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The relationship between chronic diseases and number of sexual partners: an exploratory analysis
  1. Igor Grabovac1,
  2. Lee Smith2,
  3. Lin Yang3,
  4. Pinar Soysal4,
  5. Nicola Veronese5,
  6. Ahmet Turan Isik4,
  7. Suzanna Forwood6,
  8. Sarah Jackson7
  1. 1 Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Centre for Public Health, Medical University Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  2. 2 The Cambridge Centre for Sport and Exercise Sciences, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK
  3. 3 Alberta Health Services, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  4. 4 Department of Geriatric Medicine, Bezmialem Vakif University, Istanbul, Turkey
  5. 5 Neuroscience Institute, Aging Branch, National Research Council, Padua, Italy
  6. 6 School of Psychology and Sport Science, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK
  7. 7 Department of Behavioural Science and Health, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Lee Smith, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge CB1 1PT, UK; lee.smith{at}


Background We investigated sex-specific associations between lifetime number of sexual partners and several health outcomes in a large sample of older adults in England.

Methods We used cross-sectional data from 2537 men and 3185 women aged ≥50 years participating in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Participants reported the number of sexual partners they had had in their lifetime. Outcomes were self-rated health and self-reported limiting long-standing illness, cancer, coronary heart disease, and stroke. We used logistic regression to analyse associations between lifetime number of sexual partners and health outcomes, adjusted for relevant sociodemographic and health-related covariates.

Results Having had 10 or more lifetime sexual partners was associated with higher odds of reporting a diagnosis of cancer than having had 0–1 sexual partners in men (OR 1.69, 95% CI 1.01 to 2.83) and women (OR 1.91, 95% CI 1.04 to 3.51), respectively. Women who had 10 or more lifetime sexual partners also had higher odds of reporting a limiting long-standing illness (OR 1.64, 95% CI 1.15 to 2.35). No other statistically significant associations were observed.

Conclusions A higher lifetime number of sexual partners is associated with increased odds of reported cancer. Longitudinal research is required to establish causality. Understanding the predictive value of lifetime number of sexual partners as a behavioural risk factor may improve clinical assessment of cancer risk in older adults.

  • number of sexual partners
  • sexual activity
  • health outcomes
  • cancer
  • stroke
  • self-rated health
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  • Contributors IG, LS and SJ conceived the idea, carried out the analyses, interpreted the results, and drafted the manuscript. All authors provided critical revisions and approved the final manuscript prior to submission.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available in a public, open access repository.

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