Private sexual behavior, public opinion, and public health policy related to sexually transmitted diseases: a US-British comparison

Am J Public Health. 1998 May;88(5):749-54. doi: 10.2105/ajph.88.5.749.


Objectives: The purpose of this study was to characterize sexual behavior and opinions about sex in the United States and Britain; implications are discussed for effective public health policy regarding sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the United States.

Methods: Large-scale national probability surveys conducted in the 2 countries detailed sexual behavior, opinions, and the prevalence of STDs.

Results: In comparison with that of Britain, the US population has greater variability in sexual behavior, less tolerant opinions about sexual behavior, and a higher STD prevalence and lower condom usage among men.

Conclusions: The survey data show compelling evidence from both countries of a strong association between number of sex partners and STD risk. In the United States relative to Britain, there is both greater dispersion in sexual behavior and a greater incidence of unconditional opposition to certain sexual practices. The former implies a need for strong public health policy to address the risks of STDs, but the latter implies strong opposition to that policy. This disjuncture between public health need and feasibility may contribute to the high US rate of STDs.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Female
  • Health Policy*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Public Opinion*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology