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
- self-rated health
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