A new study by Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction has found that gay men in the UK and the US have differing ideas on what “having sex” means.
The authors said that the study’s results have important implications, especially with regard to HIV/AIDS research and education.
“It is important for researchers and clinicians not to assume that their definition of ‘sex’ is shared by their participant or patient, and to use behaviourally specific criteria when conducting sex-behaviour assessments,” said lead author Brandon Hill.
The study, published in July in the journal AIDS Care, compared a sample of 180 gay men in the UK ranging in age from 18 to 56 with a sample of 190 gay men in the US ranging from 18 to 74. Both groups were asked to indicate whether they considered various behaviours as having “had sex.”
Almost all (95 percent) participants believed that penile-anal intercourse constituted having “had sex.”
However, when it came to giving oral-genital stimulation, 84.9 percent of UK gay men believed that this behaviour constituted having “had sex,” while only 71.6 percent of US gay men defined this behaviour as such.
In terms of giving and receiving manual-anal stimulation, 70.9 percent of UK gay men said that this constituted having “had sex,” while only 53.4 percent of US gay men saw this as such.
Significantly more gay men in the United Kingdom also considered oral-anal stimulation, and use of sex toys as having “had sex” compared to their US counterparts.
In addition, compared with previously published studies of predominantly heterosexual groups, proportionally more gay men include manual, oral, anal and sex-toy behaviours in their definitions of having “had sex.”
The institute said that the study has significant implications for researchers because an individual’s definition of “sex” influences the number of reported “sexual partners” and frequency of “sexual activity” by participants in research.
Participants and patients’ definitions of having “had sex” or their number of “sexual partners” could also affect their sense of what risky sex might mean and influence their behaviour in this regard.