Ethnic variations in sexual behaviour in Great Britain and risk of sexually transmitted infections: A probability survey

Kevin Fenton*, Catherine H. Mercer, Sally McManus, Bob Erens, Kaye Wellings, Wendy MacDowall, Christos L. Byron, Andrew J. Copas, Kiran Nanchahal, Julia Field, Anne M. Johnson

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    135 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Ethnic variations in the rate of diagnosed sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been reported in many developed countries. We used data from the second British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal 2000) to investigate the frequency of high-risk sexual behaviours and adverse sexual health outcomes in five ethnic groups in Great Britain. Methods: We did a stratified probability sample survey of 11161 men and women aged 16-44 years, resident in Great Britain, using computer-assisted interviews. Additional sampling enabled us to do more detailed analyses for 949 black Caribbean, black African, Indian, and Pakistani respondents. We used logistic regression to assess reporting of STI diagnoses in the past 5 years, after controlling for demographic and behavioural variables. Findings: We noted striking variations in number of sexual partnerships by ethnic group and between men and women. Reported numbers of sexual partnerships in a lifetime were highest in black Caribbean (median 9 [IQR 4-20]) and black African (9 [3-20]) men, and in white (5 [2-9]) and black Caribbean (4 [2-7]) women. Indian and Pakistani men and women reported fewer sexual partnerships, later first intercourse, and substantially lower prevalence of diagnosed STIs than did other groups. We recorded a significant association between ethnic origin and reported STIs in the past 5 years with increased risk in sexually active black Caribbean (OR 2·74 [95% CI 1·22-6·15]) and black African (2·95 [1·45-5·99]) men compared with white men, and black Caribbean (2·41 [1·35-4·28]) women compared with white women. Odds ratios changed little after controlling for age, number of sexual partnerships, homosexual and overseas partnerships, and condom use at last sexual intercourse. Interpretation: Individual sexual behaviour is a key determinant of STI transmission risk, but alone does not explain the varying risk across ethnic groups. Our findings suggest a need for targeted and culturally competent prevention interventions.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1246-1255
    Number of pages10
    JournalThe Lancet
    Issue number9466
    Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2005

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    We thank the study participants, the team of interviewers and operations, and computing staff from the National Centre for Social Research who carried out the interviews. The study was supported by a grant from the Medical Research Council with funds from the Department of Health, the Scottish Executive, and the National Assembly for Wales.

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