Would you say you "had sex" if...?

JAMA. 1999 Jan 20;281(3):275-7. doi: 10.1001/jama.281.3.275.


Context: The current public debate regarding whether oral sex constitutes having "had sex" or sexual relations has reflected a lack of empirical data on how Americans as a population define these terms.

Objective: To determine which interactions individuals would consider as having "had sex."

Methods: A question was included in a survey conducted in 1991 that explored sexual behaviors and attitudes among a random stratified sample of 599 students representative of the undergraduate population of a state university in the Midwest.

Participants: The participants originated from 29 states, including all 4 US Census Bureau geographic regions. Approximately 79% classified themselves as politically moderate to conservative.

Main outcome measure: Percentage of respondents who believed the interaction described constituted having "had sex."

Results: Individual attitudes varied regarding behaviors defined as having "had sex": 59% (95% confidence interval, 54%-63%) of respondents indicated that oral-genital contact did not constitute having "had sex" with a partner. Nineteen percent responded similarly regarding penile-anal intercourse.

Conclusions: The findings support the view that Americans hold widely divergent opinions about what behaviors do and do not constitute having "had sex."

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Coitus
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Public Opinion*
  • Sexual Abstinence
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Terminology as Topic*
  • United States