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Sex Health. 2014 Nov;11(5):397-405. doi: 10.1071/SH14099.

Attitudes toward sex and relationships: the Second Australian Study of Health and Relationships.

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School of Psychology, Pevensey 1, University of Sussex, Falmer BN1 9QH, UK.
Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, 215 Franklin Street, Melbourne, Vic. 3000, Australia.
Sydney School of Public Health, Edward Ford Building (A27), University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.
The Kirby Institute, Wallace Wurth Building, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.
School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.
Sydney School of Public Health, Charles Perkins Centre (D17), University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.


Background Attitudes towards sex and relationships influence laws about what is and is not permissible and social sanctions against behaviours considered unacceptable. They are an important focus for research given their links to sexual behaviour. The aim of the present study was to describe attitudes towards sex and relationships, to identify correlates of scores on a scale of sexual liberalism and to examine responses to jealousy-evoking scenarios among Australian adults.


Computer-assisted landline and mobile telephone interviews were completed by a population-representative sample of 20094 men and women aged 16-69 years. The overall participation rate among eligible people was 66.2%. Respondents expressed their agreement with 11 attitude statements, five of which formed a valid scale of liberalism, and also responded to a jealousy-evoking scenario.


There was general agreement that premarital sex was acceptable (87%), that sex was important for wellbeing (83%) and that sex outside a committed relationship was unacceptable (83%). Respondents were accepting of homosexual behaviour and abortion and few believed that sex education encouraged earlier sexual activity. More liberal attitudes were associated with: being female; speaking English at home; homosexual or bisexual identity; not being religious; greater education; and higher incomes. Respondents who expressed more liberal attitudes had more diverse patterns of sexual experience. Predicted sex differences were found in response to the jealousy-evoking scenario - men were more jealous of a partner having sex with someone else and women were more jealous of a partner forming an emotional attachment - but responses varied with age.


Sexual attitudes of Australians largely support a permissive but monogamous paradigm. Since 2002, there has been a shift to less tolerance of sex outside a committed relationship, but greater acceptance of homosexual behaviour.


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