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Study Dispels Some Sexual Behavior Myths

November 8, 2006

The first comprehensive global study of sexual behavior will not only help dispel popular myths but also help shape policies to improve sexual health around the world, experts say.

Professor Kaye Wellings of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and colleagues studied sexual behavior data from 59 countries published in the last decade. They also used data from national governments across the world.

Contrary to popular belief, the study found that people are not losing their virginity at ever-younger ages. Across the board, men and women reported having their first sexual experience at ages 15-19, with generally younger ages for women than for men, particularly in developing countries. This is consistent with sexual debut data from 10 years ago.

Nevertheless, considerable variations across countries were evident. Men and women in the United Kingdom tend to lose their virginity at ages 16.5 and 17.5, respectively. By comparison, Indonesian men and women waited until ages 24.5 and 18.5, respectively.

Wellings acknowledged some of the researchers' preconceptions were proven wrong. For example, they expected to find the most promiscuous behavior in areas of Africa where STD rates are among the world's highest. Instead, multiple partners were more commonly reported in industrialized countries where STD incidence was relatively low. That implies promiscuity may be less important than factors such as poverty and education, especially in promoting condom use against STD transmission, she said.

According to the study, single men and women in Africa were somewhat sexually inactive, with just two-thirds of respondents reporting recent sexual activity, compared with three-quarters of their counterparts in developed nations. "There is a misperception that there's a great deal of promiscuity in Africa, which is one of the potential reasons for HIV/AIDS spreading so rapidly. But that view is not supported by the evidence," said Dr. Paul van Look, head of Reproductive Health and Research at the World Health Organization, who was not affiliated with the study.

Inequities exist between men and women with respect to the number of sexual partners in industrialized countries and developing nations. Men and women in Australia, France, Britain and the United States tend to report the same number of sex partners, whereas in Cameroon, Haiti and Kenya, men tend to have multiple partners while women usually only have one — an imbalance that could have 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. Due to the diversity of sexual habits worldwide, no uniform approach to sexual health will work everywhere, she warned.

The study, "Sexual Behavior in Context: A Global Perspective," was published in an early online edition of The Lancet (2006;doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(06)69479-8).

Back to other news for November 8, 2006

Adapted from:
Associated Press
11.01.2006; Maria Cheng

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More on HIV Treatment in the Developing World
More Global HIV Statistics


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