“Made it through 17 Drake songs. Loved it. Parked in the woods.” This is how one participant of the 2016 study “Sexual Behavior in Parked Cars Reported by Midwestern College Men and Women” responded about his experience having sex in an automobile.
Dr. Cindy Struckman-Johnson, the lead researcher of the study, has taught at USD since 1980. She said the idea for this study came out of her two focus areas.
“I’m in two different research areas: I’m a sex and gender researcher and traffic safety researcher,” she said. “So I have always had two different worlds and I would do my sex and gender research during the academic year and then I would do seat belts every summer for the state of South Dakota. I did that for over 20 years and then retired from that.”
After leaving the seatbelt study, Struckman-Johnson said her attention was brought to another traffic safety issue.
“So for my latest research how this came about was that I gave up the seatbelt study, kind of retired from that,” she said. “I was driving to town one of those days I was sitting at an intersection and a woman turning the corner… just practically drove right into me, she was on her cell phone. This was right outside of town and she practically broadsided me. So I thought, “Well, since I’m not doing seatbelt safety study anymore that I would do an academic study in texting behavior and I am interested in gender differences between men and women.'”
Struckman-Johnson then gathered a team of undergraduate students to help her conduct her research. While researching the use of cell phones while driving, the group also asked what other things drivers did that distracted them.
“One of the questions in the texting study was, ‘OK, do you text and drive?’ and then it was, ‘OK, well, what else do you do?’ and some of the things were like watching movies, putting on make-up, eating and drinking,” she said. “And one of the things since I do sexuality, was ‘had sex while driving’ and I think we had around 30 percent of men and 15 percent of women check that category.”
After she saw the results of that question, Struckman-Johnson became curious about how many people had sex in parked cars and the type of experience they had. So she gathered another team of students and created an online survey.
“With my knowledge as a Midwesterner, I knew that having sex in a parked car is a common thing in our part of the country,” Struckman-Johnson said.
The team asked that question on a survey in 2015 and held the data for a year before returning to the topic.
The study asked participants about every aspect of parked car sex from relationship of the partners, parking location, birth control, type of sex, to length of activity.
There was also a section for participants to write about their best and worst experiences. Most were very positive.
“The first time I had sex with my girlfriend in a car was just an exhilarating experience because of the nerve and excitement between us,” said a male study participant.
A female participant said she and her partner were parked behind some trees with the car lights off when they did the deed.
“We started having sex and the more into it we got, the more crazy are (sic) sex became. We ended up outside of the vehicle as I was sitting on the hood of the car and he was standing in front of me. It was the best sex I have ever felt,” she said.
Another female participant said there were actual fireworks during her experience.
“We laid all the seats down and opened the back to let air in on the edge of the lake and turned the music on, we were where we could see the fireworks so we had sex until the fireworks were over,” she said.
Struckman-Johnson said the results of the study were very positive.
“So essentially, we found out that it’s primarily a very positive sexual experience engaged in by serious lovers,” she said. “Only a minority were hooking up. So car sex is kind of an important joyful activity engaged in by some men and women.”
Kayla Nalan-Sheffield is a graduate student at USD who said she enjoyed working on this study, even though it was something she wouldn’t have normally done.
“So, I am in the clinical psychology program here at USD and I had a course with (Stuckman-Johnson) my first year in the program,” Nalan-Sheffield said. “So, that summer I didn’t have any funding and she offered to pay somebody in the program to help her analyze the data for this so that’s kinda how it fell in my lap.”
Nalan-Sheffield helped Stuckman-Johnson with the content analysis of the surveys, which took about four months. She, too, felt the findings of the study were interesting.
“So I actually think it’s kind of interesting because I grew up in a kind of rural town in Iowa and so we didn’t really have a ton of stuff to do in my town so driving around was kind of recreation for us when I was in school,” she said. “So kind of looking at it from the rural lens I can very well see how this kind of thing would happen in rural settings.”
While Struckman-Johnson has published lots of studies she said this one was different for her for two significant reasons: the findings were positive and it picked up a lot of attention online.
“What happened after it was online a couple of weeks is the Daily Beast called me up and Samantha Allen is one of their writers and happens to be a sexologist with a PhD and she read the article and she described it as one of the most entertaining sex studies of the year. So she wrote about it on the Daily Beast,” Struckman-Johnson said. “So after it was picked up by the Daily Beast it was picked up by Huffington post and Cosmopolitan online. So for a weekend we were all of the country and we heard we were on TV stations in Chicago.”
After conducting studies in the past on sexual assault and rape in prisons, Struckman-Johnson said this study had a much more positive vibe.
“It’s probably the most enjoyable study I have done because the results were so positive,” she said. “A lot of my work is about coercion and dark behaviors but in the parking study we ask about sexual coercion but it is a very small percentage of people had had happen. The vast majority people just said it was a very wonderful time. So to write about positive sexuality in these days, whereas there is so much pressure about sexual coercion, STIs, AIDS and teen pregnancy, these are all very deep dark problems. So, this was one just people were having fun and it was really an expression of love and romance. So that was probably my most enjoyable study to do.”