OWN on the eve of Valentine’s Day comes to a search that seems to be made on purpose to invite to be faithful. The study, published online in the magazine BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, tells us that having many partners is not good for health and could even increase the risk of cancer.
Few studies so far have examined the potential impact of the number of sexual partners on health conditions. To try to fill this gap, researchers drew on information gathered for the Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA), a nationally representative monitoring study of the over-50s living in England. A total of 5722 people were involved (2537 men and 3185 women) who – between 2012 and 2013 – were asked how many sexual partners they had had, choosing from none to ten or even more. They were also asked to assess their health and to report any condition or malaise, even of long-standing, that affected their routine activities in any way. Of course, other information such as age, ethnicity, marital status, family income, lifestyle (smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity) and the possible presence of depressive symptoms were also taken into account. The average age of the participants was 64, and almost three out of four were married.
More libertine men
What did you get out of it? Approximately 28.5% of men and 40% of women have reported having had anyone or only one sexual partner to date; 29% of men and 35.5% of women say they have had between 2 and 4. As the number of partners increases, the percentage of positive responses decreases: only one in five men (20%) and 16% of women reported having been with 5-9 people. In contrast, 22% of men and just under 8% of women respectively reported having had ten or more affairs.
Bad habits and intense physical activity
For both sexes, it was mainly the younger sex partners, singles and those who were economically more affluent or, on the contrary, in difficulty, who had a higher number of sexual partners. Not only that: among the habits of the more ‘butterflies’ there is also smoking and alcohol consumption more frequently and intense physical activity every week.
The more partners you have, the higher the risk of cancer.
When all the data were analysed, a statistically significant association emerged between the number of sexual partners had during a lifetime and the risk of a cancer diagnosis. Compared to women who had no or only one history, those with ten or more partners were 91% more likely to have a cancer diagnosis. In men, those who had had 2 to 4 sexual partners were 57% more likely, while those with ten or more girlfriends were 69% more likely. Also, women with a more active sex life were also 64% more likely to suffer from a chronic limiting condition than those who claimed to have had only one history.
The risk of sexually transmitted diseases
In this type of research, which is limited to observing the data, it is not possible to establish a cause-effect link with certainty. But these results confirm those of previous studies that have shown that sexually transmitted infections are intimately involved in the development of different types of cancer and hepatitis. “Although we do not know exactly what types of cancer have been diagnosed,” the authors of the study explain, “we can assume that the high risk of cancer is due to the increased likelihood of sexually transmitted infections. Another study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in Annals of Oncology, investigated the risk of men contracting the virus in the oral cavity, finding that it depends on the number of partners with whom you have verbal relationships and whether or not you smoke. If in women the probability varies between 0.7 and 1.5% (depending on the number of partners) if you are a male smoker and have oral relationships with more than five people you can reach almost 15%. The names of the research are American, of course, but the trend is the same also in Italy.
Suggestions for prevention campaigns
If other research confirms the existence of a causal link between the number of sexual partners and health conditions, prevention campaigns and screening programmes that also take into account the life of the couple could be carried out. Gender differences also remain to be better understood and, above all, that only in women is a more ‘dynamic’ sex life associated with chronic diseases: “We are missing the reason,” say the researchers, “because men tend to have more sexual partners and women, on the other hand, are more likely to see a doctor when they feel sick, which should potentially limit the negative consequences for health.