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"Would You Say You Had Sex If . . . ?" Survey


Using a random sample of adults ages 18-96, men and women were asked to clarify which sexual behaviors fit the definition. The researchers were interested in knowing if men and women had different definitions, or if certain outcomes, such as orgasm in women, ejaculation in men, short duration, or wearing condoms, would change the meaning of the sexual activity.


Generally, there was not a significant difference between men and women, and there was no real consensus on which behaviors qualify as sex.

Though nearly all concurred that penile-vaginal intercourse fit the criteria, two out of ten people did not concur that penile-anal intercourse was sex, and three out of ten said ‘no’ to oral-genital activity, as did half of the respondents about manual-genital contact.

When the question added a qualifier, the oldest and youngest men responded similarly, answering ‘no’ more frequently. And fewer people agreed that having penile-vaginal intercourse without the man ejaculating could be called “having sex.” Findings demonstrate the need to use behavior-specific terminology in sexual history taking, sex research, sexual health promotion, and sex education. Researchers, educators, and medical practitioners should exercise caution and not assume that their own definitions of having ‘had sex’ are shared with their participants, students, or patients.

Sanders, Stephanie A., Hill, Brandon J., Yarber, William L., Graham, Cynthia A., Crosby, Richard A. and Milhausen, Robin R. (2010). Misclassification bias: diversity in conceptualisations about having 'had sex.' Sexual Health 7(1): 31–34. DOI:10.1071/SH09068. pdf


Stephanie Sanders, Ph.D.; Brandon Hill, M.A.; William Yarber, Ph.D.; Cynthia Graham, Ph.D., Richard Crosby, Ph.D.; and Robin Milhausen, Ph.D.



Hill, B. J. , Rahman, Q. , Bright, D. A. and Sanders, S. A.(2010) "The semantics of sexual behavior and their implications for HIV/AIDS research and sexual health: U.S. and U.K. gay men's definitions of having 'had sex,'" AIDS Care.
Sanders SA, Reinisch JM. (1999). Would you say you "had sex" if...? Journal of the American Medical Association. 1999 Jan 20;281(3):275-7.

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