Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Study: Americans sexually conservative

If watching torrid love affairs on television soap operas has made you begin to doubt the fidelity of your spouse _ think again. Last year, only 1.5 percent of married people said they had had sex with someone other than their spouse, according to a national survey released here.

Sexual behavior of Americans is "more circumspect, more traditional, as opposed to the permissive routine you get from the popular media," University of Chicago researcher Tom W. Smith said Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The survey also reported that 22 percent of adult Americans said that they had abstained from sex during the last year.

"This number has struck some as unexpectedly high," Smith said, but two other surveys produced similar estimates, he said.

Overall, adult Americans have an average of 1.16 sex partners during a year, according to the poll.

In 1988 and 1989, University of Chicago social scientists added questions on sexual behavior to a national household population sample survey known as the General Social Surveys.

At the end of a personal interview, respondents were asked to answer a short sexual behavior questionnaire and return it by mail. Among the findings:

Adults reported that, since age 18, they had had an average of about seven partners. Men reported higher numbers of partners than women, but the surveyors said they thought men over-reported and women under-reported the number of sex partners, Smith said.

The number of lifetime sex partners was three for widowed people, 5.7 for the currently married, 8.6 for the never married, 11.7 for separated and 13.3 for divorced.

On average, adults reported having sexual intercourse 57 times a year, or about once a week.

All but about 3 percent of the adult population was sexually active by age 18.

The survey also looked at sexual behavior risk factors for getting AIDS and found that 98.5 percent of sexually active adults reported being exclusively heterosexual during the last year.

Since age 18, less than 1 percent of adults said they were homosexual, and 5 percent to 6 percent said that they were bisexual. Some previous studies have suggested that as much as 10 percent of the population is homosexual.

"On the negative side, there is still an appreciable share of the population (6.8 percent) involved in relatively risky sexual behavior such as having multiple partners (five or more) and-or unfamiliar partners," Smith said.

In a separate study, Dr. Freya L. Sonenstein of the Urban Institute in Washington, reported that more adolescent males were sexually active than a decade ago but that they were practicing safer sex.

In her latest study, 75.5 percent of unmarried males 17 to 19 years old said that they had experienced sexual intercourse, compared with 65.7 percent in 1979. But male teen-agers are waiting longer before having their first sexual experience, Sonenstein said.

Sensitivities slowing

plans to control AIDS

NEW ORLEANS _ Politics and Americans' reluctance to talk with the government about AIDS and sex are making it tough for public health officials to track the epidemic and plot ways to contain it, public opinion experts said.

There is a need to learn more about Americans' sex lives because AIDS is often transmitted by particular sex acts. But a government plan for a national survey on sexual behavior has been held up more than two years by opposition from a handful of bureaucrats, the experts said at the meeting.

A plan to survey AIDS prevalence nationwide is just now being tested for feasibility, a decade after the epidemic surfaced, they said.