Workplace

How Often Do People Have Sex at the Office?


An expert advises, "Don't put it in writing...."

Photograph by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

An expert advises, "Don't put it in writing...."

As someone who reads people’s sex diaries professionally—for my books and website I collect thousands of them—I am here to report that former CIA Director David Petraeus is really just a talented guy who, considering his marital and work history, is a typical American male.

Petraeus has been married for 38 years. Very few human beings sleep with just one person in a 38-year period. Most people simply aren’t married that long. According to the Census, the majority of marriages end long before the 38th anniversary mark (the average divorce occurs eight years after the wedding), and of the marriages that stay intact for 38 years, approximately half involve at least one other sexual partner.

Various news outlets reported that Petraeus had sex under his desk at CIA headquarters. This makes his case a rare one. Although the workplace is the most common place to meet a new partner, few people actually have sex at the office—in the 3,500 diaries I’ve read, a grand total of 11 office affairs actually took place within the workplace walls. Workaholics logging long hours, particularly those working 12- to 18-hour days, account for seven of those 11. (Oh, and regarding the issue of on the desk vs. under the desk, I’ve discovered that people who prefer steadiness and balance—and the kinds of sexual positions given names such as “missionary,” for instance—opt for the floor. The desk is the domain of more acrobatic love-makers.)

Offices are no longer the great bastions of sex that they were in the Mad Men era, when doors were thick and carpeting thicker. The age of wide open “co-working environments,” glass walls, and security cameras has made the office a difficult place to find privacy. (Unless, of course, your office in a mid-20th-century government building is possibly camera-free and fully secure because you’re the head of U.S. intelligence—and perhaps your boss will never notice because he’s the president of the U.S. during an election year. Just saying.)

Regardless, privacy aside, there’s one thing I find to be an absolute certainty: If you communicated evidence of your lovemaking by e-mail or text message—like Petraeus apparently did—my research shows that you will likely be found out. All cheating affairs I encountered were discovered because of a digital paper trail. Remember, people: Don’t put it in writing.

Cohen is the author of The Sex Diaries Project: What We're Saying About What We're Doing (John Wiley & Sons).

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