Changing trends in sexual behaviour and attitudes: Lancet.Nov.2013.ahead of print.


Sexual behaviour of the population is of immense interest to psychiatrists. The sexual behaviour/ practices/preferences are changing reflecting other changes in society. National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles  survey ( UK) provide interesting insights in to this under researched area.This survey is done at 10 year intervals having started in 1990.

Catherine H Mercer et al report the findings of the third wave of survey.They used a multistage, clustered, and stratified probability sample design. All participants completed face-to-face interviews  and a self report.Technology was used to avoid the interviewer seeing the responses of the participants during interview. Each interview lasted one hour.Sample was broadly representative of the British population  in the age group 16–74 years.Response rate was 58%. Interviews were completed with 15162 participants .


Median age at first heterosexual intercourse was 17 years in both sexes.The proportion reporting first heterosexual intercourse before age 16 years increased. 31% between 16-24 reported having heterosexual  intercourse before age 16. 

Number of partners: Men have average 12 partners , women have 8. This was 13 and 7 respectively 10 years ago. However median number of partners remained same 6 ( men) and 4 ( women).Two thirds had only one partner in the past year. 23% had no partner in the past year.

Frequency:  On average sexual intercourse happens 5 times in a month.This was 6 in the last survey.

Attitudes: 60% of the sample agree that same-sex relationship is not wrong at all. 9% do not think one night stand as wrong.

Practices: 60% have given or received oral sex last year. One third have masturbated in past 4 weeks.12% of women had same-sex experience.

Trends: Among women, same-sex relationship, average number of male partners ( life time) and having the experience of anal sex are increasing.Same sex relationship is more accepted.20% of men and 13% of women do not consider this as wrong.  Women are more becoming tolerant of this.

Caution: Willingness to report and social desirability bias may contribute to differences. Methods adopted are same in recent two surveys.

ConclusionAge at first sexual intercourse in people in Britain has decreased. Average number of partners have increased, this increase is more in women.Frequency of sexual intercourse has decreased.Sexual activity continues into later life.  experimentation with sexual repertoires and sexual orientation has increased, especially by women, and the gap between the sexes are narrowing.

Summary of the article:

Changes in sexual attitudes and lifestyles in Britain through the life course and over time: findings from the National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal).Lancet. Nov 2013. ahead of print. Catherine H Mercer et al published online  November 26, 2013 S0140-6736(13)62035-8

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