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Demogr Res. 2010 Mar 3;22(11):237-288.

Reporting on first sexual experience: The importance of interviewer-respondent interaction.

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Population Studies & Training Center, Brown University, 68 Waterman Street, Providence, RI, 02912 USA.


Survey methodologists typically seek to improve data on sensitive topics by standardizing surveys and avoiding the use of human interviewers. This study uses data collected from 90 never-married young adults in rural Malawi to compare reports on first sexual encounters between a standard survey and an in-depth interview. A significant fraction of young women who claimed in the survey to have never been sexually active affirmed sexual experience during the in-depth interview, fielded shortly thereafter. Two elements of the in-depth interview, flexibility and reciprocal exchange, foster trust and more truthful reporting. The findings contradict the long-standing presumption that face-to-face interviews are inherently threatening when the topic is sex.

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