Sexual Behaviors, Relationships, and Perceived Health Status Among Adult Women in the United States: Results from a National Probability Sample


Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH, Center for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University, HPER 116, 1025 East Seventh Street, Bloomington, Indiana, 47405, USA. Tel: 812-855-0364; Fax: 812-855-3936; E-mail:


Introduction.  Past surveys of sexual behavior have demonstrated that female sexual behavior is influenced by medical and sociocultural changes. To be most attentive to women and their sexual lives, it is important to have an understanding of the continually evolving sexual behaviors of contemporary women in the United States.

Aims.  The purpose of this study, the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), was to, in a national probability survey of women ages 18–92, assess the proportion of women in various age cohorts who had engaged in solo and partnered sexual activities in the past 90 days and to explore associations with participants' sexual behavior and their relationship and perceived health status. Past year frequencies of masturbation, vaginal intercourse, and anal intercourse were also assessed.

Methods.  A national probability sample of 2,523 women ages 18 to 92 completed a cross-sectional internet based survey about their sexual behavior.

Main Outcome Measures.  Relationship status; perceived health status; experience of solo masturbation, partnered masturbation, giving oral sex, receiving oral sex, vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, in the past 90 days; frequency of solo masturbation, vaginal intercourse, and anal intercourse in the past year.

Results.  Recent solo masturbation, oral sex, and vaginal intercourse were prevalent among women, decreased with age, and varied in their associations with relationship and perceived health status. Recent anal sex and same-sex oral sex were uncommonly reported. Solo masturbation was most frequent among women ages 18 to 39, vaginal intercourse was most frequent among women ages 18 to 29 and anal sex was infrequently reported.

Conclusion.  Contemporary women in the United States engage in a diverse range of solo and partnered sexual activities, though sexual behavior is less common and more infrequent among older age cohorts. Herbenick D, Reece M, Schick V, Sanders SA, Dodge B, and Fortenberry JD. Sexual behaviors, relationships, and perceived health status among adult women in the United States: Results from a national probability sample. J Sex Med 2010;7(suppl 5):277–290.