Which country produces the world’s greatest lovers? Spain and Italy— home to history’s two most famous hot-blooded libertines, Don Juan and Casanova—are clear contenders. And in France, Paris is affectionately called the City of Love (the French even have a kiss named after them). Canada, on the other hand, is better known for its toques, hockey, and maple syrup. But despite our stodgy image, it turns out we’ve got the other three beat: not only do we have more partners than the French, Spanish or Italians, we’re more sexually adventurous, too. During those long, cold winters, we have to do something to keep warm.
The 2007-2008 global Durex survey, which polls people on their sexual habits, makes it clear we’re no slouches in the bedroom. Canadian men say they average 23 partners in a lifetime, it showed, compared with 21 in Spain, 19 in Italy, 17 in France, and 13 in the United States. Canadian women say they have 10 partners, also more than their counterparts in those countries. In China, men reported just four partners in a lifetime, and in India they reported six.
As if that weren’t enough, Canada boasts some of the most caring and considerate male lovers on the planet. Here, we don’t rush to the finish line, we take our time: Canadians spend an average of 37 minutes on foreplay and intercourse per session, a whole 10 minutes more than they do in Hong Kong, and two minutes longer than in the States. We’re more open to experimenting in bed, too. Perhaps most impressively, Canadian men are willing to make big sacrifices for their partners: believe it or not, we’re the vasectomy capital of the world. According to a recent family planning study by the Population Reference Bureau, based in Washington, more women here rely on male sterilization for contraception than in any other country surveyed. How to explain it? “I’m hearing a lot of sensitive comments from patients who empathize with their wives, and what they’ve gone through during childbirth,” says Vancouver-based Dr. Neil Pollock.
But while Canadians do make good partners, a few other nationalities still give us a run for our money. Like Canada, Austria and Switzerland are known for their snow-capped peaks—and they also seem to know that mountain climbing isn’t the only way to break a sweat. In the Durex survey, Austrian men said they had an incredible 29 sexual partners on average, making them the most prolific lovers on the planet. And a full 77 per cent of the Swiss report having sexual fantasies, while just 51 per cent of Canadians do. The innovative Swiss and Austrians also use more erotica (about 60 per cent do in both countries), beating Canada there, too.
In fact, the more open attitudes in Austria and Switzerland seem to permeate much of western Europe, compared to North America. (Just think of the Calvin Klein ads featuring Eva Mendes writhing naked on a bed, deemed too saucy for U.S. broadcast.) In Europe, “the public discourse around sex is different. We’re comfortable discussing it openly,” says Dr. Pierre-André Michaud, professor of adolescent health at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. Sex is seen in practical terms, he adds, and isn’t a politically charged issue as it is in the States. “It’s very interesting for us that every U.S. president must declare if they’re for or against gay marriage and abortion,” he notes. “In Switzerland and surrounding countries, these discussions do not take place.”
One might expect that a more liberal approach to sex would contribute to higher incidences of teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). But the opposite is generally true. Canada performs better than the States on such indicators—our chlamydia rate in 2007 was 217 per 100,000 people, for example, much lower than the 370 per 100,000 in the U.S.—but some western European countries perform better still. Switzerland, for one, had an infection rate of 69 per 100,000 in 2007. It also has one of the lowest teen pregnancy and abortion rates in the world, Michaud says.
Indeed, the general rule seems to be that restrictive attitudes toward sex (especially teen sex, which is a bellwether of sorts) go hand-in-hand with higher teen pregnancy and STD rates, says Alex McKay, research coordinator at the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada. Being able to discuss sex frankly means people “feel much freer about accessing the services and information they need. As a result, they tend to have fewer sexual problems than we do,” McKay says. In North America, though, “there’s still, to some extent, a taboo surrounding sex.”
A recent survey of Toronto teens seems to back that up. It found that many barriers to accessing sexual health information and services in Canada still exist. Interestingly, while youth said they’d learned about STDs, pregnancy and birth control in school, the topics they wanted to learn about included healthy relationships and sexual pleasure, which are often ignored. Even today, “it’s the exceptional teacher who feels comfortable talking about sex,” says Sarah Flicker, a York University professor who worked on the study.
In the end, having the language to talk about it is most important, insists Sari Locker, a sex educator who works with Durex. “The more you can talk about sex, the more you learn about yourself and how to make it enjoyable,” she says. She acknowledges that the cultural taboos that can quiet such talk vary widely around the globe. But despite those differences, the topics that people want to discuss are universal. “No matter where I go, the number one question I get from men is about size,” Locker says. “I get emails from all around the world. I should count how many different countries it’s been.”