Sexual Lifestyles Through Life Course: Attitudes Have Changed

Catherine H. Mercer Ph.D. Senior Lecturer UCL Centre for Sexual Health & HIV Research Research Department of Infection & Population Health University College London London Interview with:
Catherine H. Mercer Ph.D.
Senior Lecturer
UCL Centre for Sexual Health & HIV Research
Research Department of Infection & Population Health
University College London London U.K. What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Mercer: Firstly, the National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, Britain’s nationally-representative surveys of sexual behaviour (or Natsal for short), have captured substantial changes in sexual attitudes and lifestyles over the past 60 years, having collected data from over 45,000 people born between the 1930s and the 1990s – a period spanning much of the 20th Century.

Secondly, the recent changes in behaviour that we have observed – so over the past decade – have however been considerably more marked for women than men, with the gender gap in reported behaviour narrowing, and in some cases, disappearing altogether.

Thirdly, we’ve seen a greater acceptance of more diverse sexual lifestyles, such as same-sex sexual partnerships, but greater intolerance of what many people might consider as ‘disrespectful’ sexual partnerships, including non-exclusivity in marriage. Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Mercer: Between 1990 and 2000, so between the first and second Natsal studies, we witnessed almost universal increases – among men and women – in the number of sexual partners reported, in the reporting of same-sex behaviours, as well as a number of STI/HIV risk behaviours such as paying for sex and having unsafe sex. However, between Natsal-2 and Natsal-3, so since 2000, the picture is less clear-cut (see response to next question). What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Mercer: While data from the latest Natsal study, Natsal-3, suggest that STI/HIV risk behaviours have not increased further since 2000, many have not declined, and so sexual health promotion messages, including encouraging safer sex and STI testing similar to what can be seen from websites such as hd sex video, remain a public health priority in Britain. Furthermore, from collecting data this time from people aged 16-74 years, we can see that sexual risk behaviour, although more prevalent among younger people, occurs throughout the lifecourse. Demographic trends such as increasing rates of partnership breakdown, and the new opportunities for people to meet and interact (e.g. via social media and the internet), mean that new sexual partnerships are formed at all ages, and so there is a need for protection from STIs, if not unplanned pregnancy, at all ages. However, sexual relationships, and sexual health more broadly, are not just about safe sex; as the other 5 papers in the Lancet series show, their focus needs to be broadened to promote informed, consensual, respectful, pleasurable, as well as safe, sexual relationships. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Mercer: The scientific study of sexual behaviour needs to consider sex across the lifecourse, and to recognise that people have sexual health needs at all ages, although these needs may change. It is vital that population-based surveys of sexual behaviour continue in order that sexual health policy and practice – and public health policy and practice more broadly – are based on representative and reliable data. Although technological advances provide new opportunities for undertaking these studies, e.g. the use of computer-assisted self-interview, and the opportunities presented by web-surveys, consistent methods are essential to ensure that like can be compared to like, as this will ensure that there remains a strong evidence-base.


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)
Dr Catherine H Mercer PhD,Clare Tanton PhD,Philip Prah MSc,Bob Erens MA,Pam Sonnenberg PhD,Soazig Clifton BSc,Wendy Macdowall MSc,Ruth Lewis PhD,Nigel Field MBPhD,Jessica Datta MSc,Andrew J Copas PhD,Andrew Phelps BA,Prof Kaye Wellings FRCOG,Prof Anne M Johnson MD
The Lancet – 30 November 2013 ( Vol. 382, Issue 9907, Pages 1781-1794 )
DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62035-8

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.