Prevalence and correlates of sexual activity and function in women: results from the Boston Area Community Health (BACH) Survey

Arch Sex Behav. 2009 Aug;38(4):514-27. doi: 10.1007/s10508-007-9290-0. Epub 2008 Jan 11.


Relatively few studies have measured sexual functioning in women using a large, diverse, community-based sample with measures that allow for direct comparisons with previous findings. In this article, we: (1) describe prevalence of sexual activity in women by key sociodemographic characteristics, including age, race/ethnicity, marital status, and socioeconomic status; and (2) estimate the influence of key correlates on sexual problems. Data were analyzed from the Boston Area Community Health (BACH) Survey, a 2002-2005 community-based epidemiologic study of urologic and gynecologic symptoms, sociodemographics, health status, and psychosocial characteristics in a diverse sample of Boston area residents (N = 3,205 women aged 30-79 years). Analyses of sexual activity prevalence and reasons for inactivity were conducted on the full sample, while analyses of sexual problems and their correlates were conducted for the subset of women who engaged in sexual activity with a partner in the previous 4 weeks. A total of 49% of participants were not sexually active, citing lack of interest (51.5%) and lack of a partner (60.8%) as the most common reasons. Data pertaining to five dimensions of sexual functioning were gathered through a self-administered questionnaire adapted from the Female Sexual Function Index, measuring desire among all women and arousal, lubrication, orgasm, and pain among those who were sexually active. Among the sexually active, we obtained a 38.4% prevalence rate of sexual problems and 34.9% of those participants reported that they were also dissatisfied with their sex lives. Therefore, only 13.7% of the sexually active sample exhibited both sexual problems and dissatisfaction with their overall sex lives. Age was strongly and positively associated with sexual problems. In terms of psychosocial factors, depression, sexual and physical abuse in adulthood, global mental health functioning, and alcohol were associated with sexual problems, with variation across racial/ethnic groups.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Continental Population Groups
  • Crime
  • Ethnic Groups
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Marital Status
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prevalence
  • Sexual Behavior / ethnology
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / epidemiology
  • Sexual Dysfunctions, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires