Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 169–176 | Cite as

Which Behaviors Constitute “Having Sex” Among University Students in the UK?

  • Marian Pitts
  • Qazi Rahman


The aim of this study was to establish which behaviors were considered to constitute sexual relations and to compare a group of undergraduates in the UK with a group in the US. An opportunistic sample of 190 female and 124 male UK undergraduate university students was surveyed by questionnaire. The main outcome measure was percentage of responses to 11 different behaviors believed to constitute “having sex.” The majority of respondents regarded having sex as involving penile–vaginal and penile–anal intercourse. One-third of respondents regarded oral–genital contact as having sex, around 17% regarded touching genitals, whilst 6% regarded oral or other touching of breasts and nipples as constituting having sex. There were significant gender- and age-related differences in responses. These findings broadly support the findings of an earlier US study. It is clear that British students hold divergent opinions about which behaviors do and do not constitute having sex. The age-related trends merit further exploration. Any studies of sex-related behaviors need to specify precisely which are encompassed by the terms used.

sexual behavior terminology gender differences age differences 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bancroft, J. (1997). Researching Sexual Behavior, Indiana University Press, Indiana.Google Scholar
  2. Blower, S. M., and Boc, C. (1993). Sex acts, sex partners and sex budgets: Implications risk factor analysis and estimation of HIV transmission probabilities. J. Acquir. Immune Defic. Syndr. 6: 1347-1352.Google Scholar
  3. Cooper, M. L., Shapiro, C. M., and Powen, A. M. (1998). Motivations for sex and risky sexual behaviour among adolescents and young adults: A functional perspective. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 75: 1528-1558.Google Scholar
  4. Gold, R. S., Karmiloff-Smith, A., Skinner, M. J., and Morton, J. (1992). Situational factors and thought processes associated with unprotected intercourse in heterosexual students. AIDS Care 4: 305-323.Google Scholar
  5. McConaghy, N. (1999). Unresolved issues in scientific sexology. Arch. Sex Behav. 28: 285-318.Google Scholar
  6. Michael, R. T., Wadsworth, J., Feinleib, J., Johnson, A. M., Laumann, E. O., and Wellings, K. (1998). Private sexual behavior, public opinion, and public health policy related to sexually transmitted diseases: A US-British comparison. Am. J. Public Health 88: 749-754.Google Scholar
  7. Oliver, M. B., and Hyde, S. S. (1993). Gender differences in sexuality: A meta-analysis. Psych. Bull. 114(1): 29-51.Google Scholar
  8. Purnine, D. M., and Carey, M. P. (1998). Age and gender differences in sexual behavior preferences: A follow up report. J. Sex Marital Ther. 24: 93-102.Google Scholar
  9. Purnine, D. M., Carey, M. P., and Jorgensen, R. S. (1994). Gender differences regarding preferences for specific heterosexual practices. J. Sex Marital Ther. 20: 271-285.Google Scholar
  10. Ratliff-Cairn, J., Donald, K. M., and Dalton, J. (1999). Knowledge, beliefs, peer norms and past behaviours as correlates of risky sexual behavior among college students. Psychol. Health 14: 625-641.Google Scholar
  11. Richters, J., and Song, A. (1999). Australian university students agree with Clinton's definition of sex. BMJ 318: 1011.Google Scholar
  12. Rosenthal, D. A., Smith, A. M. A., Reichler, H., and Moore, S. (1996). Changes in heterosexual university undergraduates HIV-related knowledge, attitudes and behavior. Genitourin Med. 72: 123-127.Google Scholar
  13. Sanders, S. A., and Reinisch, J. M. (1999). Would you say you had sex if :::: ? JAMA 281: 275-277.Google Scholar
  14. Seal, D.W., and Agostinelli, G. (1996). College students' perceptions of the prevalence of risky sexual behavior. AIDS Care 8: 453-466.Google Scholar
  15. Seidman, S. N., and Reider, R. O. (1994). A review of sexual behavior in the United States. Am. J. Psychiatr. 151: 330-341.Google Scholar
  16. Sutton, S., McVey, D., and Glanz, A. (1999). A comparative test of the theory of reasoned action and the theory of planned behavior in the prediction of condom use intentions in a national sample of English young people. Health Psychol. 18: 72-81.Google Scholar
  17. Tanne, J. H. (1999). JAMA's editor fired over sex article. BMJ 318: 213.Google Scholar
  18. Tiefer, L., and Kring, B. (1995). Gender and the organization of sexual behavior. Psychiatr. Clin. North Am. 18: 25-37.Google Scholar
  19. Voeller, B. (1991). AIDS and heterosexual anal intercourse. Arch. Sex. Behav. 20: 233-276.Google Scholar
  20. Wellings, K., Field, J., Johnson, A. M., and Wadsworth, J. (1994). Sexual behavior in Britain: The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, Penguin, Harmondsworth.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marian Pitts
    • 1
  • Qazi Rahman
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Health PsychologyStaffordshire UniversityStaffordshireUK
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyInstitute of PsychiatryDe Crespigny Park, LondonUK

Personalised recommendations