The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and lifestyles (Natsal) has been investigating sexual behaviour across a wide range of people, geographical spread and life styles at 10 year intervals since 1990. Natsal is the most extensive, authoritative and accurate investigation of sexual behaviour in the United Kingdom.
The latest report was published as always in the Lancet. The survey shows some interesting changes in sexual behaviour including a narrowing in the gap between men and women in same sex relationships.
Over 15,000 pople were interviewed using validated methodology that minimises bias. Data were compared between Natsal-1 (1990—91), Natsal-2 (1999—2001), and Natsal-3.
82·1% of men and 77·7% of women reported at least one sexual partner of the opposite sex in the past year. The proportion generally decreased with age, as did the range of sexual practices with partners of the opposite sex, especially in women.
The increased sexual activity and diversity reported in Natsal-2 in individuals aged 16—44 years when compared with Natsal-1 has generally been sustained in Natsal-3, but in men has generally not risen further. However, there was evidence of increased sexual activity and also increase in same sex activity in women.
In women the number of male sexual partners over the lifetime , proportion reporting ever having had a sexual experience with genital contact with another woman , and proportion reporting at least one female sexual partner in the past 5 years increased since the last report in 2000.
Interestingly the reported number of occasions of heterosexual intercourse in the past month had reduced but there was a reported expansion of heterosexual sexual repertoires—particularly in oral and anal sex—over time.
Also of note: while acceptance of same-sex partnerships increased so did intolerance of non-exclusivity in marriage in men and women in the latest survey.
The authors concluded that:
“Sexual lifestyles in Britain have changed substantially in the past 60 years, with changes in behaviour seeming greater in women than men. The continuation of sexual activity into later life—albeit reduced in range and frequency—emphasises that attention to sexual health and wellbeing is needed throughout the life course.”