4 WHAT UNDERLIES THESE TRENDS?
70. The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles
(NATSAL) is a ten-yearly survey of sexual behaviour patterns,
the most recent edition of which (2000) was published in December
2001. The survey interviewed 11,161 respondents (4,762 men, 6,399
women) and revealed the following key behavioural trends:
- For men and women the numbers of sexual partners
has increased. The mean number of partners in a lifetime rose
from 1990 to 2000 from 8.6 to 12.7 partners for men and from 3.7
to 6.5 for women.
- The proportion of men and women having more than
one partner at the same time, which increases the probability
of an infection being passed on to more than one person, has also
increased. Some 9% of women and 14.6% of men were in such relationships
in 2000, as opposed to 5.4% and 11.4% respectively in 1990.
- Average age at first intercourse has fallen for
women and men from 17 years to 16 years.
- The proportion of men in Britain who had ever
had a homosexual partner increased from 3.6% in 1990 to 5.4% in
- The number of men paying for heterosexual or
homosexual sex has more than doubled, from 2.1% in 1990 to 4.3%
- Whereas in 1990 7% of men and 6.5% of women had
had anal sex in the past year these figures had risen to 12.3%
and 11.3% in 2000.
- Although overall use of condoms is up, the overall
figures for high risk behaviour, which is defined as "Two
or more heterosexual and homosexual partners, past year and nconsistent
condom use in past 4 weeks" show rises of 13.6% to 15.4%
in men and 7.1% to 10.1% in women between 1990 and 2000.
Percentage distribution of heterosexual
partners: lifetime, by gender, 1990 and 2000
Changes in sexual behaviour
|Average number of heterosexual partners, lifetime
|Percentage of heterosexual people who had had anal sex in the past year
|Consistent condom use||18.3%
|'Unsafe sex' in the past year||13.6%
Data source: NATSAL
71. Among 16-24 year olds the prevalence of first intercourse
before age 16 was higher in single parent families, amongst those
whose parents were manual workers and those whose main source
of information about sex was not school. Eight per cent of those
aged 16-24 reported peer pressure as the main reason for having
sex and 8.5% put drunkenness as the main reason. Many of our witnesses
described the UK today as an "increasingly sexualised"
society, and anecdotal evidence from young people to the Committee
bore out these social changes - as one young woman put it, "snogging
is not a big thing any more ... [young people] need to go that
one step further and that is a really big issue."
72. Changing attitudes and sexual habits are, however,
only one part of a far more complex picture. The risks posed by
frequent intercourse and frequent partner change can be reduced
(though not entirely eliminated) by the use of condoms to prevent
STIs, and other contraceptives to prevent unwanted conceptions,
but people need appropriate education and information to promote
safer sexual practices. For the British Medical Association (BMA),
an area of serious concern was the "lack of representation
of sexually transmitted infections as a significant health problem
in the media."
Dr Kevin Fenton of the PHLS also described the problems of an
increasingly sexualised society which lacked awareness of the
dangers associated with this: "you are getting these messages
to start having sex earlier and having multiple partnerships;
but you are not having ... messages to say 'use a condom' or telling
them to reduce the number of partnerships."
In addition to information people also need confidence and good
negotiating as well as technical skills to put safer sex messages
into practice. On top of this, people need quick and easy access
to high quality healthcare services to provide them with information,
preventatives (whether condoms or other forms of contraception),
and diagnosis and treatment of STIs.
49 See Q 327 Back
Q 917 Back
Q 266 Back
Q 340 Back