Background: Relatively high rates of teenage conception and sexually transmitted infection among young people in Britain have focused attention on early sexual behaviour and its determinants. We report the results of the second National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal 2000).
Methods: We did a probability sample survey between 1999 and 2001, of men and women aged 16-44 years in Britain. Participants were interviewed using a combination of computer-assisted face-to-face and self-completion questionnaires, and asked questions regarding first heterosexual intercourse, communication about sex, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Findings: We recruited 11161 men and women to the survey (4762 men, 6399 women). The proportion of those aged 16-19 years at interview reporting first heterosexual intercourse at younger than 16 years was 30% for men and 26% for women; median age was 16 years. The proportion of women reporting first intercourse before 16 years increased up to, but not after, the mid-1990s. There has been a sustained increase in condom use and a decline in the proportion of men and women reporting no contraceptive use at first intercourse with decreasing age at interview. Among 16-24 year olds, non-use of contraception increased with declining age at first intercourse; reported by 18% of men and 22% of women aged 13-14 years at occurrence. Early age at first intercourse was significantly associated with pregnancy under 18 years, but not with occurrence of STIs. Low educational attainment was associated with motherhood before 18 years, but not abortion.
Interpretation: The increase in the proportion of women reporting first intercourse before age 16 years does not appear to have continued throughout the past decade. Only a small minority of teenagers have unprotected first intercourse, and early motherhood is more strongly associated with educational level than with family background. Factors most strongly associated with risk behaviour and adverse outcomes have considerable potential for preventive intervention.