A lot of sex is had in cars. A lot. Particularly in the US—Americans seemingly can’t get enough of making the beast with two backs in the thing with four wheels.
But exactly how common is it? And why?
One survey of over 1,000 Americans found 84.4% had engaged in some sort of sexual activity in a car. Sedans were the most popular type of car, followed by SUVs. Parking lots were the most popular location, with over 56% of respondents having used them for non-parking purposes, while nearly 30% had home for it on a poetic-sounding “scenic overlook”. 36.5% reported engaging in some kind of sexual activity while driving, which is an efficient piece of multitasking even if inadvisable from a road-safety perspective.
(For comparison, in Britain, a survey by second-hand car website Carwow found only slightly more than half of the drivers had had sex in their cars, with those aged 45-54 the most likely to have done it, with 52% cheerfully responding yes.)
So what’s going on?
Part of it has to come down to Americans simply spending more time in cars than people in the rest of the world. Outside of a few urban areas, public transport is used habitually only by a tiny minority. 91% of American households have access to a car—and over 20% have access to three or more—with the average driver covering 13,474 miles per year. That’s a lot of miles, and a lot of time spent behind the wheel—an average of 101 minutes per day. Only China owns more cars than the US—302 million as opposed to 268 million—but with about four times the population.
Cars enjoy a unique place in American culture—a huge amount of American cities were built after Henry Ford revolutionized auto production, and the idea of “two cars in every garage” was a core part of the enormous suburban spread of the mid-20th century. While there are plenty of countries where driving is simply a case of getting from A to B, it’s much more romanticized in the US, ingrained into mythology and culture, a core part of the American Dream. On The Road, Fear, and Loathing, about 75% of the songs recorded between 1960 and 1980—the freedom of the road looms enormously in American culture and does that looming sexily.
A lot of this is because driving in America is just different. Many older European cities are near-impossible to drive in due to their roads being that much older and smaller, while planned 20th-century cities have highways integrated in a much more car-friendly manner. There are no British songs about motorways, but hundreds of American ones about highways. Route 66, America’s most famous road, is beautiful, romantic, open, and feels like it has adventure marbled through it. Britain’s most famous road is possibly the M25, also its most universally hated and perpetually congested. Nobody pulls over to the side of the M25 to have sex, they do it to throw up.
Americans also start driving a lot younger than many other countries, which must have something to do with it. In Britain, the average age to learn to drive is now 26, with a lot of young people put off by the prohibitive cost of fuel (which is taxed at a much lower rate in the US). 71% of US high school seniors have a license, the lowest figure in decades but enormously high compared to a lot of places. Getting your first car is embedded in American culture as a rite of passage. If you’re 16, living at home with your parents and have a car, you have a mobile cocoon of freedom and privacy, away from prying eyes and parental rules—of course, you’re gonna have sex in it. If you only learn to drive at 26, you’re (probably, hopefully) likely to be living somewhere where you’re, you know, allowed to have sex.
Another survey, this one published in the Journal of Sex Research and based on research at the University of South Dakota, found that 59.5% of college-age respondents had had sex in a car, and 14% had lost their virginity in one. “Sex and cars have gone together since the car was invented,” psychologist and study leader Dr. Cindy Struckman-Johnson said in a press release. That study seems to confirm the idea of the car as an alternative location to the childhood/family home, specifying the majority of respondents (56.9%) were with a serious but non-cohabiting romantic partner. (To go ultra-specific, the majority were in the back seat [63.4%] of a standard car [56.4%] parked out in the country [56.0%].)
Finally, comfort must also play a part in it all. Americans buy larger cars than most other nationalities—in 2013, for instance, 63% of US car sales were classified as larger vehicles against a global average of 25%, which means a lot more cars with big back seats in which having sex doesn’t guarantee cramp. In Titanic, despite the hundreds of beds on board, Jack and Rose opted to go for it in the back of a limo and steam up the windows. Spacious. Luxurious. They may have made a different decision if all that was on offer was a two-door compact.
There are doubtless other reasons as well, but one thing is certain: cars and sex are pretty well-acquainted with one another, more so in the US than anywhere. And if the car’s a-rockin', don’t go a-knockin’.