November 01, 2006

The Lancet publishes global sex survey

Scientific American reports:
Some of the primary findings of this meta-analysis are unsurprising: Monogamy is the dominant sexual pattern globally. Married individuals--which constitute most people studied--have the most sex. Men report having engaged in sex with more partners than women in a given year. Instances of males with multiple partners, however, were more frequent in industrialized nations, Wellings says, than in places such as Africa, where sexual health education is relatively unsophisticated. "We certainly expected to see that in African countries there would be an equal prevalence of multiple partnerships," she says. "I don't think we expected to see less reporting of them."

That is just one of many surprises found in the meta-analysis. Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that young people are engaging in sexual intercourse at earlier ages--the first instance of sexual activity for both genders generally occurs at between 15 and 19 years of age globally. "There's always a tendency to think that things are going to 'hell in a handbasket,'" remarks Richard Parker, the sociomedical sciences department chair at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. "A lot of what we say we think about trends in sexual behavior are basically kind of knee-jerk, impressionistic conclusions that we make, rather than because we looked at the data." Another surprising finding is that married women are actually at greater risk of unhealthy sexual behavior-they find it harder than single women do to convince their partners to use condoms.

One optimistic finding is that condom use is up worldwide. From 1993 to 2001, in 19 African countries, the rate of condoms employed to prevent pregnancy increased from five to 19 percent of the time; at the last instance of intercourse, the increase was from 19 percent to 28 percent. Wellings explains, however, that "there are parts of this that are reassuring and parts that are not: If you look at the [cross-national] data on condom use, you then see a big difference between the richer and poorer countries." Although numbers have improved in less developed parts of the world, condom use still lags far behind industrialized nations. "The protection of risk behavior is less prevalent in the poorer countries," she says.

And from WebMD:
Some of the survey's major findings:

# While there is no major trend toward earlier sexual experience, a trend toward later marriage has led to an increase in premarital sex.
# Married people have more sex than unmarried people do.
# Sexual activity among single people is more common in industrialized countries than in developing countries.
# First sexual experience is often forced or sold.
# Monogamy is the dominant pattern in most parts of the world. Men report more multiple partnerships than do women. Such men are more likely to live in developed nations.
# Marriage is no safeguard of sexual health. It is more difficult for married women to negotiate safe sex and condom use than it is for single women.
# Among girls who marry at a very young age, "very early sexual experience within marriage can be coercive and traumatic."
# Condom use is increasing, but condom-use rates remain low in many developing countries.
# Public health measures to improve sexual health should focus not only on individual behaviors but also on broader issues such as gender, poverty, and mobility.
# Public-health messages intended to reduce sexual risk-taking "should respect diversity and preserve choice."
# School-based sexual education delays and does not hasten onset of sexual activity.

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