Study: Sex in a parked car is generally a positive experience

A new study in the Journal of Sex Research examines the phenomenon of having sex in a parked vehicle.

The survey of 199 men and 511 women (with an average age of 19.8) at a small Midwestern university found that about 60 percent of the students said they had experienced sex in parked cars. Sex occurred most often when the students were in their junior and senior years of high school, and 14% of respondents said they lost their virginity in a parked car.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Cindy Struckman-Johnson of the University of South Dakota. Read her explanation of the research findings below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Struckman-Johnson: In my past I have been a sex researcher during the academic year (working primarily on sexual coercion and gender issues), and during the summers I was a traffic safety researcher (working primarily on seat belt safety surveys for the State of South Dakota.) Several years ago when I was driving to work, I was almost hit by an individual who was using her cell phone while driving. This incident scared me and led me to study the motivation for why men compared to women text while driving. In that study, a moderate number of students told me that they not only texted while driving, they also engaged in sexual activity behind the wheel.

So the next year I followed up the texting while driving study with a new survey that asked students about having sex in moving vehicles. I used the opportunity in this same survey to also ask students if they had ever had sex in a non-moving or “parked” vehicle — a question that I have always wondered about! (The results of these 3 studies are now all published, Texting While Driving in Accident Analysis and Prevention, 2015; Having Sex While Driving, Accident Analysis and Prevention, 2014; and Having Sex in Parked Cars, in Journal of Sex Research, sometime in 2017.)

What should the average person take away from the study?

The average reader would be interested to know that about 60% of college students at a Midwestern college have engaged in sex in a parked car at least once. The behavior is most likely to occur during the later high school years, but continues on into the college experience.

Our results suggest that having sex in parked cars was generally a positive romantic and sexual experience for both men and women. We concluded that sex in parked cars is primarily engaged in by serious dating or committed couples, and is not (yet) an integral part of a hook up culture. Of the several hundred respondents who wrote about their most memorable time having sex in a parked car, over a third — men and women alike — described the event as “fun” using words such as great, good, enjoyable, arousing, satisfying, thrilling, exciting and pleasurable.

The time spent having sex while parked varied considerably from less than 5 minutes to more than an hour. A content analysis of “most memorable” experiences of having sex in a parked car helped explain the variations. Couples who would get caught up in arousal in the moment would park for quick sex. Also, couples who were being separated or were just reunited would also opt for quick moments of passion. However, many couples would plan and invest a great deal of time in “celebratory” sex for proms, birthdays, holidays, and special events — an outcome that we think highlights the importance of having sex in parked cars.

An expected finding was that although equal percentages of men and women had “fun” memories of parked car sex, men were more likely than women to rate the experience of parked car sex as “pleasurable”. Men’s average rating was in the pleasurable part of the scale, whereas women’s average rating was in the “almost pleasurable” part of the scale. We speculated that this was because more men (86%) than women (48%) had achieved orgasm in their most recent incident of parked car sex. In addition, more women (20%) than men (9%) reported receiving minor bodily injuries from vehicular features (e.g., hitting head on the steering wheel, car doors) during lifetime experiences of parked car sex.

Our results indicated that reports of serious negative outcomes such as sexual coercion, unwanted pregnancies, and STI infections were generally low. Although in a minority, some respondents reported disturbing incidents such as being pressured to have sex with a driver who would not take them home until sex was obtained and being forcefully pinned down for oral sex in the front seat by a relatively unknown person. We concluded that in some cases, being in a parked car presents an opportunity for a sexual predator to confine and blackmail a passenger into having sex.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

Our results cannot be generalized beyond college student populations attending school in the Midwest. We look forward to other researchers discovering how sex in parked vehicles occurs among youth in urban areas on the coasts. We also are curious if members of older populations such as Gen-Xers or even Baby Boomers engage in parked car sex.

The study, “Sexual Behavior in Parked Cars Reported by Midwestern College Men and Women“, was co-authored by Kayla Nalan-Sheffield, Samuel Gaster and Dave Struckman-Johnson.