Sexual behavior in the United States: Results from a national probability sample of men and women ages 14-94

Debby Herbenick, Michael Reece, Vanessa Schick, Stephanie A. Sanders, Brian Dodge, J. Dennis Fortenberry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

363 Scopus citations


Introduction.: Despite a demonstrated relationship between sexual behaviors and health, including clinical risks, little is known about contemporary sexual behavior. Aims.: To assess the rates of sexual behavior among adolescents and adults in the United States. Methods.: We report the recent (past month, past year) and lifetime prevalence of sexual behaviors in a nationally representative probability sample of 5,865 men and women ages 14 to 94 in the United States (2,936 men, 2,929 women). Main Outcome Measures.: Behaviors assessed included solo masturbation, partnered masturbation, giving and receiving oral sex, vaginal intercourse, and anal intercourse. Results.: Masturbation was common throughout the lifespan and more common than partnered sexual activities during adolescence and older age (70+). Although uncommon among 14- to 15-year olds, in the past year 18.3% of 16- to 17-year-old males and 22.4% of 16- to 17-year-old females performed oral sex with an other-sex partner. Also in the past year, more than half of women and men ages 18 to 49 engaged in oral sex. The proportion of adults who reported vaginal sex in the past year was highest among men ages 25-39 and for women ages 20-29, then progressively declined among older age groups. More than 20% of men ages 25-49 and women ages 20-39 reported anal sex in the past year. Same-sex sexual behaviors occurring in the past year were uncommonly reported. Conclusions.: Men and women engage in a diverse range of solo and partnered sexual behaviors throughout the life course. The rates of contemporary sexual behavior provided in this report will be valuable to those who develop, implement, and evaluate programs that seek to improve societal knowledge related to the prevalence of sexual behaviors and to sexual health clinicians whose work to improve sexual health among the population often requires such rates of behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-265
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Sexual Medicine
Issue numberSUPPL. 5
StatePublished - Oct 2010


  • Adolescents
  • Adults
  • Probability Sample
  • Sexual Behavior
  • United States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Urology
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Reproductive Medicine

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