Honest Answers about Sex

Surveys usually require respondents to give honest answers to strangers. Sometimes these questions are deeply personal. In few places is the task of garnering honest responses more difficult than surveys asking young people about their sexual behavior. In an attempt to resolve this challenge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently employed an interesting method in order to survey people ages 15 to 44 about their sexual behavior.

The study used a computer based survey in which personal information was collected and aggregated by a computer, thus preventing any interviewer from learning information about any specific interviewee. This technique yielded a 75% response rate, higher than the response rate for most surveys using face-to-face interviews. The drawback, however, is that there was still a 25% non-response rate. This figure is big enough such that the data could be severely skewed if the individuals who failed to respond differ notably from those who answered. he bottom line, however, is that this technique appears more reliable than collecting data from methods employing face-to-face interviews.


Apart from its methodology, the new survey is also notable for its results. For, contrary to conventional wisdom, young people are having substantially less sex than those a few years ago. In the recent survey, 29% of men and 27% of women aged 15 to 24 never had sexual contact (including oral and anal as well as vaginal sex). In 2002, just 23% of older teens and young adults never had sex.


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