Sexual behaviour

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A high number of sexual partners and unprotected sex put individuals at risk of unplanned pregnancy and contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. Many STIs have a long-term effect upon health.

Protected sex

The most recent data available (2008/9) show slight increases in the number of people having protected sex and relatively high rates of protected sex in those who have had more than one sexual partner. Condom use in those who were either currently in a sexual relationship or who had been in the past year were 46 per cent in men (increased from 40 per cent in 2000) and 51 per cent in women (increased from 48 per cent in 2000). Condom use in those who had had more than one sexual partner were higher (82 per cent in men and 75 per cent in women) (1).

The majority of women under 50 (75 per cent) use contraception. The most popular methods are the contraceptive pill (25 per cent) and the male condom (25 per cent) (1).

Sexual risk-taking

59 per cent of men and 52 per cent of women who were not in a long-term exclusive relationship reported making no changes to their behaviour as a result of what they had heard about HIV/AIDS and other STIs (1).

The recent increase in STIs in older people indicates that sexual risk-taking behaviour occurs among older people as well as in young people (2). For more see our section on communicable diseases.

Conception rates

The under-18 conception rate for 2010 is the lowest since 1969 at 35.5 conceptions per thousand women aged 15-17.

A number of factors are thought to account for this fall including education programmes, a shift in aspirations of young women towards education, and the stigma associated with being a teenage mother (3). However, the United Kingdom still has the highest teenage birth rate in Europe (4).

Next page: Clustering of unhealthy behaviours


  1. Lader D (2009). Report. Contraception and Sexual Health, 2008/09
  2. Bodley-Tickell AT, Olowokure B, Bhaduri S, White DJ, Ward D, Ross JD, Smith G, Duggal HV, Goold P (2008). Research paper. ‘Trends in sexually transmitted infections (other than HIV) in older people: analysis of data from an enhanced surveillance system’. Sexually Transmitted Infections, vol 84, pp 312–17
  3. Office for National Statistics (2012). Statistical Bulletin. Conceptions in England and Wales 2010, a statistical briefing
  4. United Nations Children’s Fund, Innocenti Research Centre (2001). Report. A League Table of Teenage Births in Rich Nations. Florence, Italy.