James Bond: How his sex life compares with an average man
- 4 October 2012
- From the section Magazine
Spoiler warning: Key plot details are revealed in this piece
For 50 years, James Bond's womanising has been central to the film character's appeal. How does his sex life compare with an average man, and is it healthy?
His chat-up lines err towards the rubbish.
"That's quite a nice little nothing you're almost wearing. I approve."
"Detente can be beautiful."
"Well, as long as the collars and cuffs match."
A typical man deploying these bon mots while seeking female companionship might worry about having his facial features, as well as his cocktail order, shaken, not stirred.
But not James Bond. For all his 1950s attitudes, wince-inducing "jokes" and unapologetic sexism, agent 007 exists in a world where the usual laws of romantic gravity do not apply.
Wherever he goes, the world's most famous secret agent only has to raise an eyebrow to summon an endless array of glamorous, available women with names like Pussy Galore, Honey Ryder and Xenia Onatopp.
It's a pattern of behaviour that, to say the least, does not tally with most of Bond's countrymen.
The Health Survey for England, published in 2011, found that men reported a mean average of 9.3 female sexual partners in their lifetime.
By contrast, Bond - vaguely placed in Ian Fleming's novels somewhere in his late 30s, though he has been active on-screen since 1962's Dr No - can boast (and boast he surely would) a somewhat higher figure.
Measuring it is not an exact science. For all their suggestiveness, Bond films are hardly explicit in their depiction of sex. The most the viewer ever gets is usually Bond waking up next to a woman.
A 2009 study of the film series by a team of academics for the journal Sex Roles found he had enjoyed "strong" sexual contact with 46 women and "mild" encounters, such as kissing, with a further 52 during the first 20 instalments in the Eon Productions Bond series, up until 2002's Die Another Day.
Factor in the subsequent Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace movies and the "strong" figure rises by at least two. And it's reasonable to surmise that in the forthcoming Skyfall his behaviour continues unabated.
It's an unreal world, in which a series of attractive women essentially revolve around and invariably succumb to the charms of the hero.
Of course, defenders of the series insist its entire basis is as a modern fantasy - and suspension of disbelief is required during the sex scenes just as much as it is for the fights, car chases, gadgets and super-villains.
Even under this generous reading, the huge and enduring popularity of the 007 sexual mythology from the pre-feminist 1950s to the present day is striking.
"At his core he remains the same as he was when Ian Fleming started writing - he's sexist, he's misogynist," says Christoph Lindner, professor of media and culture at the University of Amsterdam and author of The James Bond Phenomenon: A Critical Reader.
"It's the same appeal as a series like Mad Men - it's a guilty pleasure. You can immerse yourself in something you know is wrong."
Bond's producers themselves appear to have acknowledged this. In 1995's Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan's 007 debut, Judi Dench's M chides her agent as a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur".
But just like the Austin Powers parodies, such knowingness recognises that Bond is essentially a product of the early days of mass consumerism.
To Fleming's target audience, emerging from both post-war austerity and traditional codes of morality, womanising was just another aspirational activity like driving fast cars and sipping cocktails.
For Bond fans, this persists despite - or perhaps because of - the arrival of a post-Aids environment in which the dangers of promiscuity are widely recognised.
The series tends not to dwell on its protagonist's use or otherwise of contraception. Even after the HIV era dawned in the 1980s, there was nothing to indicate that their promiscuous hero was engaging in safe sex.
Of course, that's something that's common across the whole of Hollywood. You rarely see characters reaching for a condom in a mainstream film.
The defenders of the silver screen might point out that you also don't see characters going to the toilet or remembering to lock their car door. It's one of the consequences of the escapism of Hollywood.
Any suggestion that film producers have any level of social responsibility is a controversial one.
But contemporaries of a real-life 007 would have cause to worry about the state of his sexual health.
"The likelihood of James Bond having chlamydia is extremely high," says Dr Sarah Jarvis, a general practitioner and regular guest on the BBC's The One Show. "If he came to my clinic I would definitely advise him to have an STI test."
A concerned friend might worry about his mental condition, too.
While a string of temporary sexual encounters might appear glamorous on celluloid, in contemporary reality this fear of commitment and resistance to emotional intimacy might trigger worry in a normal social circle.
According to clinical psychologist Oliver James, Bond displays a classic triadic personality based on the three pillars of psychopathy, Machiavellianism and narcissism.
"People with that collection of traits do tend to be sexually promiscuous," says James.
Such characters can be charming and charismatic, James adds, attracting the admiration of men as well as the affection of women.
Ultimately it is the conventions of the series rather than the character's emotional shortcomings that keep him alone.
When Bond marries in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, his bride is mercilessly gunned down.
And when 37 years later, in Daniel Craig's incarnation, he falls in love again, the object of his affections betrays him and drowns.
"He can have something closer to an emotional relationship but the Bond format can't allow that to endure," says Lindner.
What use, after all, would be a monogamous, committed, psychologically secure 007?
For 50 years, movie audiences have demanded their hero be a particular type of sexually promiscuous loner. His name's Bond, James Bond.