The aim of this chapter is to provide basic comparative information about the numbers of sexual partners reported in the various population surveys recently carried out in Europe. Studying who has sex with whom, and with how many partners, can be done for different purposes and from different perspectives that will not all be explored in this paper.
For prevention, understanding how sexual practices and ways of adapting to HIV risk vary according to the characteristics of the partners (their age, gender, level of education, race, religion, and so on) and the dynamics and social context of their relationships, has become a key issue (Peto et al., 1992; Parker and Gagnon, 1995; Van Campenhoudt et al., 1996). We need to know how the risk of HIV has influenced the relational strategies of individuals and, on the contrary, how relations between partners have been reorganized in the era of AIDS (Giami, 1995). This is particularly important for identifying the riskiest situations and focusing preventive messages on what is really problematic from the point of view of HIV transmission. Few surveys, however (van Zessen and Sandfort, 1991; Marquet, Peto and Hubert et al., 1995; Laumann et al., 1994), have adopted such a ‘relational’ approach. Therefore cross-national analyses of data cannot be made on a large scale. 1
Estimating the proportion of the population with a potential risk for HIV infection is another aim for which knowing the number of sexual partners in
*The authors would like to thank Anne Johnson (UC London Medical School), who assisted in the preparation of this chapter and processed specific data analyses from the British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL). Meni Malliori (Athens University Medical School) also participated in the preparation of this chapter and kindly provided us with the data file from her survey on Partner Relations and Risk of HIV Infection carried out in Athens in 1990.