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What factors are associated with reporting lacking interest in sex and how do these vary by gender? Findings from the third British national survey of sexual attitudes and lifestyles
  1. Cynthia A Graham1,
  2. Catherine H Mercer2,
  3. Clare Tanton2,
  4. Kyle G Jones2,
  5. Anne M Johnson2,
  6. Kaye Wellings3,
  7. Kirstin R Mitchell4
  1. 1Department of Psychology, Centre for Sexual Health Research, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  2. 2Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research, Research Department of Infection & Population Health, University College London, London, UK
  3. 3Centre for Sexual and Reproductive Health Research, Department of Social and Environmental Health Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  4. 4MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Cynthia A Graham; C.A.Graham{at}


Objectives To investigate factors associated with reporting lacking interest in sex and how these vary by gender.

Setting British general population.

Design Complex survey analyses of data collected for a cross-sectional probability sample survey, undertaken 2010–2012, specifically logistic regression to calculate age-adjusted OR (AOR) to identify associated factors.

Participants 4839 men and 6669 women aged 16–74 years who reported ≥1 sexual partner (opposite-sex or same-sex) in the past year for the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3).

Main outcome measure Lacking interest in sex for ≥3 months in the past year.

Results Overall, 15.0% (13.9–16.2) of men and 34.2% (32.8–35.5) of women reported lacking interest in sex. This was associated with age and physical and mental health for both men and women, including self-reported general health and current depression. Lacking interest in sex was more prevalent among men and women reporting sexually transmitted infection diagnoses (ever), non-volitional sex (ever) and holding sexual attitudes related to normative expectations about sex. Some gender similarities in associated relationship and family-related factors were evident, including partner having had sexual difficulties in the last year (men: AOR 1.41 (1.07–1.86); women: AOR 1.60 (1.32–1.94)), not feeling emotionally close to partner during sex (men: 3.74 (1.76–7.93); women: 4.80 (2.99–7.69) and ease of talking about sex (men: 1.53 (1.23–1.90);women: 2.06 (1.77–2.39)). Among women only, lack of interest in sex was higher among those in a relationship of >1 year in duration and those not sharing the same level of interest (4.57 (3.87–5.38)) or preferences (2.91 (2.22–3.83)) with a partner.

Conclusions Both gender similarities and differences were found in factors associated with lacking interest in sex, with the most marked differences in relation to some relationship variables. Findings highlight the need to assess, and if appropriate, treat lacking interest in sex in a holistic and relationship-specific way.

  • sexual medicine
  • epidemiology
  • sexual and gender disorders

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  • Contributors The paper was conceived by CAG, CHM, AMJ, KW and KRM. CAG wrote the first draft, with further contributions from all authors. Statistical analyses were undertaken by CHM, CT and KGJ. CHM, AMJ (principal investigator) and KW, initial applicants on Natsal-3, wrote the study protocol and obtained funding. Natsal-3 questionnaire design, ethics applications and piloting were undertaken by CHM, CT, AMJ, KW and KRM. Data management was undertaken by NatCen Social Research, UCL and LSHTM. All authors contributed to data interpretation, reviewed successive drafts and approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding Natsal-3 was supported by grants from the U.K. Medical Research Council (G0701757) and the Wellcome Trust (084840), with support from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Department of Health. KM has been supported by the United Kingdom Medical Research Council grant MC_UU_12017/11 and Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office grant SPHSU11.

  • Competing interests AMJ has been a governor of the Wellcome Trust since 2011.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval Natsal-3 was approved by the NRES Committee South Central-Oxford A (Ref: 10/H0604/27).

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

  • Data sharing statement The Natsal-3 data set is publicly available from the UK Data Service:; SN: 7799; persistent identifier: 10.5255/UKDA-SN-77991-1.

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