate that women in the missionary position during car sex were more likely to be pushed up against car features during penile-vaginal intercourse,” the authors wrote, adding a little wryly: “Perhaps these bodily injuries, although minor, help explain why women, on average, rated sex in parked cars as not quite as enjoyable as men did.”
But there is a risk of parked-car sex that Struckman-Johnson takes particularly seriously given her extensive background studying prison rape and sexual assault on college campuses. The “dark side,” she and her team found, is that about four percent of women and less than three percent of men reported experiencing some form of sexual coercion inside of a parked car. Those rates are lower than they anticipated but cars, they noted, still seem to “provide a unique opportunity for perpetrators.”
That sobering risk aside, Struckman-Johnson was pleased to finally research a topic that mostly seems to bring people joy.
“I’m moving toward the end of my career,” she told The Daily Beast. “It felt really good.”
It’s not everyday in academia, after all, that you get to read a survey response from a woman whose “boyfriend took a pee break during sex and [then] had to rush through bees swarming their pickup”—one of the best stories the authors highlighted.
“We had so many,” said Struckman-Johnson. “It was so hard to choose.”
Looking forward, she recommends that researchers examine the prevalence of parked-car sex in urban and coastal areas. As it stands, as she and her team noted, theirs is “one of the first in-depth studies of sex on this topic in modern times.” Why should other scholars study this, too?
“Why not?” Struckman-Johnson laughed.