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The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles: Read the results and ask questions about the findings. - ANSWERS BACK

(30 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 04-Dec-13 17:10:41

We're running a Q&A this week with the Wellcome Trust about the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. The survey is carried out every ten years and the latest results were published last week.

It is a large study ? this time round, over 15,000 people were interviewed, a representative cross-section of the British public ? and for the first time, the researchers extended the age range beyond 16-44 years, interviewing people up to 74 years old.

You might have seen coverage of the study in the media, with headlines about how we are having sex less frequently, how women are having more same-sex experiences and about the troubling statistic that one in ten women (and one in seventy men) have been made to have sex against their will.

Mumsnet Bloggers' Nework ran a guest blog earlier this week from one of the researchers talking about what the team found. There?s also a blog on the Wellcome Trust site, which includes infographics explaining some of the findings.

The Wellcome Trust, a medical research charity which is co-funded the study, has invited experts Cath Mercer from UCL and Wendy Macdowall from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to answer everything you wanted to know about this latest sex survey, but were afraid to ask!??

Dr Cath Mercer is a Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research at University College London. A statistician by training, Dr Mercer has worked on the National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles ('Natsal'), Britain's national probability sample surveys of sexual behaviour for the past 13 years.

Wendy Macdowall is a lecturer in the department of social and environmental health research at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Her interests are the determinants of sexual health; the development of interventions to improve and promote sexual health; and the evaluation of public health interventions.

Post your questions to Cath and Wendy before the 9am Monday16 December and we'll link to their answers from this thread on Thursday 19 December.

WendyMacdowall Tue 31-Dec-13 17:27:56


I'll just repeat what I said on the other thread:

"Sex against their will", and "sexual coercion"...isn't this just sanitising rape? Why can't we call a spade a spade here?

While women and men are still framing rape in a way which brushes it under the carpet and turns it into a "misunderstanding" or a "failure in communication", we are never going to see convictions rise and hold men that rape accountable. I can understand why victims don't always want to define their experience in this way, but I am disappointed that the academic discourse appears to fudge the issue in this way.

We should be under no doubt that sex without consent is rape, but as noted above we have not used the word rape when reporting the survey findings as the issue of consent in individual cases would be one decided by a court.

We asked women and men if anyone had made them have sex against their will rather than asking if they had been raped, as there is wide agreement in the academic literature that the term rape should be avoided, as it is highly subjective and likely to result in under-reporting (we know from research in America that many women who have experienced what would legally defined as rape do not acknowledge their experience as such).

WendyMacdowall Tue 31-Dec-13 17:29:19


My question - what are the chances, going forward, of using these survey results to put legitimate and sustained pressure on the government to make comprehensive and appropriate sex and relationship education into schools of a quality which can educate children, male and female, about how to grow into their sexualities and respect that of others? For that matter, given the numbers of people, male and female, who reported having sex against their will, is this not a huge marker that something needs to change.

Additionally, are there any regrets about the survey's choice to report rates of sex against the person's will without additionally recording the number of people willing to admit they had been raped? At the moment, this statistic could be confused and diluted.

Although it's a little early to be asking this, perhaps, will the next survey expand further into this area of questioning?

I very much hope that the findings will be used to lobby for more comprehensive, and more consistent, sex and relationship education in schools and I would like to be active in that process. One of the challenges is that the “relationship” aspect of sex and relationship education is not statutory and provision is patchy. We have yet to analyse the findings from the survey on participants’ experience of learning about sex, but we know from the last survey in 2000 that young people wanted to know more about the psychosocial aspects of sex and that they wanted this information from an authoritative source (most commonly schools or a parent).

In relation to your second point, it would have been interesting to ask participants who reported experiencing sex against their will whether they defined the experience as rape. It would also have been interesting to use exactly the same question wording as the Crime Survey for England and Wales to see how much difference the context of the survey (sexual health versus crime) makes to reporting.

I would indeed like to see an expanded set of questions in Natsal 4; these could include more detailed questions about experience of non-volitional sex (nature of coercion and/or force, involvement of drugs or alcohol, number and gender of perpetrators) and also questions on other forms of sexual violence.

WendyMacdowall Tue 31-Dec-13 17:30:27


I agree that 'sex against will' is always rape and should be named as rape in this survey.

Can I ask why there is an upper age limit on this survey? Why stop at 74?

As noted above, we should be under no doubt that sex without consent is rape, but we have not used the word rape when reporting the survey findings as the issue of consent in individual cases would be one decided by a court.

In relation to the upper age limit, the last survey (in 2000) stopped at 44 years so we were delighted to have gone up to 74 years this time round. We may be able to go even further next time!

LucilleMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 31-Dec-13 17:38:47

The answers have now been posted. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions.

LucilleMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 10-Jan-14 12:12:48

You can now see the archived answers here.

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