Sex and the satisfied doctor

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Most physicians are happy with their sex lives. But one in eight has committed adultery.


Getting Personal

Sex and the satisfied doctor

Jump to:Choose article section... When it comes to sex, specialty does matter Do better doctor marriages explain fewer affairs? "Was it good for you?" Which doctors find their sex lives satisfactoryHow often doctors have sex per monthDoctors and extramarital affairs: Who admits to themWhom doctors have affairs withHow affairs affect doctors' marriagesAre doctors more faithful?

Most physicians are happy with their sex lives. But one in eight has committed adultery.

By Deborah Grandinetti,
Senior Editor

Ah,sex. Even with those ungodly schedules and the frustrations of managed care, doctors are still making time for it. According to the physicians who were accommodating enough to answer our prying questions, their sex lives are just fine, thank you. Three of four doctors say they're satisfied with this aspect of their lives—men only slightly more so than women.

Which specialists are the happiest? Eighty-one percent of radiologists say their sex lives are satisfactory, compared with 67 percent of ob/gyns, the least satisfied among the 11 specialties we surveyed. Also scoring high are Hindu physicians, 91 percent of whom claim to be satisfied. On this measure, they outrank Catholic and Protestant physicians by over 15 percentage points, and Islamic and Jewish physicians by 20 points.

Forget about swinging singles: Forty percent of single physicians are dissatisfied with their sex lives, while 30 percent of divorced, separated, or widowed doctors expressed similar discontent. But better than three of four married physicians and those living with a mate are satisfied.

Doctors' overall high rates of satisfaction correlate with a drop in the rate of extramarital affairs. In this year's survey, only 12 percent of respondents admit to having had an affair. When we asked the same question back in 1979, more than one in four physicians said they'd committed adultery.

Still, today's typical doctor isn't having as much sex as the typical patient. When we asked physicians how often they have sex, the median figure was five times per month—roughly once a week, with a little bonus. Among Americans in general, couples tend to have sexual relations six to seven times a month over the life course of a relationship, says John H. Gagnon, an emeritus professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

When it comes to sex, specialty does matter

Here are some highlights from our survey, by specialty:

Orthopedic surgeons have great appetites and are not easily sated. Twenty percent of them claim to have sex more than 10 times a month, compared with the typical specialist's six times per month. But it's possible that at least a few of those sexual encounters are with people other than spouses. Eighteen percent of orthopedic surgeons admit to having had an affair, which also gives them the dubious distinction of being the specialty most likely to stray. That's twice the rate of pediatricians and almost three times the rate of radiologists.

With all that sex, you might expect orthopedists to rank near the top in terms of satisfaction. But they don't. Rather, they're third from the bottom, just above ob/gyns and anesthesiologists. Apparently, quantity isn't as important as quality.


Anesthesiologists are even less satisfied than orthopedic surgeons, and almost as adventurous outside of marriage. At 15 percent, they rank just behind orthopedic surgeons in the percentage who admit to an affair.

Pediatricians don't seem to be having as much sex as their colleagues, but they aren't complaining. The typical pediatrician has sex four times a month, compared with five times for all physicians. And that sex is most likely to be with a spouse. Only 9 percent of pediatricians admit to having an affair. Meanwhile, pediatricians rank somewhere in the middle on satisfaction, with 76 percent answering in the affirmative.

Radiologists, however, have reason to smile. Not only are they the most satisfied, they're also the most faithful: Only 7 percent say they've had an affair. Perhaps it's their regular hours that make it easier for them to achieve marital bliss.

Do better doctor marriages explain fewer affairs?

Back in 1979, one in four physicians we surveyed said he'd had an extramarital liaison. This year, only one in eight admits to philandering. There was a somewhat higher proportion of men (13 percent) than women (6 percent).

Have doctors rediscovered a fidelity that was missing a generation ago? That's not crystal clear. But here's one possible explanation: Our survey shows that doctors are reporting happier marriages and greater sexual compatibility.

Our survey also found that nonreligious physicians report significantly more affairs than their religious brethren. Twenty-five percent of those who don't have a religious affiliation say they've indulged in at least one affair, as opposed to 14 percent for Protestants, 11 percent for Jews, 9 percent for Catholics, 5 percent for Islamic physicians, and 3 percent for Hindus.

The likelihood of having had an affair increases with age. The longer you live, the greater the chance and opportunity for a dalliance, we suppose. Seventeen percent of physicians in the 50 to 59 and 60-and-over groups say they've had an affair, as opposed to only 4 percent of those under 40.

And with whom does the physician philander? Nurses are the paramours of choice, followed by family friends, office employees, other physicians, and patients. In our 1979 survey, office employees led the partner list, followed by family friends and patients.

For the most part, affairs don't break up medical marriages. One-third of physicians say they were able to work through their marital problems despite the affair. Another third say they were able to keep it a secret. Nineteen percent report that their marriages are over, but only 6 percent say they're still involved with that (no longer) clandestine lover.

"Was it good for you?"
Which doctors find their sex lives satisfactory


How often doctors have sex per month

By gender . . .01-23-45-67-89-10More than 10
All physicians6%19%21%20%13%10%11%
Age . . .01-23-45-67-89-10More than 10
Under 402%16%19%21%14%15%14%
60 and older132325151175
And specialty01-23-45-67-89-10More than 10
Emergency physicians5171322151513
General surgeons5172420131110
Orthopedic surgeons88222051720

Doctors and extramarital affairs: Who admits to them

Whom doctors have affairs with

How affairs affect doctors' marriages


Are doctors more faithful?

If surveys of sexual behavior are to be believed, today's physician is less inclined toward extramarital affairs than the average citizen. But that's a big if, according to researchers.

For one thing, there are always questions about the accuracy of any survey on sexual behavior—ours included. How do we know if respondents are telling the truth? Is the sample representative, or does it reflect just that small subset of individuals who are willing to disclose such deeply personal information? Have the researchers' biases skewed the results?

Second, relevant comparisons are difficult, since our survey didn't ask the exact questions used in surveys of the general public. Nor did we use the same variables—such as geographical region or income—to segment our findings.

That said, only 12 percent of physicians responding to this year's survey say they'd had an affair. National surveys suggest that some 14 percent of all women and 24 percent of all men have had one or more affairs, says John H. Gagnon, an emeritus professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Gagnon was one of four authors of Sex in America: A Definitive Survey, published in 1994.

So are physicians more loyal to their marriages than the general population? While Gagnon isn't convinced our findings are representative of all physicians, because he suspects we drew disproportionately more responses from conservative ones, he was game enough to speculate.

Gagnon suggests that it makes more sense to compare physicians with other professionals, such as attorneys, than with the average citizen. Because professionals marry later in life, there's a shorter span of years in which they can have affairs.

Doctors' tighter schedules may be a factor, too. There's just not time for an affair. Or just maybe, says Gagnon, physicians have become more acutely aware of the disincentives—such as the cost of divorce settlements. Although an affair doesn't always lead to a divorce, when it does, a doctor runs a high risk of getting soaked.


Deborah Grandinetti. Sex and the satisfied doctor. Medical Economics 2000;19:62.