Comparison of Prospective and Retrospective Measurements of Frequency of Sexual Intercourse


Measurements of sexual intercourse frequency are informative for research on pregnancy, contraception, and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections; however, efficiently collecting data on this sensitive topic is complex. The purpose of this study was to determine whether retrospective recall of sexual intercourse frequency was consistent with information obtained through the use of prospective daily diary methods corresponding to the same time period in a diverse sample of women. A total of 185 women participated in a longitudinal, prospective cohort study of oral contraceptive users and 98 of these women provided complete information on sexual intercourse frequency on diaries (prospective) and postcards (retrospective). Linear mixed models were used to test for variation in response within categories of demographic and other variables. The mean number of days women had sexual intercourse per week was 1.5 days using prospective diary information versus 2.0 days when using 3-month retrospective recall (p < 0.001). Mean differences for the various sociodemographic subgroups were positive for all groups indicating that women consistently reported a higher frequency of sexual intercourse on the retrospective postcards than they recorded on their prospective diaries; however, these mean differences did not vary significantly. If confirmed in other samples, the use of retrospective methods may be adequate to accurately collect data on sexual intercourse frequency—and may be preferable. Using only retrospective measurements could decrease study costs, the burden to participants, and have a higher response rate.

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This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health Grant 1R21HD056173-01A2. We thank the Fertility and Oral Contraceptive Use Study (FOCUS) research staff for their assistance with this project.

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Correspondence to Larissa R. Brunner Huber.

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Huber, L.R.B., Lyerly, J.E., Young, A.M. et al. Comparison of Prospective and Retrospective Measurements of Frequency of Sexual Intercourse. Matern Child Health J 18, 1293–1299 (2014).

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  • Measurement of sexual intercourse
  • Sexual behavior
  • Coitus
  • Reproducibility of results