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Government researchers surveyed 13,500 men and women between the ages of 15 to 44 about their sexual activities.
By contributor
updated 3/3/2011 11:31:13 AM ET 2011-03-03T16:31:13

Curious what people are up to when it comes to sex?

For some of us, not much, according to a new report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics which painstakingly details the country’s sexual habits.

Based on in-person interviews with approximately 13,500 men and women between the ages of 15 to 44, the report describes who’s having sex with whom, what kind of sex they’re having, and who has yet to become sexually involved.

Yes, virginity is apparently making a comeback.   

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Researchers found that between 2006 and 2008, the percentage of 15- to 24-year-old men who had never had any form of sexual contact with another person was 27 percent (up from 22 percent in 2002) while the percentage of 15- to 24-year-old females who had never had any sex whatsoever was 29 percent (up 7 percent points from 22 percent in 2002).

Anjani Chandra, a health scientist at the NCHS and lead author of the study, says 15- to 19-year-olds made up the lion’s share of this category, a finding that seems to counter other reports regarding teen sex trends.

“I think a lot of people misconstrue this as meaning they’ve never had vaginal sex,” she says. “But this is no sexual contact of any kind. They didn’t have oral sex or anal sex. They didn’t have anything.”

Chandra says she couldn’t speculate as to why there appears to be more virgins in our midst, but said it could be due to sex education, messages about abstinence or that it might hinge on the truthfulness of the respondents.

“It’s what they’re telling us and we have to take it on faith,” she says.

Women more likely to have same-sex experiences
Further data collected from the survey, which asked men and women about their sexual behavior, sexual attraction and sexual identity, found that among adults aged 25 to 44, about 98 percent of females and 97 percent of males have had vaginal intercourse; 89 percent of females and 90 percent of men have had oral sex with an opposite-sex partner; and 36 percent of females and 44 percent of males have had anal sex with an opposite-sex partner.

The survey also found that women aged 15 to 44 were more than twice as likely to have had a same-sex experience as men of the same age (in 2006-2008, approximately 12.5 percent of women reported a same-sex experience compared with 5.2 percent of men).

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Other data showed that women with four or more sexual partners in their lifetime were more likely to have had a female sexual partner, compared with women who had had no male partners or women who’ve had only one male partner. While the percentage of men and women who reported they were either straight or homosexual was similar, the percentage of women who reported they were bisexual was more than three times as high as men.

Chandra says one of the things that stood out for her in the report was the same-sex reporting for women.

“There was speculation that it was possibly just experimentation among college girls but we didn’t see anything to support that,” she says. “We saw the opposite. When we look at college-degreed women, they were less likely to report same-sex activity than other educational groups. Among men, there’s more same-sex activity among higher-educated men. And for women, the highest level of same-sex activity was reported by those with less education.”

Sexual categories more fluid than thought?
According to Chandra, data from the survey — which tapped a general household population and did not include high-risk groups such as the homeless or incarcerated — will be used to provide better education and STD prevention efforts. But she says the data is also essential in order to better understand people’s sexual activities and proclivities.

“It’s important to realize there are not separate groups of sexual people,” she says. “You can’t just think ‘Here are the heterosexual people; here are the homosexual people.’ People draw their partners from all different places. There are not necessarily clear boundaries between the population groups that engage in this behavior or that behavior.”

Survey data was collected in person by about 40 female interviewers who met one-on-one with participants. Using a laptop, participants would see the question on the screen or listen to a question through a set of headphones. They would then type their answer directly onto the computer, a method that, according to the report, “has been found to yield more complete reporting of sensitive behaviors.”

The audio for the interview questions – many of them quite explicit (i.e., “Has a male ever put his penis in your rectum or butt — also known as anal sex?”) — was recorded by a female employee of the University of Michigan.

“We are considering whether we should use a computer-generated voice for future surveys, though,” says Chandra. “Or we might try out ways where a respondent could choose different voices.”

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