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Characteristics of adult women who abstain from sexual intercourse
  1. Mary Nettleman, MD, MS, Chair of Medicine1,
  2. Karen S Ingersoll, PhD, Associate Professor2 and
  3. Sherry Dyche Ceperich, PhD, Assistant Professor2
  1. Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Department of Medicine, East Lansing, MI, USA
  2. University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, VA, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mary D Nettleman, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, B-425 Clinical Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA. Tel: +1 517 432 9124. Fax: +1 417 432 9471. E-mail: Mary.Nettleman{at}ht.msu.edu

Abstract

Objectives To evaluate demographic and behavioural characteristics of sexually active women compared to those who had abstained from intercourse in the past 6 months.

Methods The study participants were women of childbearing age from six sites in three states in the USA. Survey questions were asked of women who were not surgically sterile and who had not gone through menopause. The main outcome measures were correlates of sexual abstinence.

Results Of the 1801 respondents, 244 (14%) reported abstaining from intercourse in the past 6 months. Univariate analysis revealed that abstinent women were less likely than sexually active women to have used illicit drugs [odds ratio (OR) 0.47; 95% CI 0.35–0.63], to have been physically abused (OR 0.44, 95% CI 0.31–0.64), to be current smokers (OR 0.59, 95% CI 0.45–0.78), to drink above risk thresholds (OR 0.66, 95% CI 0.49–0.90), to have high Mental Health Inventory-5 scores (OR 0.7, 95% CI 0.54–0.92) and to have health insurance (OR 0.74, 95% CI 0.56–0.98). Abstinent women were more likely to be aged over 30 years (OR 1.98, 95% CI 1.51–2.61) and to have a high school education (OR 1.38, 95% CI 1.01–1.89). Logistic regression showed that age >30 years, absence of illicit drug use, absence of physical abuse and lack of health insurance were independently associated with sexual abstinence.

Conclusions Prolonged sexual abstinence was not uncommon among adult women. Periodic, voluntary sexual abstinence was associated with positive health behaviours, implying that abstinence was not a random event. Future studies should address whether abstinence has a causal role in promoting healthy behaviours or whether women with a healthy lifestyle are more likely to choose abstinence.

  • Accepted September 23, 2005.

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  • Accepted September 23, 2005.

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