In the first
comprehensive global study of sexual behavior, U.K.
researchers found that people aren't losing their virginity
at ever-younger ages, married people have the most
sex, and there is no firm link between promiscuity and
sexually transmitted diseases.
The study was
published Wednesday as part of a series on sexual and
reproductive health by the U.K. medical journal The
Lancet. Professor Kaye Wellings of the London
School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicines and her colleagues
analyzed data from 59 countries.
Experts say the
study will be useful not only in dispelling popular myths
about sexual behavior but in shaping policies that will help
improve sexual health across the world.
looked at published studies on sexual behavior in the last
decade. They also used data from national governments
worldwide. Wellings noted that since the survey
results were based on self-reporting, they could be
susceptible to error.
Wellings said she
was surprised by some of the survey's results. ''We did
have some of our preconceptions dashed,'' she said,
explaining they had expected to find the most
promiscuous behavior in regions like Africa with the
highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases. That was not
the case, as multiple partners were more commonly
reported in industrialized countries where the
incidence of such diseases was relatively low.
misperception that there's a great deal of promiscuity in
Africa, which is one of the potential reasons for HIV/AIDS
spreading so rapidly,'' said Paul Van Look, director
of Reproductive Health and Research at the World
Health Organization, who was not connected to the
study. ''But that view is not supported by the evidence.''
Wellings said the
research implies that promiscuity may be less
important than factors such as poverty and
education--especially in the encouragement of
condom use--in the transmission of sexually
The survey found
that single men and women in Africa were fairly sexually
inactive: Only two thirds of them reported recent sexual
activity, compared with three quarters of their
counterparts in developed countries.
The study also
found that contrary to popular belief, sexual activity is
not starting earlier. Nearly everywhere, men and women have
their first sexual experiences in their late
teens--from 15 to 19 years old--with
generally younger ages for women than for men, especially in
developing countries. That age is no younger than 10
Still, there are
considerable variations across countries. In the United
Kingdom, for example, men and women tend to lose their
virginity at ages 16 1/2 and 17 1/2 respectively.
In comparison, men and women in Indonesia waited until
they were 24 1/2 and 18 1/2 respectively.
found that married people have the most sex, reporting
engaging in sexual activity in the previous four weeks more
frequently than single people. There has also been a
gradual shift to delay marriage, even in developing
While that has
meant a predictable rise in the rates of premarital sex,
experts say this doesn't necessarily translate into more
instances, married women may be more at risk than
''A single woman
is more able to negotiate safe sex in certain
circumstances than a married woman,'' says Van Look, who
points out that married women in Africa and Asia are
often threatened by unfaithful husbands who frequent
There is much
greater equality between women and men with regard to the
number of sexual partners in rich countries than in poor
countries, the study found.
For example, men
and women in Australia, the United Kingdom, France, and
the United States tend to have an almost equal number of
sexual partners. In contrast, in Cameroon, Haiti, and
Kenya, men tend to have multiple partners while women
tend to have only one.
has significant public health implications. ''In countries
where women are beholden to their male partners, they are
likely not to have the power to request condom use,
and they probably won't know about their husbands'
transgressions,'' said Wellings.
Because of the
diversity of sexual habits worldwide, Wellings warns that
no single approach to sexual health will work everywhere.
''There are very different economic, religious, and
social rules governing sexual conduct across the
world,'' she said. (AP)