Background Sexually transmitted infection (STI) risk is determinedboth by partner numbers and partnership characteristics. Studiesdescribing only recent partnership(s) overestimate long-termpartnerships and underestimate the contribution of casual partnershipsto STI transmission in populations. We describe all heterosexualpartnerships in the past year in terms of partnership type,age and geographical mixing and how these characteristics relateto condom use.
Methods Probability sample survey of 11 161 men and women aged16–44 resident in Britain, 1999–2001. Computer-assistedself-interviews asked respondents about partner numbers anddetailed questions about their three most recent partnerships.We weight these data to represent partnerships for which detailedquestions were not asked to present estimates for the populationof partnerships.
Results Of 15 488 heterosexuals partnerships, 39.1% (95% CI 36.6–41.7%) of men’s partnerships were ‘not (yet) regular’ vs 20.0% (95% CI 18.2–21.9%) of women’s partnerships. While condoms were used at last sex in 37.1% (95% CI 35.0–39.3%) of men’s and 28.8% (95% CI 27.1–30.6%) of women’s partnerships, and for 55.3% (95% CI 52.6–58.0%) of first sex with new partners, these proportions declined with age. When partnerships involved an age difference of 5+ years [26.2% (95% CI 23.0–29.6%) of men’s and 36.5% (95% CI 33.0–40.1%) of women’s partnerships], condoms were less commonly used at first sex than when partners were closer in age [44.1% (95% CI 39.1–48.4%) vs 60.8% (95% CI 57.3–64.2%)]. Sex occurred within 24 h in 23.4% (95% CI 19.7–27.5%) of men’s and 10.7% (95% CI 8.3–13.6%) of women’s partnerships.
Conclusions A substantial minority of partnerships in the population is casual. The proportion of partnerships not protected by condoms is high, especially for partnerships involving larger age differences and people in their 30s and 40s. Condom use with new partners needs to be promoted among all age-groups.
Source: “Who has sex with whom? Characteristics of heterosexual partnerships reported in a national probability survey and implications for STI risk” from International Journal of Epidemiology 2009 38(1):206-214
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