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Examining changes in sexual lifestyles in Britain between 1990-2010: a latent class analysis approach.

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Muschialli, Luke 
Samartsidis, Pantelis 
Presanis, Anne M 
Mercer, Catherine H 


BACKGROUND: Understanding sexual lifestyles and how they change over time is important for determining the likelihood of sexual health outcomes. Standard descriptive and regression methods are limited in their ability to capture multidimensional concepts such as sexual lifestyles. Latent Class Analysis (LCA) is a mixture modelling method that generates a categorical latent variable to derive homogenous groups from a heterogeneous population. Our study investigates (1) the potential of LCA to assess change over time in sexual lifestyles and (2) how quantifying this change using LCA compares to previous findings using standard approaches. METHODS: Probability-sampled data from three rounds of the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle (Natsal) were used, restricted to sexually active participants (i.e., those reporting sexual partners in the past year) aged 16-44 years (N1990 = 11,738; N2000 = 9,690; N2010 = 8,397). An LCA model was built from four variables: number of sexual partners (past year), number of partners without a condom (past year), age at first sex and self-perceived HIV risk. Covariates included age, ethnicity, educational attainment, same-sex attraction, and marital status. Multinomial regression analyses and Chi-Squared tests were used to investigate change over time in the size of each class. RESULTS: We successfully used a LCA approach to examine change in sexual lifestyle over time. We observed a statistically significant increase between 1990 and 2010 in the proportion of men (χ2 = 739.49, p < 0.01) and women (χ2 = 1270.43, p < 0.01) in a latent class associated with reporting 2 or more partners in the last year, relatively high probabilities of reporting condomless sex partners, greater self-perceived HIV risk, and a high probability of first sex before age 16 years, increasing from 19.5% to 31.1% (men) and 9.9% to 22.1% (women). CONCLUSION: Our results indicate the viability of LCA models to assess change over time for complex behavioural phenomena. They align with previous findings, namely changing sexual lifestyles in Britain in recent decades, partnership number driving class assignment, and significant sex differences in sexual lifestyles. This approach can be used to extend previous LCA models (e.g., to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on sexual lifestyles) and to support empirical evidence of change over time, facilitating more nuanced public health policy.


Acknowledgements: In addition to extensive advice from supervisors and co-supervisors, Alison Parkes and Kirstin Mitchell assisted with data access and methodological support, particularly with interpreting their 2020 Latent Class Analysis Study on Natsal-3 data. AP was also supported by the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at University of Bristol, in partnership with UKHSA and the MRC Biostatistics Unit, University of Cambridge.


Behaviour, Epidemiology, Mixture modelling, Sexual and reproductive health, Female, Humans, Male, Latent Class Analysis, United Kingdom, Health Surveys, Sexual Behavior, Sexual Partners, Life Style, HIV Infections, Sexually Transmitted Diseases

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BMC Public Health

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Medical Research Council (MRC_MC_UU_00002/11, MRC_MC_UU_00002/11)
Programme Grants for Applied Research (RP-PG-0616-20008)