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What's new about Natsal-3?
  1. Catherine H Mercer1,
  2. Kaye Wellings2,
  3. Anne M Johnson2
  1. 1Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research, Research Department of Infection and Population Health, University College London, London, UK
  2. 2Department of Social and Environmental Health Research, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Catherine H Mercer, Centre for Sexual Health and HIV Research, University College London, 3rd Floor, Mortimer Market Centre, London WC1E 6JB, UK; c.mercer{at}ucl.ac.uk

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In November 2013, the initial results from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) were published.1–6 To coincide with their release, this edition of Sexually Transmitted Infections presents two methodological papers7 ,8 explaining the lengthy steps taken to ensure that the data from Britain's latest decennial national probability sample survey of sexual behaviour are reliable and representative of the population. But what are the new challenges and new questions addressed, especially as this is the third such survey?

Studies of sexual behaviour have come a long way since the pioneering but methodologically problematic surveys carried out by Kinsey in the USA in 1948. The emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s provided the imperative for the collection of reliable data on sexual behaviour, as epidemiologists and public health specialists recognised the need for accurate estimates with which to predict the likely extent of future spread of HIV in Britain, and the type and scale of prevention activities required. In 1986, plans for a national probability sample survey of sexual attitudes and lifestyles were made. Although feasibility studies had demonstrated the public's acceptance of such a survey and the high quality data obtained,9 ,10 in September 1989, the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, vetoed the funding, arguing that it would be an invasion of people's privacy. Subsequently, the Wellcome Trust agreed to fund Natsal-1, and interviews with a probability sample of 18 876 men and women aged 16–59 years from across Britain were …

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