New York It's a question that often prompts a boastful answer or a bashful one: How many sex partners have you had?
Now the federal government says it has authoritative statistics, documenting that men are far more likely to play the field than women.
A new nationwide survey, using high-tech methods to solicit candid answers on sexual activity and illegal drug use, finds that 29 percent of American men report having 15 or more female sexual partners in a lifetime, while only 9 percent of women report having sex with 15 or more men.
The median number of lifetime female sexual partners for men was seven; the median number of male partners for women was four.
The survey, released Friday, is based on data collected from 1999 to 2002 for the National Center for Health Statistics, a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In previous versions of this survey, participants were asked questions in face-to-face interviews. The CDC believes that caused underreporting of behaviors that might be viewed negatively, although the new survey did not provide any comparative results from earlier reports.
This time, data was gathered from 6,237 adults, aged 20 to 59, in what are called computer-assisted self-interviews - a method designed to provide complete privacy and produce more honest answers.
The survey says ...
¢ About 96 percent of U.S. adults have had sex.
¢ 16 percent of adults first had sex before age 15, while 15 percent abstained from sex until at least 21.
¢ The proportion of adults who first had sex before age 15 was highest for non-Hispanic blacks (28 percent) compared to 14 percent for both Mexican-Americans and non-Hispanic whites.
¢ 6 percent of blacks abstained from sex until age 21 or older, fewer than Mexican-Americans (17 percent) or non-Hispanic whites (15 percent).
¢ Black men and women were more likely to report having 15 or more partners in a lifetime (46 percent and 13 percent, respectively) than other racial or ethnic groups.
¢ 17 percent of men and 10 percent of women reported having two or more sexual partners in the past year.
¢ 25 percent of women and 17 percent of men reported having no more than one partner of the other sex in their lifetime.
¢ 26 percent of men and 17 percent of women have tried cocaine or other street drugs (not including marijuana) at some time. 7 percent of men and 4 percent of women had done so in the past 12 months.
¢ Non-Hispanic whites had a higher percentage of ever using cocaine or street drugs (23.5 percent) than blacks (18 percent) or Mexican-Americans (16 percent).
¢ Adults who were married or had more than a high school education were less likely to use street drugs than others.