March 6, 2010

Definition of ‘Having Sex’ Varies

In a new study from the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, researchers find that people are not in agreement about what constitutes "Ëœhaving sex'.

The study compiled results from a random telephone survey of 204 adult men and 282 adult women ages 18 to 96. Participants were asked to explain what sexual behaviors fit the description of "Ëœhaving sex'. Researchers found no consensus on an actual description.

Study results:

95 percent said that penile-vaginal intercourse was having sex, although 11 percent said it wasn't sex if there is no ejaculation. 30 percent said oral sex was not having sex and 20 percent said anal intercourse was not having sex.

23 percent of older men -- 65 and older -- did not consider penile-vaginal intercourse as having sex.

Nearly half of all participants said sexual contact was not having sex as well.

"There's a vagueness of what sex is in our culture and media," said Dr. William L. Yarber, a co-author of the study, in a news release. "If people don't consider certain behaviors sex, they might not think sexual health messages about risk pertain to them."

This confusion about what is and what isn't sex makes it difficult for researchers who are working in the area of sex education and sexual health. The authors of the study said that it comes down to misclassification. "People are either incorrectly classified as having sex or incorrectly classified as not having sex."