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."