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The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles: Read the results and ask questions about the findings. - ANSWERS BACK

(30 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 04-Dec-13 17:10:41

We're running a Q&A this week with the Wellcome Trust about the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. The survey is carried out every ten years and the latest results were published last week.

It is a large study ? this time round, over 15,000 people were interviewed, a representative cross-section of the British public ? and for the first time, the researchers extended the age range beyond 16-44 years, interviewing people up to 74 years old.

You might have seen coverage of the study in the media, with headlines about how we are having sex less frequently, how women are having more same-sex experiences and about the troubling statistic that one in ten women (and one in seventy men) have been made to have sex against their will.

Mumsnet Bloggers' Nework ran a guest blog earlier this week from one of the researchers talking about what the team found. There?s also a blog on the Wellcome Trust site, which includes infographics explaining some of the findings.

The Wellcome Trust, a medical research charity which is co-funded the study, has invited experts Cath Mercer from UCL and Wendy Macdowall from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to answer everything you wanted to know about this latest sex survey, but were afraid to ask!??

Dr Cath Mercer is a Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research at University College London. A statistician by training, Dr Mercer has worked on the National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles ('Natsal'), Britain's national probability sample surveys of sexual behaviour for the past 13 years.

Wendy Macdowall is a lecturer in the department of social and environmental health research at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Her interests are the determinants of sexual health; the development of interventions to improve and promote sexual health; and the evaluation of public health interventions.

Post your questions to Cath and Wendy before the 9am Monday16 December and we'll link to their answers from this thread on Thursday 19 December.

LucilleMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 10-Jan-14 12:12:48

You can now see the archived answers here.

LucilleMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 31-Dec-13 17:38:47

The answers have now been posted. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions.

WendyMacdowall Tue 31-Dec-13 17:30:27

misty75

I agree that 'sex against will' is always rape and should be named as rape in this survey.

Can I ask why there is an upper age limit on this survey? Why stop at 74?

As noted above, we should be under no doubt that sex without consent is rape, but we have not used the word rape when reporting the survey findings as the issue of consent in individual cases would be one decided by a court.

In relation to the upper age limit, the last survey (in 2000) stopped at 44 years so we were delighted to have gone up to 74 years this time round. We may be able to go even further next time!

WendyMacdowall Tue 31-Dec-13 17:29:19

TottWriter

My question - what are the chances, going forward, of using these survey results to put legitimate and sustained pressure on the government to make comprehensive and appropriate sex and relationship education into schools of a quality which can educate children, male and female, about how to grow into their sexualities and respect that of others? For that matter, given the numbers of people, male and female, who reported having sex against their will, is this not a huge marker that something needs to change.

Additionally, are there any regrets about the survey's choice to report rates of sex against the person's will without additionally recording the number of people willing to admit they had been raped? At the moment, this statistic could be confused and diluted.

Although it's a little early to be asking this, perhaps, will the next survey expand further into this area of questioning?

I very much hope that the findings will be used to lobby for more comprehensive, and more consistent, sex and relationship education in schools and I would like to be active in that process. One of the challenges is that the “relationship” aspect of sex and relationship education is not statutory and provision is patchy. We have yet to analyse the findings from the survey on participants’ experience of learning about sex, but we know from the last survey in 2000 that young people wanted to know more about the psychosocial aspects of sex and that they wanted this information from an authoritative source (most commonly schools or a parent).

In relation to your second point, it would have been interesting to ask participants who reported experiencing sex against their will whether they defined the experience as rape. It would also have been interesting to use exactly the same question wording as the Crime Survey for England and Wales to see how much difference the context of the survey (sexual health versus crime) makes to reporting.

I would indeed like to see an expanded set of questions in Natsal 4; these could include more detailed questions about experience of non-volitional sex (nature of coercion and/or force, involvement of drugs or alcohol, number and gender of perpetrators) and also questions on other forms of sexual violence.

WendyMacdowall Tue 31-Dec-13 17:27:56

BOF

I'll just repeat what I said on the other thread:

"Sex against their will", and "sexual coercion"...isn't this just sanitising rape? Why can't we call a spade a spade here?

While women and men are still framing rape in a way which brushes it under the carpet and turns it into a "misunderstanding" or a "failure in communication", we are never going to see convictions rise and hold men that rape accountable. I can understand why victims don't always want to define their experience in this way, but I am disappointed that the academic discourse appears to fudge the issue in this way.

We should be under no doubt that sex without consent is rape, but as noted above we have not used the word rape when reporting the survey findings as the issue of consent in individual cases would be one decided by a court.

We asked women and men if anyone had made them have sex against their will rather than asking if they had been raped, as there is wide agreement in the academic literature that the term rape should be avoided, as it is highly subjective and likely to result in under-reporting (we know from research in America that many women who have experienced what would legally defined as rape do not acknowledge their experience as such).

WendyMacdowall Tue 31-Dec-13 17:27:14

LineRunner

*the troubling statistic that one in ten women (and one in seventy men) have been made to have sex against their will*

May I ask a series of linked questions about this statement?

1. Why is the word rape not being used?

2. Is that a statistic that is predicated on people 'admitting' that they have been raped? In other words, could the same statement be written as, 'one in ten women (and one in seventy men) have disclosed that they been made to have sex against their will'?

3. What's the gender break down of those stats so far, in terms of perpetrator-victim gender identifiers?

Thank you.

We asked women and men about their experience of sex against their will, which, in the most literal interpretation of the question, we report as non-volitional sex. We have not used the word rape as rape has a precise legal definition and whether a man has committed the crime would be decided by a court. Only a man can be charged with rape as it involves the penetration by a penis of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person. The law on rape is set out in the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 which is available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/42/contents.

In reference to your second point, yes, this is the “reported” prevalence of non-volitional sex. Given the sensitive nature of the topic, participants may have chosen not to disclose the experience. However, of the 8,409 women and 5,874 men who were asked whether they had experienced sex against their will, only 2.6% of women and 2.9% of men did not answer the question. We compared those who responded to the question with those that didn’t and found a higher proportion of the non-responders were of lower educational level, were in the highest quintile of deprivation, and were of older age (over 55 for men and over 65 for women). It is worth noting though, that we consider the non-response to this question to be low. Interestingly, the question which had the highest non-response in the survey was the one that asked participants about their income.

In reference to your third point, we did not ask the gender of the perpetrator though we do know from other sources that the majority of sexual violence is committed by men on women.

CathMercer Tue 31-Dec-13 17:24:39

Charcoalbriquettes

What I really wanted to know is how our attitudes to relationships and sexuality is changing. So who is it ok to have sex with? How well do you need to know someone before you are ready to have sex? How much do you fancy someone to have sex with them? How are your expectations of what goes along with a sexual relationship changing as you move through the life stages of cohabiting, having children, separating, becoming menopausal etc.

Is any of this stuff in the whole report? I am too thick to read it, which is why I just looked at the info graphics.

I’m pleased to hear that you’ve been looking at the Natsal study’s infographics – I hope you found them interesting. The questions you’ve asked are good ones. It seems that it’s increasingly OK to have sex with people of the same gender – whether you’re male or female - so people in Britain are increasingly accepting of more diverse sexual lifestyles. However, what’s less OK nowadays, at least in comparison to 10 years ago, and at least among people aged 16-44, is casual sex - specifically ‘one-night stands’, as well as non-exclusivity in marriage, so the types of sexual partnerships that many people would consider as lacking trust and respect. It seems that what’s important, regardless of your lifestage, so whether you’re 16 or 74 (the age range of the people who took part in the survey), and regardless of your life circumstances, e.g. whether you have kids, whether you’re going through the menopause, etc., is that you have sex that is informed, consensual, safe, respectful, and pleasurable.

CathMercer Tue 31-Dec-13 17:23:01

Calypso2

It's interesting to read that people are having sex less frequently than ten years ago. Why do you think that is?

The Natsal survey didn’t ask people why they are having less sex these days than 10 years ago. There are likely to be many influences affecting how much sex people have, including economic worries, so those who have a job are working longer hours and so may be too tired to have sex, while those who are unemployed, may be too worried to be interested in sex. Another hypothesis that’s been proposed to explain why we’re having less sex nowadays is that it’s the impact of the ‘digital invasion’. Many people in Britain seem to be addicted to their smartphones, iPads, and the like, and so find it difficult to disconnect from the internet and the outside world more generally. Of course, this isn’t just a problem in the bedroom but throughout our waking hours - including for example at meal times. We need to learn to switch-off from the internet so that we can also switch-off.

CathMercer Tue 31-Dec-13 17:21:47

LineRunner

Why is non-PIV sex portrayed as 'safe sex' as opposed to 'safe and enjoyable and real sex' IYSWIM?

We created a measure of unsafe sex which we defined as reporting at least two partners – of either gender – with whom no condom was used in the past year, to identify those people who will have been at risk of acquiring and possibly transmitting STI (sexually transmitted infections). However, we recognise that STIs are just one element of sexual health and well-being, and our measure is just one measure of unsafe sex. We also recognise that sex is more than just penetrative intercourse, and so the survey considered sex as vaginal, oral, anal sex, and/or other genital contact not necessarily leading to intercourse – e.g. mutual masturbation. Despite what’s seen on screen (e.g. in porn), we found that mutual masturbation was commonly-reported and a big part of many people’s sexual repertoire. As such, it shouldn’t be overlooked as a satisfying sexual experience for both men and women – after all, sex isn’t all about penetration!

CathMercer Tue 31-Dec-13 17:20:16

gazzalw

Do you see a generational difference in attitude towards sex and relationships? That sounds simplistic but I'm sure there are interesting observations made twixt the 'War babies', 'Swinging Sixties babies' and those born since?

We do observe generational differences in the data collected by the Natsal surveys. The trend is that more recent birth cohorts, so younger people today, are more accepting of same-sex sexual partnerships and casual sex – specifically ‘one-night stands’. However, it’s interesting to observe that younger people are less accepting than older people of non-exclusivity in marriage – so what many people would label as ‘affairs’. One reason might be that, given the increases in the divorce rate that we’ve observed over recent decades, for some younger people at least, they may have witnessed the impact of the breakdown of their parents’ marriage, perhaps as a result of one or both of their parents having an affair(s), and so having experienced this hurt ‘first hand’ may feel particularly strongly that non-exclusivity in marriage is wrong – but that’s just my attempt at an explanation.

LucilleMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 31-Dec-13 17:14:37

We now have the answers back and we'll be posting them up shortly.

ConventGarden Wed 18-Dec-13 21:47:41

DISCUSSION CLOSED DISCUSSION CLOSED

LucilleMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 16-Dec-13 10:48:31

This Q&A is now closed. Thank you for your questions, which we've now sent over.

ElviraJThatcher Mon 16-Dec-13 08:27:29

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

Charcoalbriquettes Sat 14-Dec-13 23:02:31

I looked at the info graphics.

What I really wanted to know is how our attitudes to relationships and sexuality is changing. So who is it ok to have sex with? How well do you need to know someone before you are ready to have sex? How much do you fancy someone to have sex with them? How are your expectations of what goes along with a sexual relationship changing as you move through the life stages of cohabiting, having children, separating, becoming menopausal etc.

Is any of this stuff in the whole report? I am too thick to read it, which is why I just looked at the info graphics.

JoannWDean Sat 14-Dec-13 11:32:58

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

misty75 Fri 13-Dec-13 20:49:56

I agree that 'sex against will' is always rape and should be named as rape in this survey.

Can I ask why there is an upper age limit on this survey? Why stop at 74?

Calypso2 Thu 12-Dec-13 23:26:01

It's interesting to read that people are having sex less frequently than ten years ago. Why do you think that is?

TottWriter Thu 12-Dec-13 16:42:29

My question - what are the chances, going forward, of using these survey results to put legitimate and sustained pressure on the government to make comprehensive and appropriate sex and relationship education into schools of a quality which can educate children, male and female, about how to grow into their sexualities and respect that of others? For that matter, given the numbers of people, male and female, who reported having sex against their will, is this not a huge marker that something needs to change.

Additionally, are there any regrets about the survey's choice to report rates of sex against the person's will without additionally recording the number of people willing to admit they had been raped? At the moment, this statistic could be confused and diluted.

Although it's a little early to be asking this, perhaps, will the next survey expand further into this area of questioning?

payney954 Wed 11-Dec-13 17:36:05

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Susan643 Tue 10-Dec-13 04:20:08

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LineRunner Mon 09-Dec-13 22:58:44

May I ask another question?

Why is non-PIV sex portrayed as 'safe sex' as opposed to 'safe and enjoyable and real sex' IYSWIM?

Darkesteyes Sun 08-Dec-13 18:22:50

I believe that my husband is asexual because he has never been overly interested in sex, but I was so young and inexperienced when I met him that I didn’t have a great frame of reference. I can see people reading this and thinking “If he is asexual, surely he wouldn’t have had sex with you at the start of your relationship ? My reply would be that many gay men get married and have sex with women and the same is true of asexuals. A gay man hiding his sexuality from his wife and an asexual hiding his sexuality from his wife are two very similar situations. In both cases the man does not want to have sex with his wife.

Society seems to have no trouble believing that women don’t want sex, but they struggle to come to terms with the idea that a man might not want it. This lack of understanding makes women scared to speak out. What woman is going to stick her head above the parapet and say “I live in a sexless marriage” and talk about it frankly and honestly in public. Actually, I can answer that “NONE”. And so women like me who live in sexless marriages continue to suffer in silence.

We feel that we cannot discuss the issue with anyone. We are made to feel that it is our fault. Magazine articles and books on the subject advise women to buy some sexy undies and make more effort with their appearance etc. Though it’s the man who doesn’t want sex, it is the women who are told to make more effort with their looks. If the situation is reversed and it is the woman who doesn’t want to make love, pressure is put on her (marital and societal) to go to the GP to see what is wrong.

gazzalw Sun 08-Dec-13 08:30:00

Do you see a generational difference in attitude towards sex and relationships? That sounds simplistic but I'm sure there are interesting observations made twixt the 'War babies', 'Swinging Sixties babies' and those born since?

Cassandra89075 Sat 07-Dec-13 19:33:42

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