Safe sexual intercourse has many health benefits. But when the sex is with multiple partners, some risks may get attached to it as well. According to a study published by BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health, having more sexual partners is linked to a higher likelihood of cancer and life-limiting chronic conditions. The researchers took data from ELSA (English Longitudinal Study of Ageing), a national representative tracking study of adults over 50 in England. A total of 5,722 participants were asked about their sexual past and self-reported their health conditions. Sexual partners were grouped in categories of 0-1, 2-4, 5-9 and 10 and over.
This was an observational study and does not imply causation. The researchers said that while the findings merited further inquiry, the nature of the study could mean that linking sexual partners to certain cancers was a chance finding.
What did the study find?
The average age of the participants was 64 and 75% of them were married or cohabiting. The vast majority (over 95%) of the participants were white. The study indicated that men who had had sexual relations with 10 or more women were 69% more likely to develop cancer. For the same measure, women were 91% more likely to develop cancer. Further, women with more than 10 sexual partners were also 64% more likely to have a life-limiting chronic condition.
Participants with more sexual partners consumed moderate to high amounts of alcohol were less likely to smoke and performed moderate to vigorous physical activity at least once a week.
The researchers didn’t specify what kind of cancers or life-limiting conditions afflicted participants. It was suggested that the higher likelihood of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which are linked to certain types of cancer could be driving the result.
The researchers controlled for, among others, socioeconomic status, depressive states, alcohol consumption and smoking.
Why were women more likely to develop cancer and life-limiting chronic conditions?
The researchers were not expecting to find a gendered difference in their findings. It remains unclear why there was a discrepancy at all.
STDs such as HPV have been linked to around 30% of all cancers caused by infectious agents and cervical, penile, mouth, anal cancers have already been associated with these kinds of STDs. The link between HPV and cervical cancer is stronger than HPV’s link to penile cancer, however. Differences such as these may explain the gendered result.
What can be taken from these results?
The study had its limitations. It does not prove causation. Further, the number of sex partners may not be a very reliable proxy for the likelihood of contracting STDs. More relevant is if safe sex is practised and if the partner is STD-free as well. Further research is needed here as blanket blame on the number of sexual partners can become a stigmatized issue.
We do know that STDs can increase the likelihood of certain cancers. This study further underlines the need to practice safe sex and make informed sexual decisions.
For more information, read our article on Safe Sex.
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Updated Date: Feb 17, 2020 15:25:33 IST