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IU Study Tries to Define What It Means to “Have Sex”

Researchers from Indiana University find the definition of what it means to "have sex" changes depending on what demographic is answering the question.

Kinsey Institute Sign

Photo: Regan McCarthy

Researchers from Indiana University find the definition of what it means to "have sex" changes depending on what demographic is answering the question.

A study co-authored by researchers from Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute finds the definition of what it means to “have sex” changes depending on what demographic is answering the question.  Study proctors phoned almost 500 Hoosiers to ask some very frank questions about how far partners have to go to be considered to have had sex.

The study, which surveyed people ages 18 to 96, finds that 95 percent of them believe that penile-vaginal intercourse constitutes sex. But only nine of every ten people believe that if the man does not ejaculate, then sex has not occurred.

“We know that the term ‘having sex’ or ‘had sex’ is a very common term in our culture and used in a lot of different ways, but sometimes people have  varied viewpoints about what that actually means,” said Bill Yarber with IU’s Center for Rural Health and AIDS Prevention, who helped conduct the study.

In addition, contact between one partner’s mouth and the other’s genitals constitutes sex for less than three of every four people surveyed.  Yarber says it’s these kinds of differing definitions which can lead to relationship behavior which is more dangerous or confused than it needs to be.

“One thing that we encourage when people begin a new sexual relationship is to talk about sexual history and often a question of that is how many sex partners you’ve had,” Yarber said.  “People often times do not report that accurately.  But also they may not consider certain behaviors as having sex, even though they may be risky.”

The study appears in the journal Sexual Health. An abstract can be read here.

Stan Jastrzebski

WFIU/WTIU News Senior Editor Stan Jastrzebski spent time as a reporter with WGN Radio in Chicago and as an editor at Network Indiana, an Indianapolis news service. Stan is the winner of awards from the Associated Press, the RTDNA, the Indiana Broadcasters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. He hosts WFIU's Ask the Mayor and anchors WTIU's InFocus.

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  • Anonymous

    Are you kidding. Is this story for real?

  • Anonymous

    Are you kidding. Is this story for real?

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