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What do you mean you 'had sex'?

March 4, 2010 | 11:53 am

Sexhealth Had sex. Those two little words can sure elicit a reaction depending on when and where they're uttered. But what does "had sex" mean, anyway?

It seems that no one knows. In a new study from the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, researchers found no consensus on what "had sex" means. They conducted a random, telephone survey of 204 men and 282 women living in Indiana. The respondents ranged in age from 18 to 96. Most were heterosexual.

Though 95% said penile-vaginal intercourse was having sex, 11% said it wasn't sex if there is no ejaculation. Thirty percent said that oral sex was not having sex. Twenty percent said anal sex was not having sex. Among older men (age 65 and older), 23% did not consider penile-vaginal intercourse to be sex.

"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."

The confusion over what constitutes sex is also a problem for researchers working in the area of sex education and sexual health. "The essence of misclassification is simple -- people are either incorrectly classified as having sex or incorrectly classified as not having sex," the authors wrote.

Misclassification can cause some problems in interpersonal relationships, too -- if you know what I mean.

The study is published in the current issue of the journal Sexual Health.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: A booklet about the consequences of unsafe sex. Credit:
Orange County Health Care Agency

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