Background Patterns of social and sexual mixing are a major determinant of STI transmission. In particular, discordant mixing is an important driver of STI dissemination when high risk populations mix with low risk populations. However patterns of mixing are poorly understood.
Method We analysed data from a probability sample survey of households in the Health Survey for England 2010. 1,891 heterosexual couples living together were included, all individuals were aged 16–69 years. Self-completion questionnaires were used to collect data on previous STI diagnosis/es, same-sex experience, condom use, age at first sex, and number of sexual partners.
Results Males were on average 2 years older than their female partners, though this age difference ranged from a mean of 0 years in those aged 16–24 to a mean of 3 years in those aged over 55. 85.1% of couples had matching characteristics of reporting previous STI diagnosis/es. After adjusting for age, socio-economic class and marital status, an association was found between males reporting previous STI diagnosis/es and their female partners also reporting the same, AOR: 3.02 (95% CI: 1.78–5.13). Males who reported 10+ partners were more likely to be in a couple with a female who also reported this AOR: 2.71 (95% CI: 1.79–4.11). A positive correlation was found between men and women with respect to their age at first sex. There was also a correlation in socio-economic class but with greatest mixing between intermediate and higher/lower categories. A correlation was also found with respect to education level and drinking alcohol.
Conclusion We found evidence of significant levels of assortative mixing amongst heterosexual couples living together in England with respect to reporting previous STI diagnosis/es, numbers of partners, frequent drinking, socio-economic class and education. These analyses of probability sample survey data support the observed skewed distribution of STI transmission in the population.
- Assortative mixing
- Heterosexual couples
- STI transmission