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Sunday, 07 March 2010 02:26

People don't know if they had sex

According to a 2010 U.S. study performed in Indiana, people are not really sure about the definition of sex. The researchers concluded that there is a lot of confusion as to whether we are having sex or not depending on the type of sexual activities being performed.

How is sex defined? That question has popped up across the United States from time to time, and around the world for that matter.

In fact, the definition of 'had sex' has been the highlight of inappropriate presidential behaviors in the White House.

The paper 'Misclassification bias: diversity in conceptualisations about having 'had sex'' (Sexual Health 7(1) 31-34; doi:10.1071/SH09068), published on February 15, 2010) recounts the results of the study on the meaning of 'had sex.'

It is published in the journal Sexual Health. One of its findings is that 23% of men 65 years or older said penile-vaginal intercourse is not sex. Really?! Please read on for more interesting statistics from this study.

The authors of the study are: Stephanie A. Sanders, Brandon J. Hill, William L. Yarber, Cynthia A. Graham, Richard A. Crosby, and Robin R. Milhausen. They are all associated with the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana (along with other specific departments within the university).

Now, researchers from Indiana University are studying the definition of "had sex" in order to better understand how people of varying ages define sex and how different sexually-based activities might or might not be construed as having sex.

They specifically want to be able to define what constitutes 'had sex' when performing research studies on sex.

Page two continues with the specifics of the research study, along with the definition of four types of sexually-based intercourse.

The researchers state in the abstract to their paper: 'To our knowledge, this is the first study of a representative sample to assess attitudes about which sexual behaviours constitute having 'had sex' and to examine possible mediating factors (gender, age, giving/receiving stimulation, male ejaculation, female orgasm, condom use or brevity).'

The researchers randomly telephoned English-speaking residents of the state of Indiana within the United States.

They collected data on a final sample 486 people (204 men and 282 women) who ranged in age from 18 to 96 years. Most of the people, according to the researchers, were heterosexual (they performed sex on a person of the opposite gender).

The people were asked questions to assess their attitudes on various sexual activities and behaviors. Specifically, these four sexual behaviors that were performed with a partner:

'¢    Manual-genital (MG), commonly called mutual masturbation'”manual stimulation of one's genitals (man or woman) by a partner (man or woman)
'¢    Oral-genital (OG), commonly called oral sex'”between a man (with his genitals) and a woman or man (with her/his mouth) or a woman (with her genitals) and a woman or man (with her/his mouth)
'¢    Penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI), commonly called intercourse between a man (with his penis) and a woman (with her vagina)
'¢    Penile-anal intercourse (PAI), commonly called anal intercourse between a man (with his penis) and a woman or man (with her/his anus)

Page three discusses the results of the study, along with statistics collected from these people in Indiana.

The researchers found that: 'There was no universal consensus on which behaviours constituted having 'had sex'.'

The Indiana researchers found the following results:

PVI: Penile-vaginal intercourse

Over 90% of the people responded 'yes' to PVI'”that is, yes, penile-vaginal intercourse is sex

89.1% responded 'yes' to PVI with no male ejaculation'”yes, penile-vaginal intercourse is sex but only if the man ejaculates

94.8% responded 'yes' to PVI without a qualifier'”yes, penile-vaginal intercourse is sex with or without the man ejaculating

77% of older men (65 years or older) responded 'yes' to PVI'”yes, penile-vaginal intercourse is sex

(In other words, 23% of these men responded 'no'; that is, penile-vaginal intercourse is not sex!)

PAI: Penile-anal intercourse

Four of five people (80%) responded 'yes' to PAI'”that is, yes, penile-anal intercourse is sex

77% of men 18 to 29 years of age responded 'yes' to PAI

50% of men 65 years of age or older responded 'yes' to PAI

67% of women 65 years of age or older responded 'yes' to PAI

Page four concludes with additional statistics on oral-genital and manual-genital, along with comments from one of the authors of the study.

Further statistics of the study are:

OG: Oral-genital

Seven in ten (70%) responded 'yes' to OG'”that is, yes, oral genital is sex

MG: Manual-genital

About one in two (50%) responded 'yes' to MG'”that is, yes, manual-genital is sex

48.1% responded "yes" to MG when received'”yes, manual-genital is sex when received by a partner

44.9% responded "yes" to MG when given'”yes, manual-genital is sex when given by a partner

Dr. William L. Yarber, a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and one of the authors of the study, stated, "There's a vagueness of what sex is in our culture and media. If people don't consider certain behaviors sex, they might not think sexual health messages about risk pertain to them." [Los Angeles Times (3.4.2010): 'What do you mean you 'had sex'?']

The researchers concluded, 'These findings highlight the need to use behaviour-specific terminology in sexual history taking, sex research, sexual health promotion and sex education."

"Researchers, educators and medical practitioners should exercise caution and not assume that their own definitions of having 'had sex' are shared by their research participants or patients.'

You might like to learn a little bit more about sex in the Continuum Publishing article "The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality and Discovery Health article "Sexual Intercourse."

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