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Kinsey Institute Researchers Contribute to 21st Century Study on Sexual Behavior

Researchers from Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion, with partners at The Kinsey Institute and the IU School of Medicine, released findings on the first wide-reaching study on sexual behavior in the US since 1994. Using a representative sample of Americans from ages 14 to 94, the research team uncovered important new information on condom use among adolescents, prevalence of same-sex behaviors, and the range and variety of specific sexual activities. These and other findings are reported in nine research articles in a special edition of the Journal of Sexual Medicine as part of The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB).

The part of the study focusing on adolescent behavior, lead by Dennis Fortenberry, MD, found that partnered sex may not be as common as perceived by the media and the public. For example, though 40 percent of 17 year-old males report vaginal intercourse in the past year, only 27 percent report the same in the past 90 days. As expected, rates of penile-vaginal intercourse increased with age, with jumps in rates among 14 and 15 year old males (from 2% to 17%) and among 15 and 16 year old females, with rates rising from 12.5% to 32%. By the time adolescents are 17 years old, 21% of males and 22% of females report having had vaginal intercourse.

Dr. Stephanie Sanders.

Kinsey Institute researcher Stephanie Sanders, Ph.D. was the lead author on the article documenting condom use in adults. Rates of condom use during the last sexual event were highest among younger people, blacks and Hispanics, and those having penile-vaginal intercourse with a “non-relationship” partner (someone who is not a spouse or primary partner). The group also found that people did not rate the sexual quality of the experience differently if they were wearing a condom or not. Interestingly, the research team suggests that educational efforts for condom use for STI/HIV prevention might also be aimed today at the over-50 cohort, especially those who are single or have more than one sex partner. Only 25 percent of this group reporting using a condom during their most recent sexual encounter.

Dr. Debby Herbenick. Image courtesy of Indiana University.

In an unique evaluation of the data, Debby Herbenick, Ph.D, associate director at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion and sex educator at The Kinsey Institute, analyzed what people reported about a specific sexual event. More variety of sexual behaviors also went along with higher rates of orgasm. And though 85 percent of men reported that their partner had an orgasm at the most recent sexual event, 64 percent of women reported actually having had an orgasm at their most recent sexual event; same-sex encounters do not explain this difference. While vaginal intercourse is still the most common sexual behavior reported by adults, many sexual events do not involve intercourse and include only partnered masturbation or oral sex. Among the unique questions in this survey was on pain during sex, with about one-third of women reporting experiencing pain during their most recent sexual encounter.

Dr. Michael Reece. Image courtesy of Indiana University.

On the subject of same-sex sexual behavior, though 8 percent of men identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, 15% reported having received oral sex in their lifetime, and 10% reported having ever performed oral sex on another man. Women ages 20-24 reported higher rates of oral sex with women in the past year (about 9%) than in other adult age groups (less than 5%). Dr. Michael Reece, director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, notes that though there are some findings on same-sex behavior, these initial data may not adequately capture sexual behavior among those who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual; future papers, using this rich dataset, will focus on behaviors by sexual orientation.

In the Journal’s editorial, Dr. Irwin Goldstein praised the culture of scientific inquiry at Indiana University that encourages collaboration and research on human sexuality.

Other authors are Brian Dodge, Ph.D, Vanessa Shick, Ph.D, and Susan Middlestadt from the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University. The study was funded by Church and Dwight Co, Inc. Additional information about the study can be found at this web site: www.nationalsexstudy.indiana.edu, where papers from this special issue are also available for free download for a limited time.

You can listen to an interview with Drs. Herbenick, Sanders and Fortenberry on NPR's Radio times and check out key media reports on our website.


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