Double first in love affairs

May 16, 1997

The better educated you are, the more likely you are to have an affair, new research on sexual attitudes has found.

Men and women with degrees and A levels are almost twice as likely to have an adulterous fling as those with low level or no qualifications. Those who have had good sex education at school, however, are less likely to be sexually active at an early age.

A new analysis of the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles has found that more than one in ten married or cohabiting male graduates had two or more sexual partners in the past five years, almost twice the proportion of poorly educated men.

Female graduates were half as likely as men to be adulterous, but still more likely than their poorly educated women peers to be unfaithful.Upper-class men were also more than twice as likely as those from lower classes to be adulterous. But the proportion of women having affairs was slightly less than one in 20 across all classes.

Fears that sex education would encourage young people to become sexually active earlier appear to have been unfounded, however. The survey found that those who cited school as their main source of information on sex were less likely to have intercourse before 16 than those whose information came from other sources such as friends or family.

Data was orginally collected for the survey in 1991/92 but the new research is based on an analysis of the relationship between sexual lifestyles, fertility and family structure. Originally researchers contacted 19,000 people on a random basis throughout the United Kingdom, aged between 16 and 59. The response rate was 65 per cent.

Kaye Wellings of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine's health promotion unit, one of four researchers working on the survey, said: "For 18 years we have had a government which is very uneasy about sex education. That may now change."

One of the survey's most dramatic findings is a sharp fall in the age at which teenagers become sexually active. Four decades ago, the median age for first intercourse was 21 for women and 20 for men. This has now fallen to 17 for both sexes.

The survey also found that women with no qualifications are much more likely to have a child before 20 than those with some qualifications, regardless of their age when they first had sex. Dr Wellings said some researchers had suggested that academically poor pupils might find status and fulfilment in motherhood, but the survey did not reveal underachievement led to pregnancy.

"If that were the case, there may be policy implications, such as providing opportunities for young women to complete their education," Dr Wellings said.

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